To keep in-line with the October breast cancer awareness theme, I’m sharing a story that people don’t want to talk about often…what chemo for breast cancer can do to your body.
It was extreme.
Like clockwork, it came at 9pm each night, and it came suddenly. It only lasted about 2 minutes, but it happened for every hour until about 5am the next day. My face got red and I started sweating profusely – centered on my back, chest, face, scalp and neck. This definitely affected my sleep too.
My body started experiencing hot flashes during the winter time. During the winter I dress in layers and we were at the ice rink a lot to watch our son play hockey. I literally stripped down to the first layer of clothes during those ice hockey games. All the other parents knew I was having a hot flash then and we joked about it. Afterward I would be very cold because my clothes were damp and I’m standing in an ice hockey rink.
Going through menopause is just another phase in a woman’s life. Every woman is different. Mine just happened to be severe from being pushed into menopause due to chemotherapy treatment that started the summer of 2014.
My oncologist tried to help. The anti-depressant, Effixor, is prescribed a lot now for treating hot flashes, especially for those who have had breast cancer. It helped with the hot flashes I was experiencing, but of course I got a rare side effect. That seems to be my M-O.
The side effect was a random severe facial twitch — it would make the left side of my face pucker up and twitch. It started after only a couple of weeks of being on the prescription. My left eye would close completely, the left side of my lip would pull up (think of Elvis…) and there would be a stabbing pain in the left ear. This would occur daily for at least 1 minute while I was taking the med.
This facial twitch happened once while I was driving on the highway and that was a scary feeling. Not worth it! I was on the prescription med for a total of 2.5 months and because you have to be taken off of it gradually and can’t just don’t go cold-turkey.
Millions of women before me have gone through the same thing. Since everyone is unique, each person has different menopause “symptoms” and the duration varies. There is a lot of advice out there and I tried some of them. Only one thing worked for me and it was discovered by accident because my instincts wanted me to do it.
Here are some standard recommendations and my experience:
- Yoga: This is relaxing overall, but “meh” on hot flashes. Yoga is a great way to stretch, tone your body and relax. Yoga doesn’t stop the hot flashes but helps you deal with it. The deep breathing takes your “mind” off the heat.
- Melatonin: Nope. Just got a melatonin hangover. Your body makes melatonin in order to naturally regulate your sleep. One of my doctors recommended this supplement to help me fall and stay asleep, since I was waking up multiple times from night sweats. I still woke up hot as hell multiple times and felt worse in the morning.
- Dong Quai: This phytoestrogen herb from China has been used for thousands of years by women for alleviating menopause symptoms. It helped slightly, but I gained 5 pounds on it and it made me constipated. (TMI?) And one of the side effects is sun sensitivity. Not good for someone who is outdoors a lot.
- HRT: Hormone Replacement Therapy is not an option for me because of the breast cancer history.
This is what worked for me: running. (Brigitte recommended it.)
As a long-time runner, I had this to desire to run every day since the cancer treatment, and I figured running would help me sleep better mostly. After 3 weeks of consistent running (3 times per week) – voila! – my hot flashes were minimized. (I wrote about Running Back to ‘Normal” and thankful that HuffPost featured it at the time.)
Mind you, getting back into running was gradual after cancer treatment and I had to incorporate walk/run/walk at first. I was eventually able to run 3 miles at a steady pace again without stopping. And I continue to do yoga stretches after each run. Stretching is an important part afterward for any runner.
What was the defining moment? I took a break from running last winter and the hot flashes returned. When continuing to run on a consistent basis … that’s what keeps the hot flashes away for me.
If you plan to incorporate running into your lifestyle, make sure it is gradual. You will be sore all over at first but it will subside after your body gets used to it. Keep the faith that things will get better after two weeks at least.
Every person is different. The key takeaway from this experience is to keep active, be creative, listen to your body, and find a way to stay motivated.
Do you have a hot-flash experience to share?
BONUS: I’m working on a project to help others be more engaged with their health. Would you be so kind to check out this quick survey?
Thanks again for any input and enjoy the day!