Jacquelyn Weeber is feeling decidedly fantastic these days.

In fact, not just fantastic.

“Super fantastic,” Weeber, 51, said.

It hasn’t always been that way.

When the Rockford, Michigan, resident first visited the Spectrum Health Midlife, Menopause & Sexual Health Clinic in September 2018, she cast a long shadow.

She recognized the signs of menopause. It explained her night sweats and the three- to four-a-day hot flashes.

“By then, I was feeling desperate,” Weeber recalled. “I needed someone on my side, someone on my team. My body felt like it was fighting against a brick wall.”

Enter Julie Ondersma, FNP.

A specialist in obstetrics and gynecology, Ondersma is also certified in menopause medicine.

On her first meeting with Weeber, Ondersma pulled up a chair and settled in for a good listen and a long list of questions.

“When someone first comes in to see me, we talk for maybe 45 minutes to an hour,” Ondersma said. “I want to get to know my patient, her lifestyle, the symptoms she is feeling. Whatever she needs to talk about.”

For her part, Weeber felt heard.

Menopause had been making her feel like an alien had hijacked her body.

Now, she’d met someone who could fully understand what she’d been experiencing.

A holistic approach

Weeber has always maintained a healthy regimen, but even her best habits couldn’t keep the menopause symptoms in check.

“I have pretty healthy habits, although I have struggled with weight in recent years, in spite of all the running I do,” Weeber said. “I run marathons, I’ve even done triathlons.”

She usually runs about three times a week, covering as much as 12 miles per run.

“And I enjoy strength training and weightlifting, too,” she said.

From the start, she told Ondersma that she wanted to avoid medications, even though her mother and older sister were both on hormone therapy and had only positive feedback.

But after Ondersma explained the options, Weeber began to consider the possibility of some type of medication.

“I think many women think estrogen is a bad thing,” Weeber said. “But talking to Julie got me more open to the idea of hormone replacement therapy.”

Ondersma checked Weeber’s hormone levels and her thyroid, which revealed hypothyroidism, or an underperforming thyroid.

Weeber agreed to try an estrogen patch, along with thyroid medication.

“Suddenly I felt like I had what my body had been missing,” Weeber marveled. “I felt a difference the very next day—more energy, more vibrant. I felt like I could work with this body again.”

Weeber also heeded Ondersma’s advice on her eating habits.

“Julie gave me a one-sheet list of information to follow,” Weeber said. “I’d tried various weight-loss programs, but I would lose and then gain the weight back again. Julie gave me encouragement and structure.”

Weeber also downloaded a weight loss app, called Noom.

She appreciated how the app didn’t list foods as good or bad—it simply provided informative articles and helped her track her eating and exercise habits.

“My relationship to food has changed,” she said. “I look at it more now as fuel or energy.”

She still eats what she wants, but she finds herself wanting to eat less.

“Weight gain was hugely psychological for me,” she said. “The power food had over me isn’t there anymore. Instead, I tend to tweak.

“For instance, I used to have a caramel latte every day, about 370 calories,” she said. “But now I leave out the caramel—but still have half-and-half with it, even whipped cream. It’s 170 calories.”

Like a beast

Weeber said she has figured out that her healthy weight depends on about 90% diet and 10% exercise.

The enjoyment she gains from a more active lifestyle has affected all aspects of her life.

She has noticed a newfound surge of energy.

As a business owner in Grandville and as a mother of four, she has put that energy to use.

Since her first visit to the Spectrum Health Midlife, Menopause & Sexual Health Clinic, she has lost 45 pounds—and kept them off.

“I saw Jackie again in December 2019, a year later, and her hot flashes were gone and she was feeling great,” Ondersma said. “I adjusted her thyroid meds a bit and we looked over her eating habits—portion size and times of day to eat.

“She had a great change in her cholesterol levels, dropping 20 points in one year—with her LDL dropping from 113 to 83,” Ondersma said. “Jackie took on her new lifestyle like a beast.”

Menopause can be a different experience for every woman, Ondersma said.

It’s only fitting that her advice for each woman will also differ, depending on the patient’s lifestyle and symptoms.

“Every woman’s treatment is unique to her,” Ondersma said. “We shouldn’t look at menopause as a time of doom and gloom. It’s an opportunity to look at our lives and how we can improve things.”

Ondersma said estrogen patches can help many women through the different stages of pre-menopause, menopause and post-menopause.

The period of change can last as long as 10 years.

“There’s no need to suffer,” Ondersma said. “These new, natural estrogen therapies in patch form can ease the way and estrogen replacement can also help prevent bone loss.”

Weeber had resisted it all—at first.

“But the combination of an estrogen patch and thyroid meds helped me get back to the Jackie I used to be,” Weeber said. “I felt like the meds and meeting with Julie were part of a holistic approach and helped, too, with the stress that I was feeling about having the ability to go through these changes.

“I had gone into this with the mindset that I could do this alone. But doing it with a team member? That made all the difference.”