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Amanda Gillies’ private struggle: ‘What I want women to know’

After receiving some devastating health news, the TV star made a plan

Back in 2016, when Amanda Gillies was not yet 40, she was hit by a barrage of mystery symptoms. Night sweats, brain fog and a sense that something just wasn’t right had left her grappling for answers at a time when she should have been feeling at her best.

“I was about to start my dream job hosting The AM Show and there I was, feeling really pretty awful,” she recalls. “Something had shifted in me – I was hot flushing, there was a lot of fatigue and I felt kind of down. Things that never bothered me before were getting to me and my usual keenness to do things was dulled. It was like the joy had gone.”

Determined to get back on track to ensure she was at her best for her new role hosting the flagship morning show alongside Duncan Garner and Mark Richardson, Amanda visited her GP and underwent blood tests. Several days later, during a rehearsal at the Three studios, she received her results by text message.

“You have entered perimenopause,” it read. Perimenopause refers to the years before a woman’s periods stop completely. During this time, the body’s production of oestrogen and progesterone, two hormones made by the ovaries, varies greatly, causing symptoms that can include hot flushes, mood swings, disturbed sleep, headaches and weight gain.

The news was a cruel blow for Amanda, who at 39 had no idea her body had entered this phase.

“I was sitting there between Duncan and Mark, and we’d been having lots of banter and lots of laughs, but suddenly the text came through and I just burst into tears. They were like, ‘What did we say?!’ I remember feeling so shocked and thinking, ‘I am not ready for this.'”

On screen with Mark (far left) and Duncan.

Entering perimenopause was especially heartbreaking as she had always hoped to become a mum. This felt like the door was closing on that dream, says Amanda.

“That was really emotional and hard because I was still desperate to have a baby. And because all my friends were in the stage of life where they had young kids, I suddenly felt I was on an island of one.

“I didn’t know anyone else going through what I was. And the fact no one had ever talked about menopause or perimenopause meant I was totally unprepared. I thought it was something women deal with in their 50s.”

But Amanda, now 47, says she did what she always does in times like these – “I researched the hell out of it” and visited several menopause specialists. She was prescribed oestrogen patches, which work by replacing oestrogen no longer being made by the ovaries once women enter perimenopause. But after her skin reacted to these, she moved to a hormone replacement therapy (HRT) in pill form, which provided almost immediate relief.

“HRT doesn’t work for everyone, but it was a game-changer for me. I felt like myself again. It was almost like popping my head out through the clouds and breathing this big sigh of relief because everything felt clearer and more focused.”

Seven years on, Amanda still takes that little pill each day and is feeling better than she has in years. Ensuring she eats well and keeps active are also important parts of managing her menopause symptoms.

“I feel happier and healthier now than I have in a long time,” she smiles. Having married the love of her life, newsroom.co.nz co-owner Tim Murphy, in a romantic ceremony in Auckland in January, Amanda says everything about this chapter feels happy and settled. She’s at peace with the fact she wasn’t able to fulfil her dream of motherhood and has embraced married life.

“I really do love being married,” shares Amanda. “It’s just lovely.”

Tim was by her side recently when she dislocated her finger after slipping over at work. While she insists her ego was more damaged than her digit, she admits it was an experience she wouldn’t like to repeat!

Their blissful day in January.

“I was walking in the studio after presenting the six o’clock news and suddenly I was on the floor. My hand took the impact and next thing my middle finger was just hanging off to the side – it went from midday to 3pm, like something from Halloween! Tim met me at the hospital and sat with me while it was put back into place, and he’s been amazing helping out with everything ever since.”

As she continues her mission to spread awareness of menopause, Amanda says she feels nothing but positivity about getting older – thanks in part to the fact she got help early for her symptoms. Now, she’s determined to change the way we talk – or don’t talk – about menopause. She knows from experience that it’s important to educate loved ones about the impact, so they can be more understanding when the women in their lives experience symptoms.

“I think it’s so important because every single woman is going to go through it to varying degrees. I love when I go for lunch with my girlfriends, invariably our conversation will turn to how we’re all doing. We might talk about how we’re feeling grumpy, suffering a lack of sleep or just acknowledging that general intolerance. And the best part is we trade secrets on what we take to make us feel better. Whether it’s sleeping aids or HRT, there’s no shame or embarrassment in talking about anymore.”

Amanda, who finished up on The AM Show (now AM) 18 months ago, is now a Newshub national correspondent, which means she’s back out in the field, often covering stories she’s truly passionate about. She recalls a piece she did recently about Hawke’s Bay woman Bronda Smith, who had to quit her high-powered job and almost lost her marriage due to the effects of menopause. Bronda is now calling for menopause education to be added to the school curriculum. Amanda agrees there needs to be much greater awareness to remove any shame or stigma.

Tim lent a hand when Amanda was out of action.

“It’s a part of life. We need to talk about it and we need to learn about it – and importantly, get the loved ones in our lives to know about it because they’ll go, ‘Oh, okay, so that’s why you’re intolerant,’ or ‘That’s why you’ve walked out of the room,’ and ‘That’s why you’re hot and sweaty.’ It’s about ensuring there is an understanding that every woman deserves.”

For Amanda, seeking help all those years ago is the best thing she ever did and she’s relishing how good she feels at this stage of life.

“My early forties were probably the hardest time of my life, but I got that out of the way early and now it’s time to embrace the rest. Life now is honestly so good, and I do feel better now than I did in my late thirties and early forties in every sense. My heart is very full. We’re given one shot at life – there is no dress rehearsal – so you have to love big and live big.”

With summer approaching, Amanda’s looking forward to Christmas and a long festive break with family at the beach in Whangamatā on the Coromandel Peninsula.

“I love the beach, I love the small town and I love the people there. You feel like you can relax, breathe, recharge and refresh before heading back into the big city.”

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