Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Everything I've learned about... Hot flushes

Breast cancer - the gift that keeps on giving, right?!

If you have chemo for breast cancer, take drugs such as Tamoxifen after breast cancer treatment, or have your ovaries shut down or removed then you're probably in for the treat that is HOT FLUSHES! Not only do us breast cancer gals get hot flushes but we are likely to have more severe and frequent hot flushes than women who are going through a natural menopause. Lucky us!

Mine started towards the end of chemo, and at times have been hell. The internet tells you that they can last between a few seconds and ten minutes, and frequency may be from every hour to a couple of times a week but I've had phases where I've had flushes every ten minutes or more, and times when I had some severe chills mixed in too - however, I think the worst times might have been because of other drugs such as general anaesthetic.

There are two things to consider to make it all a bit better: what you can do to reduce the number and severity of hot flushes, and what you can do to deal with hot flushes when they happen.

Reducing the number and severity of hot flushes

I honestly don't know what really works but the general advice is:
  • Reduce your caffeine intake (thanks a lot cancer, taking away the lushness that is a cup of tea. Sod it then, I'll have a beer instead. Oh... wait....)
  • Reduce your alcohol intake (dammit!)
  • Exercise regularly (easier said than done if you are actually going through chemo or have recently had surgery)
  • Reduce stress (Haha! Easier said than done when you've GOT CANCER!)
  • I have discovered that Kalms (herbal tablets for helping with stress and anxiety) claim to help reduce hot flushes.
  • (You can talk to your GP about medication they might be able to prescribe you. I won't bother going in to the types here - there are various and what you can have, if anything, will depend entirely on your own personal circumstances. Discuss with your GP!)
So if you're anything like me and refuse to give up extra strong brews, and have yet to successfully reduce your alcohol intake because errrrrr YOLO, and you haven't been exercising because your surgeon has banned you from doing so, and you've been stressed because you've had cancer then you need effective tactics for dealing with the hot flushes when they happen.

Dealing with hot flushes

After a few months of trial and error I've found what works for me...

I'm writing this in the middle of winter. My winter duvet was put away long ago. No good! Much better is the extra thin summer duvet and a couple of blankets. Depending on where I am on he heat scale I can easily have the right amount of covers. I also sleep in shorts and t-shirt. My lovely, snuggly PJs are no longer my friend! (Maybe I'll be back in them next winter.)

I also have a little spray bottle of water next to my bed. Hot flush in the night? Spray water on your face! Works a treat. I wish I could do this any time of the day but a wet face isn't a good look for work.

I also have a couple of chillow pillows. They work by some sort of inexplicable magic and are cold all the time (they just are, no need to put them in a fridge or anything like that). You can put them in with your normal pillow but I think they're too cold for that! I just hug one if I have a really bad hot flush. I've currently got one on my bed and one on my sofa but I might take one of them in to work and cuddle it when I get too hot in the office!

At work I've swapped desks with a kind colleague so I have a desk by a window, and I also have a desk fan which is switched on and off and on and off and on and off throughout the day.

I've also learned to not wear thick or warm clothes even though it's winter. Thin layers are much better - not only because you can add and remove layers depending on how hot or not you feel, but also I'm pretty sure warm clothes cause hot flushes now. Like my lovely, snuggly pjs, some of my lovely, woolly winter clothes are stuck on their hangers, no good to me this year! Oh well.

And for those times when I can't drench my face or hug my chillow pillow or remove any more clothes.... I'll grab anything that will work as a fan and flap it frantically in front of my face.

At some point they'll stop. But in the meantime I think I've got it sussed.

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