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Documentary exploring truth about menopause comes to Vashon

In what is likely a first for Vashon’s silver screen, a film about menopause will be shown at the Vashon Theatre this Saturday, followed by a question and answer period and reception with a panel of women’s health experts.

Kimberly Scheer, a nurse practitioner who owns the Vashon Women’s Health Center, is bringing the film to Vashon and, with the film’s producer, assembled the health professionals who will lend their expertise on the topic.

“There is a lot of information women don’t know,” Scheer said. “The film is a nice way to summarize what women go through physically and emotionally.”

By turns informative, thought-provoking and laugh-out-loud funny, “Hot Flash Havoc” takes an in-depth look at menopause and how it affects women and those around them. It briefly reviews the history of menopause and some of its treatments through the ages — all a bit grim. It then takes a long, hard look at where women are today and what the best of science has to offer as they navigate this life stage.

Central to the film is debunking the faulty information that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) reported from its Women’s Health Initiative study in 2002. The women’s study, NIH officials said then, showed that hormone therapy increased the risk of breast cancer, heart attack, blood clots and stroke. Millions of frightened women flushed their hormones down the toilet, according to the film, and many suffered fairly extreme health consequences because of abrupt hormone withdrawal.

Through interviews with a variety of experts in the field of menopause, the film contends there were methodological errors in the study, and the manner in which the findings were interpreted and reported was deeply flawed. The film’s medical experts state that many years’ worth of studies have shown the benefits of hormone therapy and that a thorough reading of the data from the Women’s Health Initiative shows that hormone therapy, when begun within 10 years of a woman’s final period, actually prevents serious health problems, including heart disease, osteoporosis, diabetes and colon cancer.

Estrogen plays a significant role in 400 functions in women’s bodies, the film explains, and helps with many organs and systems in the body, including the brain, heart, joints and bones. When estrogen begins to decrease, sometime between the ages of 35 to 50, women can experience a range of ailments, including memory loss, insomnia, depression, loss of libido, painful intercourse, joint pain, weight gain, heart palpitations and more.

“We have to understand this stage of life,” said Heidi Houston, the film’s Aspen, Colo.-based producer, who will be on Vashon for the event. “It is a natural phase.”

Some women experience only minor menopausal difficulties, but for others, problems can be severe. Even if a woman sails through menopause fairly easily, however, the lack of estrogen may still contribute to health problems, such as heart disease, dementia and osteoporosis, one of the medical experts in the film explains.

The documentary does not spell out answers for any woman, Houston said, but it does try to lay out the facts so that women can make decisions based not on fear or media hype but knowledge.

“Information is power,” she said. “If a woman has the correct information, she can ask the correct questions.”

The film is not just for women, Houston stressed. It has traveled to 32 cities so far, and in San Diego, its most recent showing, 40 percent of the audience was men. “They were there to help,” she said.

Following the film, which is roughly 90 minutes long, there will be a 30-minute question and answer session at the theater, followed by a reception with the expert panel at the Vashon’s Women Health Center, a time when women can ask questions of the experts in a more personal setting.

The panel will include three health care professionals from Vashon: Scheer, a certified Menopause Practitioner with the North American Menopause Society; Dr. Marcie Hamrick, a board-certified family medicine practitioner with a specialty in women’s health and integrative medicine, who also practices at Vashon Women’s Health Center, and Myra Willingham, a pharmacist at the Vashon Pharmacy.

Off-Island participants include Dr. Cedar Finkle-Weaver, a gynecologist at Three Tree Women’s Clinic, and Dr. Barbara Levy, who will moderate the event. Levy is one of the experts featured in the film and is the medical director of the Women’s Health & Breast Center of the Franciscan Health System.

Willingham noted that she agreed to be part of the panel so that she could become better informed herself about the issues surrounding the study and where women should go from here.

“There is a lot of ‘re-education’ going on,” she said. “Kim (Scheer) and (her office manager) Heather Flanery are to be commended for bringing this film to the Island.”

 

Hot Flash Havoc will begin at 1 p.m. Saturday at the Vashon Theatre. A Conversation with the Experts will be begin at 2:30 p.m.

At 3:30 p.m. a reception with “Mood Swing Libations and Hot Flash Tid Bits” will meet at Vashon Women’s Health Center.

Tickets to the event are $25 and are available at the clinic, theater and online at www.hotflashhavoc.net. Proceeds will go to the clinic’s fund for providing care for low-income women.

 

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