‘Hot and Flashy’: A Patient With Breast Cancer Reflects on Medically Induced Early Menopause

When you’re forced into menopause at an early age, you aren’t as prepared for the changes it brings. A woman with metastatic breast cancer explains the difficulties of medically induced menopause.

From the time we are little girls beginning to change into young women, we are taught about our bodies and what they can and will do. First there’s the birds and the bees talk. Then there’s sex education taught in school in fifth grade where the girls were separated from the boys and we learned about feminine hygiene and what becoming a woman would look like. It’s ingrained into us at a young age what to expect as we go through puberty, hit maturity and start having a menstrual cycle. I can remember my mom sitting me down with a book and showing me what would happen, and my young self being so repulsed by the thought of all of this I didn’t want to be a girl anymore.

What I never was taught about in school through books or even in my cancer center later in my life was menopause and how to cope with it. Menopause was just something I assumed would happen gradually one day when I was old. No one told me after being diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer at age 38 what medically induced menopause would look like. The oncologist explained my cancer is estrogen driven and, therefore, my ovaries had to be shut down. I endured about three years of monthly Zoladex (goserelin) injections to turn off my estrogen before having a total hysterectomy. I can’t say I miss having a monthly period and I really don’t miss the giant needle that administers the Zoladex. That is one of the few positive side effects that came out of this cancer diagnosis. I don’t miss the PMS, the cramps and bloating. I don’t miss the monthly mess or the expense of tampons and other feminine hygiene products.

Read more: Breast Cancer Treatments Propel Many Women Into 'Rapid, Dramatic' Medical Menopause

With those positives come a few negatives, one being hot flashes. They seem to come out of nowhere and they leave just as quickly as they came. One minute my body is at a comfortable temperature, and the next I’m sweating out of every pore of my body while frantically trying to remove any extra clothing and reaching for the closest fan. It is an intense heat that comes from deep within my body and radiates from my toes to my scalp. I tend to be the hottest and flashiest mostly at night. I start out with the blankets covering me until I’m abruptly awoken by perspiration and have to throw off the covers. And so this pattern continues all night long – blankets on, blankets off, one leg out, one leg in. Combine that with my overactive bladder and it’s no surprise by morning I never feel fully rested.

I guess being forced into menopause at a younger age you aren't as prepared for the changes it brings. There is no adjustment period or getting used to it over time. The sensation of dryness and becoming shriveled up and old in all parts of my body, from the skin on my face to my sensitive lady bits, happened suddenly, not gradually as should naturally happen. With cancer and being induced into medical menopause at a young age there is no easing into it. One day you have estrogen and the next day you don’t. It is a huge shock to our bodies.

Menopause always seemed like a taboo subject while I was growing up. All the focus was geared towards our menstrual cycles, but not the end of our cycles. Most of my friends haven’t experienced menopause yet so I have no one to commiserate with. Now it all makes sense why Grandma kept a tissue with her, either tucked in her bra or under her watch band. It makes sense why my mom always had a fan nearby. Did they try to tell me about this and I just wasn’t paying attention? All those years of being told, “When you get to be my age...” In their own way and through my childhood observations they were preparing me for menopause, I just didn’t realize it until it happened. So as they say, “I am still hot, it just comes in flashes now.” Thanks, menopause.

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