How To Handle The Cold (And Heat) During and After Cancer


A long-term cancer survivor shares her tips on getting through the winter cold that bites a little extra for survivors and patients with cancer.

A long-term cancer survivor shares her tips on getting through the winter cold that bites a little extra for survivors and patients with cancer.

I would not have made a good pioneer on the prairie. I appreciate modern luxuries, like long hot showers, heat and air-conditioning. Cold bothers me. Heat sometimes does too. My neuropathy toes and my reconstructed breasts don’t heat themselves! Frankly, after cancer the weather, especially if it is cloudy, windy and cold, seems to bother me even more.

As a ten-year cancer survivor, I have learned to deal, and you may be surprised by some of my methods:

Get The Right Clothing

Over the years, my mechanical problem-solving husband has taught and demonstrated to me the importance of good equipment. Bad weather requires good equipment. I am talking about outdoor boots or shoes that keep you plenty warm and dry and have good traction, so you won’t slip on the ice. The same idea applies to hats, gloves, and coats. I like polar fleece headbands that can keep my ears warm but will not completely flatten my hair.

I also like waterproof gloves that have good grips on the palms and fingers. Some gloves even have an opening to let out just my fingertips. As for coats, I like the kind that can zip all the way up to my chin and come with a warm hood—just in case. Good winter shoes and clothing are not cheap, but please consider them to be a worthwhile and an important investment in your health.

Think Layers

Since cancer treatment, which included hormone treatment and a prophylactic hysterectomy, I don’t just get cold, I get hot. I am talking about frequent and intense hot flashes that actually have gotten better over time—I am talking years since treatment here, not weeks or months.

The best way I have found to cope with hot flashes or cold flashes are layers, layers that can easily come off or on. For me, this means a zippered top layer that blocks the wind, polar fleece vests with zippers and sweaters that either have a great big neck, a zipper or large easy buttons that I can quickly get undone. I have come to accept that layers come with the territory of survivorship after treatment for cancer is through.

Don’t Be Afraid To Move

You may choose to suffer quietly instead of interrupting the people around you, but don’t be afraid to move. Sometimes during a hot flash, I go to the basement or step outside briefly. I head out the door into the cooler garage or I stand on the step outside the front door, whatever it takes for a few moments. If I am getting too cold, it helps me to go by a heat vent or to move around the room a bit to improve my circulation. Don’t feel like a burden or distraction to anyone in these moments, do what you need to do to handle these moments of discomfort.

Change Your Perspective

As soon as I stepped out into the cold to walk the dog, or to go to my car, or head into a store or restaurant, the rant would begin, “Ugh, I hate the cold. This is horrible. The wind cuts right through me.” I had to change that message to myself in order to cope more positively.

Now it is something like “This is okay. The cold reminds me that I am alive and here. Being reminded that I am still alive and here is a great thing.” Dead people are not bothered by the cold, so for me, maybe the cold really is not such a bother after all? It’s all about your perspective, the one thing you can find a way to control.

Take care and stay warm!

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