The woman who’s forcing the island’s medical professionals to actually listen

“In Cyprus, doctors are akin to God,” says Kathy Kattashis. “You trust them, you never question them. You just do what they tell you, take the pills you’re given, and hope for the best. But what if they’re wrong?”

Like so many other women on the island, Kathy was misdiagnosed, unheard and sidelined for years. “The symptoms were all there,” she says. “Skin lymphoma at 28; stress incontinence in my early 30s. By the age of 39, I was having heart palpitations, sleeplessness, anxiety, hot flushes, joint pain, restless legs, vaginal dryness. And I’d skipped more than a few periods…”

Kathy went to GP after GP – “I can’t count the number of times a doctor with a God complex told me I was depressed and just needed therapy!” She saw endocrinologists and gynaecologists and underwent every test any doctor could think of.

“Nobody could tell me what was wrong. And yet the answer was simple. I was going through perimenopause.”

In retrospect, the signs were evident. But while other countries such as England and the US are raising levels of awareness around the perimenopause (the time leading up to menopause, during which hormone fluctuations can cause any number of debilitating symptoms) and menopause (when the menstrual cycle stops, and hormones plunge), Cyprus still sweeps this time of life under the carpet, Kathy suggests. And that means women on the island are certainly not getting the care they need when they’re going through this transition.

“On this island, menopause has mostly been silenced since the WHI study of 2002, which suggested Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) could increase the risk of breast cancer. That study, which has since been disproved on multiple counts, has done A LOT of damage to women,” says Kathy. “And yet it’s still being cited by doctors in Cyprus who simply don’t understand either the menopause or its treatments.”

Kathy’s journey is hardly unusual. After all, 50 per cent of the population will undergo menopause and perimenopause in their lives. For many women, it’s an experience that’s far from pleasant.

“This is a country that lacks even basic menopause data,” adds Kathy. “In the UK, you have countless official organisations dedicated to helping women and doctors navigate the perimenopause and menopause, as well as thousands of non-governmental groups that provide much-needed support and information. It’s the same in the US.

“But here, doctors’ only concern seems to be whether you can have kids or not; surely women are worth more than that? When you’re walking round with a dry vulva and vagina, when you’re so overheated that you haven’t felt winter in years, when your aches and pains mean you can’t work, and your brain is fried – shouldn’t your doctors pay attention?”

But for Kathy, like so many others, it was medical inattention that was the order of the day. So she took matters into her own hands, and created the Mitra Cyprus Menopause Centre.

A non-profit organisation founded in December 2022, Mitra (which means ‘womb’ in Greek) is dedicated to advocating for unbiased healthcare during perimenopause and menopause, while fostering awareness, education and empowerment.

“We challenge stereotypes and discrimination; provide accurate information; and enable women to make informed healthcare decisions. We’re working to integrate the menopause transition into state education programmes and policies and empower employers and youth to openly discuss and menopause support.

“In short, we’re tackling the taboos around menopause by providing services that empower women to thrive during what can be a very challenging time,” says Kathy. “And we’re also working towards a society in which menopause is understood, respected, and supported.”

It’s no surprise that the divorce rate soars during perimenopause and menopause. “Fluctuating hormones can change you from a confident, active, vibrant woman to someone barely able to get out of bed,” says Kathy who, as a menopause support coach, has helped many local women navigate this challenging time – even going so far as to attend doctors’ appointments and ensure concerns are being heard.

“The effects can be staggering. Those undergoing menopause or perimenopause are being silenced by society. Why are women being ignored by Cypriot doctors?”

In Mitra, Kathy has created an advisory board of highly qualified healthcare professionals who are there to help women make informed healthcare decisions. The organisation has partnered with local grassroots campaigns, such as Let’s Talk Period and Kontes Foustes, and with a female-focused sexual wellness company. It’s featured at Femme Fest and an upcoming Cyprus Youth Fest. And Kathy herself has been interviewed by Harley Street doctor and Sunday Telegraph columnist Nigel Denby.

“Ultimately, we want to bring menopause and perimenopause awareness to Cyprus,” says Kathy. “Driven by my own experience, the lack of choice and availability of HRT on the island, and the desire to support people navigating the complexities of this time, I embarked on a journey to create a space for advocacy, understanding, compassion and empowerment for others.”

Mitra, she adds, was born from a deep-seated conviction that no person with a womb should endure the peri/menopausal journey alone. It’s a space where stories intertwine, experiences are shared and knowledge is imparted. A place where the seemingly flat line of indifference is transformed into a vibrant symphony of understanding and support.

“And anyone,” she concludes, “is welcome to contact us. For any reason. We’re not just here for women whose doctors won’t listen. We’re also here if you’ve spent the day in tears; when you think you’re going crazy and it might be hormones; when you’re in pain; and also for those who want to learn how to support their menopausal or perimenopausal partners.

“You are not alone in your journey. Read that again,” she concludes. “You are not alone. Together, we can rewrite the narrative, break the silence and shed light on this phase of life.”

For more information, visit the Facebook page ‘MITRA Cyprus Menopause Centre’ or email directly on [email protected]