I went through menopause at 23: How one woman coped with fertility loss and hormone replacement when all she cared about was college and sex
23:32 GMT, 22 June 2012
Jackie Townsend was like any other 23-year-old in love for the first time, until colon cancer brought on early menopause.
Like anyone battling such a destructive and agonising illness so young, The New York-based novelist could not have imagined the cure would bring more heartache.
But contrary to her doctor's predictions, the cutting edge chemotherapy treatment that saved her life would also threaten her womanhood, her sexuality and her fertility.
Brave: Writer, Jackie Townsend, now 45, was 23 when after battling cancer she went through early menopause
In an ironic twist of fate, Jackie's traumatic transformation coincided with her 50-year-old mother's own menopause.
Recalling how her mother faced her own experience head on, she told MailOnline: 'My mother had raised her daughters to be proud, independent, self-sustaining women.
'She kept busy with her career, that’s how she got through menopause, and soon, that would be my remedy too.'
But though her mother's support was invaluable nothing could disguise the fact that her romantic life would be blighted by the unfortunate symptoms of early menopause.
'At the age of 23, this was the crux of the issue for me,' she admitted. 'Not the infertility so much, for I was cancer free and ready to re-start my post college life.
Through thick and thin: Jackie and her husband adore their nieces and nephews so much they have decided not to adopt or have a surrogate
'It was about my sex life, my young body shriveling up and dying.'
It was a year after remission from cancer that Jackie was informed by her gynecologist that the strange mood swings, vaginal dryness and persistent sweating were the result of 'premature ovarian failure.'
'I sat there dumbfounded,' she remembers as he went through the list of the all too familiar symptoms. 'But it wasn’t until said the dreaded words – vaginal dryness – that my eyes popped open. After that I heard nothing else.'
Though she told her boyfriend straight away and they weathered the storm together, after a year he left.
'I was devastated,' said the writer. 'I’m not sure if my I’ll infertility had something to do with it. I’ll never know, I guess.'
As time went by, Jackie's periods gradually became less and less regular until they stopped altogether.
Sisterly love: Jackie (right) and her two sisters were raised to be 'proud, self-sustaining and independent'
With the men she dated while at college at the University of California at Berkeley, she was honest right from the get-go about the scar on her pelvis.
When she met the man who would become her husband, she told him the first night they were together.
'But that’s me, I think,' she said. 'I feel deeply, and if I felt something for someone, the words just came out.'
'I wasn't even thinking of kids. You don't really think about fertility until you're in your late 20s'
For the last 20 years Jackie has managed the symptoms she experienced at the onset thanks to a drug called Prempro,
But, she confessed, the fertility issue re-surfaced when she turned 35 and realised that would never have children with her husband.
'It was like OK, I get it now. I can’t have kids. And so we need to do something, we need to make a decision, a choice.'
Though one of her sisters even offered to be a surrogate, the candid novelist and her husband have decided that their seven nieces and nephews provide enjoyment enough.
And looking back on her experience, with the same strength of character as her mother displayed, Jackie has found a way in which to be positive about going through the menopause at 23.
'When you’re young you have this feeling like the world is yours,' she concluded. 'Nothing can stop you. Not cancer. Certainly not infertility, so you sort of just glide on by it.'