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Menopause Journal: Can I sail through menopause?

Can I sail through menopause is akin to asking, "Can I swim when I'm having my period?" or "Can I have sex when I'm pregnant?" Literally, menopause poses challenges for sailing. I have a harder climb from the dinghy to the boat the heavier I get. I charted a wrong course this year, taking us past our destination. In Maine, the cool breeze is great for a hot flash. Would menopausal sailing in the Caribbean be as comfortable?

The common belief, "Take hormones and you'll sail through menopause," makes sailing a metaphor for "gliding along easily." I know sailing better than that. Rocks, tides, wind direction and weather present challenges. Sometimes you can't get there from here. You have to tack (a kind of herringbone approach to where you want to go because you can't sail straight into the wind).

Menopause isn't that simple either. Some women on hormone replacement therapy who've read this journal have written of less than desirable results: breasts and abdominal swelling, substantial increase in cysts aspirated or no impact on symptoms.

Numerous women take hormones for the alleged benefit to the heart with seemingly good results. However, Harvard Women's Health Watch (June 2000) cites recent trials that indicate women with heart disease are in fact at greater risk for heart attacks and blood clots when taking HRT. And the Women's Health Initiative's hormone replacement trial on healthy women reported "increased risk for cardiovascular events among those on HRT ..." An early, unexpected finding!

I hope that lessons I've learned in sailing will apply to menopause. Sailing can be easy, peaceful and beautiful, almost magic, ghosting along at sunset, seeing a harbor seal poke its head out for a quick hello or the graceful turns of a group of passing porpoises passing. But conditions change. Sometimes there's no wind. My friend Sally, who showed me how to sail around the islands, thoroughfares, reaches and harbors of Penobscot Bay, taught me to make the most of opportunities. No wind? We'd take the opportunity to eat—hummus, crackers and brie, or crabmeat sandwiches. Usually that would bring a breeze and we'd suddenly be under sail, sometimes heeling so that food slid across the cockpit. I remember tacking out of Blue Hill Bay on choppy seas with part of a crabmeat sandwich stuck to my foot.

Some women seem to glide through menopause even without hormones... "five of us are in the same boat, maybe a little weight gain, but we laugh a lot more than we cry." A 72-year-old woman wrote that she'd never taken hormones, had a green belt in tae kwon do and took up tap dancing at 65. My insurance agent, who suffered years of torture from PMS, says menopause without hormones provides the relief and bliss of a lobotomy.