Ahead of speaking at the National Menopause summit, Dr Deirdre Lundy also spoke about her work with women experiencing menopause induced by illnesses, like cancer
In times past it was almost a taboo topic, a women’s issue discussed in hushed tones and only ever with a medical professional. Colloquially described as ‘the change in life’, the menopause had an almost mythical power, a power bolstered by the lack of information, lack of supports, available for those it affected most.
That power is gradually waning and events like the forthcoming National Menopause Summit, which takes place in Dublin on Thursday, March 23, will serve to place the power back into the hands of women all over the country. One of the speakers at the summit is Dr Deirdre Lundy, a woman who served the people of Bray for more than 20 years in her role at the Bray Women’s Health Centre and a woman who is now at the forefront of treating menopause in this country.
As lead medical officer for the Complex Menopause Service at the National Maternity Hospital Holles Street, Dr Lundy works to improve outcomes for people with menopause problems throughout Ireland. However, she says that the majority of women will not experience any issues during the menopause.
“Women in their twenties and thirties always say they’re so frightened of the menopause, but there’s nothing to be afraid of,” says Dr Lundy. “Previously they may have had to go without support and help but that has changed, there’s tonnes of support out there now. Most women won’t suffer horrendously, it will be disruptive for a while, but only the small minority really struggle and there’s lot of information out there for them.”
Part of Dr Lundy’s role in Holles St is treating women whose menopause has been triggered by other illness, and by medication prescribed to treat those illnesses, most of them cancer-related.
“At the summit I’ll be speaking about an area special to me and trying to dispel some of the confusion and myth surrounding menopause after cancer. The problem with cancer and the menopause is that some treatments for cancer cause the menopause, but the patient isn’t always told that it’s a possibility.
“They would often be told it’s a manageable cancer and put on treatment, but with no warning that they might end up going through menopause as a result, some doctors and nurses might tell you about the possible side effects, others won’t.
“It’s not enough to simply give the people drugs, you need to take people through all the eventualities, provide them with the full information before they consent to treatment, and make sure the supports are in place if they do experience menopause.”
Working in the field of sexual and reproductive health since the 1990s, Dr Lundy says she has seen huge improvements in the services available to those experiencing menopause and aims to improve those services yet further by hosting online talks and webinars for medical colleagues.
“The information being provided to me has improved and as a result we can better treat the patients. My role is with people who have been diagnosed with cancer and go into menopause as a result, most of the cases are breast cancer but there are other hormone sensitive cancers which can cause it. I’ve had a woman aged 20 who had radiotherapy for lymph cancer and went into menopause and nobody ever gave her the option of freezing her eggs.”
In addition to this medical advice and expertise, Dr Lundy and her team try to guide patients into available support services to cope with the psychological impact of early menopause.
“We give as much emotional support as we can but people need a support structure, counselling; there is the option of sharing lived experiences with others but not everyone wants to get on a zoom call with 20 other women and talk about menopause.
“In Ireland we’re way ahead of the curve compared to other countries, our GPs are hungry for information on menopause. We started a WhatsApp group for doctors who wanted information and ended up with a thousand GPs on there, we have lots of engaged GPs who want to do the best for their patients.”
Despite her prominent position and her level of expertise, Dr Lundy says this wasn’t necessarily the field of medicine she envisaged herself following when she started out on her career.
“I fell into it. I always had a great love for medicine but I had my kids young and didn’t want to go through an arduous training regime so pulled out of full-time medicine early on. But then in the 90s I had two choices, I could either go into sexual and reproductive health or dermatology and I chose the former.
“I worked in family planning clinics in Dublin and Wicklow for many years, mostly putting in coils, dealing with severe periods, endometriosis, and I noticed there was a lot of people coming to me with menopause issues. There wasn’t much information and education available for doctors or patients so I started to do extra training and then began providing that information for GPs.”
And during her time in Bray she also worked closely with local pharmacists, one of whom she singles out for special praise.
“Ultan McKeon worked in a pharmacy in Bray while I was there,” she says. “And only for him the women of Bray would have suffered a lot more, he always made sure they had access to medication.”