“Body Heat” I loved this movie. Sultry Kathleen Turner seduces William Hurt on a hot, humid summer evening. Wind chimes dance in the night. Fists knot up; sheets crumple. You can almost smell the perspiration simmering off Turner and Hurts’ entwined bodies. It made me feel hot and bothered, wanton and wanting.
Today, body heat has a new meaning to me. Flash forward to the reality of hot flashes. For women in their midlife and cancer patients undergoing certain treatments at any age, hot flashes are a reality. They are nothing new- except to my every changing body.
The website www.breastcancer.org, one of many handy online resources, has this to say about hot flashes: “A hot flash is a sudden, intense hot feeling on your face and upper body. Hot flashes can be accompanied by a rapid heartbeat, sweating, nausea, dizziness, anxiety, headache, weakness or a feeling of suffocation, followed by chills. Hot flashes are caused by a decrease in estrogen. When estrogen levels drop or estrogen receptors or blocked, the body’s temperature control system gets confused and the result is hot flashes.”
OK, that’s a pretty stratightforward description by a medical expert. Now, here’s the reality:
Hot flashes sneak up on you, often at the most inconvenient times, like when you are about to start a business presentation, getting ready to go out to dinner and after you are dressed. And usually at night when you are trying to get your beauty sleep.
It helps to keep a diary documenting when your hot flashes occur and what moods and foods may be triggering them. I did this. Consistently, I seem to have a hot flash between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. about the time I am planning to: A) have dinner, usually at a restaurant B) attending a play or the opera, and when I am already dressed and getting seated at the dining table or mid row in the theater. There’s no “warning signal”- just a slow seeping heat that envelopes my body, like I have been tossed in an oven and am starting to bake. Instinctly, I tug at my shirt, yank of my jacket or sweater and start fanning myself with the restaurant menu or the theater program. It is so consistent timing-wise and occasion-wise that I have learned to carry an old -fashion hand fan in my handbag to pull out as soon as my body heat starts to rise. Or an atomizer of Evian water. I have been know to hold a bottle of cold beer down my shirt or inside my bra, much to my husband’s amusement. Sometimes I just excuse myself and dash outside for air or into the bathroom to toss water on my face.
And that’s just when I am going out. The night sweats are a constant. First you are cold and cocooned in the sheets. Then, usually between 3 a.m. and 4:30 a.m. I wake up and my upper body is soaked in sweat. I burst out of the cocoon, grab water which I know to keep on the night stand and tear off any pajamas I am wearing. About twenty minutes after the sweat dries I am shivering. I curl back into the cocoon and hopefully into a deep sleep. This can happen once or twice a night. Usually, my dog is up with me; my husband, more rarely.
Of course none of us want to go through life denying ourselves enjoyment, good food, wine and living the way we choose. So, here is how I deal with monitoring the oven in my body or, as a friend once said, “my eternal summer.”
Log what foods and moods trigger your hot flashes. Expert say stress is a number one flash inducer. Basically stress is no good for anything. Spicy foods, caffeine, alchohol and hot drinks are flash inducers. Not really a suprise. Ditto hot weather, hot sauces, hot saunas, hot tubs – anything labeled “hot.”
Dress in layers. You will be hot; then you may be cold. I usually wear a camisole or tank top, then a blouse and then a sweater, shawl or light jacket. Go for clothes you can easily peel off without appearing indecent, kind of like dressing for airport security.
For some reason, I have developed an aversion to turtleneck shirts post treatment. I find them stifling. Go for scoop or V-necks so your chest area gets air. If you have issues showing your neck or chest, then loop a scarf around your neck, or wear a great necklace.
Wear cotton or rayon. Silk, wool and shiny synthetics just make you hotter. For hot flashes, cotton really is the fabric of your life. I haven’t tried hemp, smoking or wearing it, but it sounds like a nice natural and breathable fiber.
Breathable- there’s that magic word I have used in past posts. You want your body and skin to breath. Taking deep breaths will help calm you and stabilize your flashes. The great thing about breathing properly is that it is a free beauty treatment and you can do it anywhere.
Exercise and keep your weight down. It just helps balance everything. Period.
Drink lots of water and keep ice water or a cup of ice by your bed at night.
Carry a small fan to pull out when your start flashing.
At night before you go to bed, lower the temperature in the room, take a lukewarm shower and then wear something light and made of cotton to wear in bed.
If you can’t stand heat, go stand in front of an open freezer or refrigerator.
Or see a medical specialist or consider holistic therapy. I have not done either, so I cannot make recommendations. What helps me is exercise, hydration, deep breathing and dressing in layers. All easy, inexpensive and accessible.
The great thing about hot flashes is they make your skin glow:) See, I try to find a beauty treatment in everything!
OK, we discussed the bake’n. Now, about those fried eggs: Some cancer treatments are not kind to your ovaries. This can be extremely emotional for women who want to have children, and I strongly urge you to discuss this carefully with both your oncologist and a fertility specialist. Not all treatments leave you infertile, and many women have childred after undergoing cancer treatment. In my case, the cancer triggered menopause, but I was not planning to have children. In fact, I had my ovaries and Fallopian Tubes removed several months after my last chemotherapy as a preventative measure against ovarian cancer. No regrets, and I will write about that experience later.
Before starting treatment, ask your oncologist these questions:
How serious is your condition? You will want to weigh your condition and prognosis against the lifetime commitment of raising a child.
Will I be able to become pregnant after treatment and will it be safe for me and for my child?
If it is safe for me to have a child? If so, how long do I have to wait post treatment?
What other fertility treatment options do I have as a cancer patient and what are their risks, costs and success rates?
Can I bank fertilized eggs before I start treatment?
What drugs should I avoid?
Ask yourself: How will I feel and be able to cope with raising a child in the event I have a recurrence? I won’t get into the issues of being a single mother versus co-parenting.
The take away:
Since I pledged to look at life through a glass half full after treatment, I can say this as a women in midlife who faced a cancer crisis: I already had made a decision not to have children. I have already built a successful career and was able to adjust my work schedule to accommodate treatment. I was pre-menopause, so the “change’ was coming anyway. And I was contemplating ways to change my life to make it more productive, more impactful and more balanced. Cancer was a temporary setback that encouraged me to take a permanent step forward.
And, to cap it off: I have a hot body, literally and figuratively.