What’s funny about menopause?
Updated: Jul 19, 2022
Deanna MacNeil went into early menopause at 29 after surviving breast cancer. Shortly after, she started a meme account on Instagram inspired by her experiences. Olivia asked her 10 questions on how this has brought laughter, connection and relief to herself and others going through menopause.
Who is Deanna MacNeil?
Deanna is a 29-year-old medical writer from Canada, with a PhD in cellular biology. Outside of work, she obsesses over Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, video games such as Animal Crossing and Stardew Valley, and tabletop roleplaying games like Dungeons & Dragons. She grew up in Waterloo, Ontario, then moved to Montreal, Quebec to study and work.
At 28, in September 2021, Deanna was diagnosed with hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer. This is when the cancer cells grow in response to either estrogen or testosterone because of protein-based receptors that are in or on the cells.
Her treatment has included getting one breast surgically removed, which is known as a unilateral mastectomy. Endocrine therapy means undergoing ovarian suppression, a treatment that lowers the amount of estrogen in your body. For Deanna, this meant going into chemically-induced menopause at the age of 29.
For obvious reasons, life isn’t the same for Deanna anymore. She has been coping with symptoms like brain fog, fatigue and hot flashes. But it hasn’t stopped Deanna from finding fun and laughter in her menopause moments. In January this year, Deanna started an Instagram account posting memes every day that make fun of the not-so-fun experiences that come with menopause. Self-irony is her disarming tool to beat the symptom blues.
Below Deanna answers ten questions for Olivia about how she has used humour to cope with surviving breast cancer and going through menopause so young.
Deanna, tell us, what inspired you to start a menopause meme account on Instagram? When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I found comfort, levity, and solidarity with the cancer community on Instagram. There are excellent meme-based accounts that helped me laugh about my diagnosis, especially on days when I was mentally and physically having a tough time. So when I learned I was going to go through a chemically-induced menopause, I turned to the menopause community on Instagram to help me cope with this big, unexpected life change. I'm hoping the menopause memes I create will share some of the humour I find healing, and help me connect with others who are in menopause.
How would you describe your sense of humour? The type of humour that has me laughing the hardest is silly and/or sarcastic humour. I love shows like Bob's Burgers [an American animated show about a man who runs a restaurant which is in danger of running out of business with his wife and kids] and The Good Place [an American comedy about a group of people who try to figure out what it means to be good in the afterlife] for the way they execute this kind of humour. During the pandemic and since being diagnosed with breast cancer, I've also found a lot of laughter in humour that is a bit more morbid or dark.
Can you describe your personal favourite menopause meme? Most of my meme ideas come from personal experiences I'm now calling "memeable moments" in my menopause experience. One of the memes I'm most proud of, and that the most people connected with so far, is a Steven Universe meme [Steven Universe is an American animated tv-show about a young boy who goes for adventures with his magic, human-like alien friends to protect the world] In that meme, Steven is reading a book of instructions for "How to Survive Menopause". The instructions in the book are "Step 1: Wear layers" and "Step 2: Cry whenever you want". [The first picture in the beginning of the article]
How did the Steven Universe idea come to you? This meme idea came from a pretty average moment when I was listening to music while out for a walk. I started having a hot flush, so I was in the process of removing a bunch of my winter layers. Then a sad song came on shuffle and I found myself feeling extremely overwhelmed by a need to cry. So I just did. I'm not sure that's something I would've allowed myself to do pre-menopause, but it definitely felt good to just feel my feelings at that moment and laugh about it later.
What's the funniest thing about menopause for you? The funniest parts about menopause have been laughing with other people who are experiencing menopause. Sometimes that's connecting in the comments of my memes, but I also really love menopause-related humour in general and laughing with other people about all the different "quirks" of our changing bodies.
How has humour shifted your perspective about the challenges you have been through with breast cancer and early menopause? Humour has helped me find agency in moments when I have little to no say in what is happening to my life or my body. It has allowed me to create laughter where there otherwise might not be any. It has helped me find a voice to discuss what I'm going through, and open up about topics that are a bit taboo or hard for people to talk about in everyday conversation.
“Humour has helped me find agency in moments when I have little to no say in what is happening to my life or my body because it has allowed me to create laughter where there otherwise might not be any."
How has humour helped you cope with challenging feelings? I'm a big believer in acknowledging and feeling your feelings, but it's not always an easy thing to do and I have definitely struggled with that for a long time, even pre-cancer. I still have good and bad days, but for me, finding humour in the tough moments takes the edge off of the bad days. It has helped me be present with all my feelings, even the tough ones, which is an important aspect of grieving and healing.
What does it mean for you in your everyday life to move forward with your grief and not hide from it? I am learning not to rush myself out of tough feelings. Sometimes my first instinct is to ignore or dismiss my grief because I feel like I should be past it or over it now that I am a cancer survivor and not a patient. In reality, what I've experienced changed the way my body works, the way I think about my life and many other aspects of who I am.
Change is an inevitable part of life, but that doesn't mean change is always welcome or expected. Change can be a source of loss and grief, and those feelings go on long after we experience change. Those feelings don't necessarily fit neatly into a single moment where we let ourselves grieve and then stop feeling their impact.
For me, moving forward with my grief means challenging my instinct to dismiss my feelings. I am learning to hold space for grief whenever I feel it, and acknowledging that healing from hard times is not a linear or cut and dry process. In practice, that looks like different forms of self-care, therapy, and sharing with my loved ones—and like the meme says, crying whenever I want.
“I am learning to hold space for grief whenever I feel it. Healing from hard times is not a linear or cut and dry process. In practice, that looks like different forms of self-care, therapy, and sharing with my loved ones—and like the meme says, crying whenever I want.”
Can you tell us how you have used humour to help you cope with the grief that came with going through early menopause? I think most people experience tough feelings related to the physical and mental changes that come with menopause, regardless of what age you encounter it. I certainly wasn't expecting menopause to be part of my life experience before the age of 30, and entering menopause early has definitely felt scary and daunting at times.
Transforming the grief of going through menopause early into a source of laughter and connection has been really healing for me. It helps me acknowledge and process my menopausal experience in the absence of fear and in the presence of community. Another big aspect of using humour to cope is that it brings levity to an otherwise serious situation. The purpose of medically-induced menopause for me is to prevent the cancer from coming back.
Sometimes my symptoms serve as a reminder that I had cancer and might get it again, which is heavy to constantly reflect on. Finding humour in the menopausal aspect of my cancer experience helps lighten that load, making it easier to process the grief that comes along with it.
“Transforming the grief of going through menopause early into a source of laughter and connection has been really healing for me because it helps me acknowledge and process my menopausal experience in the absence of fear and in the presence of community."
How do you think humour can help us talk more openly about menopause? When you experience something painful or serious, transforming the pain or seriousness into laughter can make the experience more approachable. Just like grief, menopause is an intensely personal yet relatable experience, but we treat it like it's a secret or a taboo.
Humour defangs the beast. It creates a way to connect with other people going through something similar and opens the conversation to people who aren't experiencing menopause. I think this is why humour can help us talk more openly about menopause and its symptoms. If someone, menopausal or not, can laugh at a meme because they find it relatable in some way, then that is a beautiful thing to me.
Who: Deanna MacNeil Age: 29 Lives in: Waterloo, Ontario, Canada Does: Medical Writer with a Ph.D. in cellular biology Family: Older brother and sister, parents
Instagram accounts to follow:
Deanna’s account: @Meno_Made_Me - Menopause Made Me Do It
Deanna’s Top funny menopause-related:
@periperimenopause - Laughing, Crying, Screaming (and everything in between) through perimenopause.
@hotflasshsinc - Informing, encouraging & entertaining through perimenopause & menopause podcast.
Deanna’s top funny cancer-related:
@ohyouresotough - Oh You’re So Tough
@humorbeatscancer - Humor Beats Cancer