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Starting a menopause conversation

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Joan Boone wants you to know that menopause isn’t a dirty word.

St. Vital resident, Boone, 66, recently spoke at a women’s health event in Toronto. The event was called DiVA Dialogue, which was sponsored by Canadian Living in partnership with Novo Nordisk, where she spoke openly and candidly about living with menopause.

Boone has drawn on her own experiences to promote a dialogue among other women, as well as their partners and families, about menopause, in both physical and emotional terms.

The retired Royal Bank of Canada employee said a good starting point is the resource starttalkingva.ca, an unbranded disease awareness website developed by Novo Nordisk. 
Aside from touching on Boone’s story, the website features information about VA (vaginal atrophy), advice from experts and a list of resources.

VA is a common, treatable condition where the vaginal walls become thin, fragile and inflamed due to a reduction in estrogen and is characterized by symptoms such as burning, itching, dryness, irritation and pain during intercourse, Boone said. Essentially, the loss of estrogen causes changes to the vaginal area.

Boone said her symptoms started "very early," when she was only 39, when they typically hit women in their fifties.

"At 39, when menopause landed on my doorstep, my kids were only in their early teens, but suddenly I had this old ladies’ malady and I felt old before my time," Boone said. "All women are born with a certain amount of eggs in their ovaries and apparently I had shed all my eggs by then, which is very uncommon, especially as I’m one of eight children."

Stopping short of calling menopause a taboo subject, Boone’s body was nevertheless starting to change nearly three decades ago, at a time when society deemed it difficult to open up about such things.

"At first, I was in shock. I felt inadequate," Boone said, noting that her symptoms include hot flashes and night sweats.

"Talking with my husband was uncomfortable and somewhat embarrassing for both of us. Although men discussed erectile dysfunction and watched commercials about the subject on TV, there were no commercials for vaginal atrophy, so you felt you were to blame, as you’d never heard of such things," she added.

"My mother and my aunts didn’t talk about these things, as they were private matters. Now, I can talk about sexual escapades with my daughter, but I’m from a time when none of this was discussed, so you’re dealing with it all by yourself. I was avoiding intimacy much longer than I should have because I was trying to solve my problems on my own. Intimacy was painful and I was distancing myself to avoid those situations that were uncomfortable."

Boone, who now speaks to various women’s groups on the subject, eventually found the courage to confide in her husband and then visited a doctor, when she wrote down her symptoms to start the conversation — which proved be the turning point.

"He was very helpful and told me there were mess-free treatments in tablet form. What a difference it made and so quickly. It turned my life around. Now, I want to help other women get to where I am," Boone said.

She highlighted a simple, four-step plan — "Knowledge is power, talk with other women, talk to your partner and speak to your doctor" — to help get the conversation started.   

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Twitter: @lanceWPG

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