Hot flashes! Or as I like to think of them, a little piece of hell on earth. I’m not sure why they are so prevalent during and after breast cancer. It is as though every treatment and pill should have the caution, “will definitely result in menopause”. I know I didn’t expect to rocket into that condition after pretty much my first chemo infusion, at the tender age of 45. And I didn’t expect it to be permanent. But there I was, bald, nauseous, cranky, and sweating like Niagara Falls had sprouted out of my head. I truly didn’t understand what was happening to me. And I didn’t know how to attack or treat it. But through methods of trial and error, I am finally coming to a happy co-existence with the mother of all side effects. Here are a few things that have worked for me:
Lots and lots of ice packs. You can buy ice packs you fill yourself, and fancy ones that contain a gel that you can freeze again and again. You can shop for them at Walmart, your local pharmacy, or on Amazon. Really you can’t go wrong, just look around and see what works for you.
Now, me, I’m all about the nontraditional. Also, I never have fancy gadgets around when I need them. So here a few other ideas:
Ziplock-type bags make an amazing on-the-go ice pack. Just fill and go. I have bummed ice from restaurants, from hotel ice-makers, and friends’ freezers. Plus you can also find bags, even when far from home. I now keep a few in my suitcase so that I always have them handy.
If you have ever mail-ordered meat or other frozen foods, you have seen the cheap ice packs that they include in the box to keep your purchase at a cold temperature. Why are you throwing them away? Pop those babies in the freezer, and you will always have instant relief at your fingertips FOR FREE.I will warn you, these puppies freeze up hard as a rock, so when first take one out, don’t just go slamming it into your forehead. But lay it against your neck or where ever the heat is the worst and let it cool you off. I also recommend that you put it in a Ziplock-type bag. Because, you know, it’s free, so who knows if it will leak? I have used these over and over without a problem, but I always err on the side of having a dry pillow.
Shelley’s hack: Ice-packs of any kind are really uncomfortable against your skin, so wrap it in a towel. I find that thin dishtowels work the best.
This may seem obvious. But fans are your new best friend. Have them everywhere. I have one on my desk at work, and I sleep with two fans and a ceiling fan every night. The air just has to keep moving for me.But by far my favorite fan is my portable fan. This baby is a workhorse. It has three speeds, which rival any normal fan, and has a rechargeable battery. So no carrying around extra AA batteries. It can also run from a usb cable plugged into a computer or phone charger. And, bonus! The battery can be used in a pinch to charge a phone or other mobile device. Where has this fan been all my life????
Disclaimer: Seriously, I don’t sell these or have any vested interest. I just love this product.
Here is a link to where you can order. There are other brands and versions available that you might find of interest, so just do a search. This product is just the one that has worked well for me.
If you have ever visited Disney World or another theme park, you have seen these towels. Really, it is a microfiber scarf. Cooling towels are amazing. You wet one down, tie it around your neck, and it’s like a breath of cold air to your body, no wonder what the outside temperature is. It doesn’t even matter how cold the water is that you use. I have used warm water from a water bottle in a pinch. It still cools the inferno that is your body. Indoors, outdoors, anywhere you are flashing. These towels are the best.
I don’t even remember what brand mine is anymore, but here is one to give you an idea of what they are like. They are sold at most retailers, and from numerous more on-line marketplaces, just put Google to the search!
Discuss options with your doctor
There are certain antidepressants and supplements that might be a good fit for you. I’m not discussing them here because I am not a doctor and I don’t give that advice. But discuss your symptoms with your oncologist or family doctor and see if there is a medicinal solution that would work for you.
Find your triggers
The best advice I can give you is to find your triggers. At first, my symptoms seemed random. Which is as frustrating as you might imagine since it makes it impossible to prepare for. But over the last few years, I have recognized certain triggers that seem to spark my hot flashes.
Heat. Apparently hot breeds hot. When the weather is hot and I am outside for an extended period, my hot flashes go crazy. I live in Florida, so this is not something that I can just avoid. But I do my best to minimize the effects. I try to space out my time in the heat with time indoors to let my body cool off. I carry my personal fan with me to start a breeze going as soon as possible. I have been known to wet a paper napkin with ice water and dab my face and neck to counter the flare. I wear a hat and sunglasses to keep my face shielded, and I look for shade everywhere. I have learned that it is better to take a time-out and cool off, than to keep suffering and stressing out my body.
Stress/anxiety – Speaking of stress. When I am under pressure and I start letting it take control of me, my hot flashes shoot up in response. Sometimes my hot flashes trigger my anxiety, and sometimes my anxiety triggers my hot flashes. It’s like a fun party game, you never know exactly what you are going to get. Unfortunately, we undergo stress in life, but I am learning that avoiding unnecessary stress helps keep those pesky hot flashes under control. Things like being organized, having to do lists and reminders to keep me on task, and making time for mindfulness and meditation keeps me calmer, dare I say zen, in a world of chaos.But when the stress breaks through, I am learning to step back, recognize it for what it is, know the effect it is going to have on my body, and consciously make the decision to step away from the stress and just work the problem as calmly and rationally as I can. I find drinking a cold bottle of water helps, as does just walking and stretching. If necessary, I meditate for a few minutes. This is not my natural state, and so it is still a work in progress. But I have had success with this technique. I honestly wish I had learned this long before having cancer, that I don’t have to let stress rule me.
Overactivity – I often have hot flashes just before going out anywhere. I think it’s a combination of running around, going in and out of a hot shower, using a blow dryer or hot curling iron, and just the mental activity of preparing for whatever the day holds. I have learned to leave myself a few minutes to sit or lie down in front of the fan. When I get in the car, I blast the A/C on myself until my body calms down. If necessary, I put on soothing music. Eventually, I get calm and my body cools off.
Excitement – Apparently stress and excitement have similar effects on my body. When I get excited, I immediately start to have hot flashes. Like, great, now even good things have bad consequences. But I’m not going to let it get to me. Depending on the circumstances, I can pull back a little, have a cold drink, maybe have a little fan and the hot flashes will run their course. But honestly, in this case, I will often just let them run wild because I have had way too many tears in my life, and if a hot flash is my punishment for being happy? Well, come to mama.The thing to remember about hot flashes is that they are going to happen. The way to cope is to find solutions that work for you.