This year, when I’m asked about my age, I plan to say I’m 50. I’ll actually be 49 in August, but since it will take me at least a year to accustom myself to the idea of 50, I’d better start now.
The point is, I’m marching toward menopause, and hot flashes are in my future.
They’re also in my present, a side-effect of tamoxifen, the estrogen-blocking drug I began taking in April to inhibit the recurrence of breast cancer.
As cancer treatments go, tamoxifen is a breeze. A breeze that blows hot . . . like a Santa Ana or a scirocco . . . but a breeze nevertheless. Compared to the discomfort of radiation and the debilitating side-effects of chemo, a few hot flashes are nothing to complain about. (For the sake of accuracy, I will point out that tamoxifen has other potential side-effects that are much more serious than hot flashes, and also, fortunately, much more rare.)
It’s a myth that tamoxifen puts you into menopause. It simply causes menopause-like symptoms, such as hot flashes. It reduces the production of estrogen but does not stop it entirely, which means that in addition to hot flashes, I still have periods. You might say it’s the best of both worlds. When I go through actual menopause, I’ll get to experience Hot Flash Part II: Now It’s Biological.
The first time I had a flash, I thought I was spontaneously combusting. I still think that. Taking off my shirt becomes imperative. When the flashes occur at night, as they usually do, ripping off my shirt is not a problem since I am at home and the boyfriend has always enjoyed abrupt displays of semi-nudity.
In this case, however, these displays are not an invitation to anything, and most particularly they are not an invitation to touch me. When my skin is so hot you could flash-fry bacon on my abdomen, it’s best not to cuddle me or attempt an even friskier move. No, just murmur something appropriate and innocuous (“Poor baby, having another one?”) and back away slowly, avoiding eye contact. Do not touch. I repeat, do not touch.
Some hot flashes are strong enough to wake me up. One moment I’m dozing comfortably, burrowed under the covers like a normal person, and the next I feel as if someone has plugged me into an electrical socket, and I’m scrambling to get free of the sheets and blankets. After I cool down, I pull the covers back up . . . until the next flash comes along. By morning, the bedclothes are twisted and snarled, half on the bed, half on the floor. The boyfriend hasn’t been sleeping well lately. I wonder why.
A couple of months ago, when temperatures first dropped below freezing at night, we were in bed. He looked over at me, covers pulled up to his chin. “Tell me this,” he said. “Are we ever going to be able to turn the heat on again?”
Nope. Just think of the savings on the gas bill.