In Their Own Words
Dani Binnington, founder of the holistic menopause-support platform Healthy Whole Me, shares what she’s learned about breast cancer and menopause.
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to wellness; this fact became crystal clear to Dani Binnington following her breast cancer diagnosis and surgical menopause. Taking positive steps toward her own good health and a happy life has been a deeply personal journey—one that has included developing the Manta Healthy Hair Brush, which was created by her husband, Tim, to care for her delicate hair and scalp.
It’s a road that she helps others walk through Healthy Whole Me, a community support hub that includes events, a podcast, yoga and online discussion groups. In honour of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we sat down with Binnington to hear her story and some of the tips she has learned along the way.
I was diagnosed with a really aggressive type of breast cancer when I was 33. With three young children, I thought that I just had to do everything the doctors told me to do. It was like life was happening to me instead of me directing my own life. That was a really big learning curve—understanding how little control we have in life. My journey then included breast cancer treatment with chemotherapy and radiotherapy, and I had lots of surgeries. After that, I found out that I was a carrier for a genetic mutation. And so many years after my initial cancer diagnosis, I had my ovaries removed to reduce my risk of more cancers. I had a big time gap between my initial breast cancer diagnosis and becoming menopausal. I think it’s crucial to say that because of this time gap, I was able to put my life back in order; I was becoming stronger, I was eating well and I was teaching yoga by then. That really helped me in deciding what to do and how to manage my menopause.
I think for many women who are diagnosed with cancer and thrown into menopause immediately, it’s really a double whammy. We’re going to do everything possible to survive, and we’re going to take all the treatment options our doctors offer us. We expect our treatments to have an impact on us, and we expect to lose our hair. But what we often don’t expect is the long-lasting late effects of cancer treatment, and I’m really passionate about talking about those. It could be menopause or it could be severe anxiety, even a year or two after cancer treatment, or there could be low mood and other mental-health issues and the fear of recurrence. We think that all of these things are going to stop when active treatment stops, but actually, many of them start when active treatment stops. We don’t expect it, and no one prepares us for it. And the expectation is ‘Well, you’ve finished cancer treatment, it’s great, you’ve done it, you should be so pleased with yourself.’ But that’s often the point when our life begins to crumble.
Sometimes women say to me that managing menopause after a cancer diagnosis is harder than chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgeries put together. Wow. Many women feel they shouldn’t complain after cancer treatment because they feel so lucky to be alive. It’s OK to say we’re not doing so great when we’re going through active treatment, but as time goes by, we don’t want to seem like we’re moaning on and on. So women often don’t talk about how desperate they feel in managing menopause.
In my opinion, managing menopause is probably the same whether you’ve had cancer or you arrive at perimenopause naturally and your hormones start to dwindle. And from working with hundreds of people through our workshops and programs and courses, I have found that a two-pronged approach is what is really, really helpful. The one side is what you can do every single day yourself and how you can support yourself and how active you can become. And then the other side is tapping into resources. That might be your health-care team, your general practitioner, a specialist, a medical specialist or another doctor. Tapping into both at different times is the most helpful when it comes to what you can do every single day.
There is no this or that approach. I feel like we need to understand what the bigger picture is and then choose what is best for us and also change our mind if needed. If we try something and it works, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to work forever. The best thing we can do is become a little more alert and sensitive to ourselves again. We often arrive at mid-life having forgotten to listen to ourselves and consider how we’re actually doing. We’re so on autopilot—go, go, go, achieve, work, kids, family, elderly parents—that we forget to just take a moment and check in with ourselves. If we do that, we’ll notice that perhaps alcohol doesn’t agree with us anymore or maybe the hot flashes get worse after we eat a big piece of meat. It’s important to notice and understand patterns or triggers. So these are things we can do every single day or every single week at home; we don’t even need a doctor for that. And then there are many women who make all of these lifestyle changes yet still don’t feel great. It’s really important to find a sound health-care provider who can help with next steps. There are hormonal medical treatments, non-hormonal medical treatments and complementary therapies, and they’re all worth exploring.