In the meantime, by the way, what are women doing to make their lives bearable if they can’t get the estrogen gels, sprays or patches they need to treat their symptoms? Some have already turned to the Internet to try to buy the treatments that are now lacking in pharmacies. Nokes herself is one of them. “People like me go online to try to buy it,” she says. But it is not without risk. “Women could really [end up buying something unsafe] and that’s the danger,” warns Nokes. “You like to think you’re doing your research and buying the right products, but you never really know.”
It didn’t work in his case anyway. After ordering her treatment online last week, she received an email 24 hours later telling her it was unavailable.
Others, dubbed HRT tourists, watch overseas. “We shouldn’t have to go to the black market to try to get a prescription or ask friends overseas to try and get estrogen,” says Katie Taylor, founder of Latte Lounge, a support group online for women in their 40s and menopause. “We hear women say on our Facebook group, ‘you can get it over the counter in Spain, it’s slightly different to the UK but I’m sure it’s ok’, or ‘if you Google you can get it privately here’, and that’s dangerous because it takes time to find the right level of HRT and your medical history has to be taken into account.
Others go to several pharmacies in search of supplies without success. Without it, some feel hopeless. “The highest female suicide rate is among women between the ages of 44 and 55. It’s no coincidence,” says Taylor, whose own menopausal symptoms were so severe that she quit her job in marketing and communications at age 47.
Lancaster, too, knows all too well how some women feel unable to carry on with untreated menopausal symptoms. “It can reach a devastating point where women are committing suicide,” she says.
“My father was a lawyer in a large firm in London and only a few months ago he learned that an ex-colleague had committed suicide because she was taking antidepressants when the treatment she needed was the THS,” she said. “It’s horrible to think that in our time this kind of thing can happen.”
Through her own campaign, she has “spoken to very successful women, CEOs, who, without HRT, feel like they can’t be responsible for all these people when they have crises, feeling that they cannot cope”.