Hav­ing hot flashes when you’re in your 30s.

Hot flashes in your 30s? How Stephanie Gil­man is sur­viv­ing that fiery hell.

Elle (Canada) - - StoryBoard - By Stephanie Gil­man

when I look back on my #lifereboot jour­ney so far, I see there has def­i­nitely been progress. I feel less fear­ful (thanks to a trip to the edge of the CN Tower) and more able to calm my thoughts (thanks to the high-tech guid­ance of my Muse med­i­ta­tion head­band). I have also found a new job and even a new hobby (im­prov com­edy!). But there’s one fac­tor in my life that is pre­vent­ing me from fully “mov­ing on” from my can­cer ex­pe­ri­ence and threat­en­ing my abil­ity to ob­tain that elu­sive gold star: hot flashes.

If you are a young woman read­ing this, you likely have no idea what a true hot flash feels like. And why should you? Oh, how I wish I could go back to a time when hot flashes were just some­thing I as­sumed old women com­plained about. (Sorry, Mom.) But, re­gret­tably, they are very much a part of my daily re­al­ity, keep­ing me with one foot firmly planted in Can­cer Land.

Be­cause my can­cer was a type that feeds off es­tro­gen in or­der to grow, I have to take a drug called Tamox­ifen for up to 10 years. Tamox­ifen—which pre­vents es­tro­gen from reach­ing any can­cer cells—has a host of side ef­fects, such as chronic hot flashes and night sweats. Not ev­ery­one ex­pe­ri­ences th­ese. Un­for­tu­nately, I fall into the camp of those who do.

I re­mem­ber when I was first told about hot flashes as a po­ten­tial side ef­fect. I thought: “No big deal; what’s a lit­tle heat? It will keep me cozy in the win­ter­time!” This pos­i­tive at­ti­tude quickly took a nose­dive af­ter I ex­pe­ri­enced what a hot flash ac­tu­ally feels like, which I can only de­scribe as a walk through hell—hot, fiery, flam­ing hell.

The flashes sneak up on me at all hours of the day. Some­times I’ll be in the mid­dle of a con­ver­sa­tion when I feel one com­ing on. I feel a bit dizzy and weak, and then, from the in­side out, the heat be­gins to rise. My face feels like it is lit­er­ally burning, my cheeks about to ex­plode into a ball of flames. My back is drip­ping. I don’t want to bring at­ten­tion to it, so I con­tinue on with what­ever I am do­ing, hop­ing no one re­al­izes that I have turned into a gi­ant sweat pud­dle. Even­tu­ally the heat sub­sides, and, em­brac­ing the cool air on my skin, I sit back and wait for the next one to hit.

The worst flashes come at night. I wake up with my sheets stuck to me and fran­ti­cally kick them off. My hus­band, ly­ing next to me, is tightly bun­dled and wear­ing a long-sleeved shirt be­cause I’ve cranked the AC, but I am sprawled naked, breath­ing deeply, wip­ing my fore­head and wait­ing for the hot flash to pass. This scene re­peats it­self mul­ti­ple times through the night, and the next day I feel like a zom­bie.

Some­times, dur­ing a par­tic­u­larly bad attack, I stare up at the ceil­ing and cry qui­etly, feel­ing sorry for my­self. Over­come with ex­haus­tion, I think about how un­fair it is that I had to ex­pe­ri­ence my first hot flash at 28 years old. I think about how an­gry I am that I got can­cer in the first place and am now stuck deal­ing with its af­ter­math. It feels im­pos­si­ble to move on, or to have even one day with­out think­ing about can­cer, when my body is cry­ing out to me, forc­ing me to re­mem­ber.

When I have th­ese mo­ments of self-pity, my sur­vivor guilt kicks in. I think about the peo­ple I knew who had can­cer and didn’t make it, who would have changed places with me in a heart­beat. I know I am lucky to be alive, and my treat­ment side ef­fects are a small price to pay for get­ting to be here, living, breath­ing, ev­ery day. I’m grate­ful that I had a type of can­cer that can be treated with drugs that will lower the chances of it re­cur­ring. I know I am one of the lucky ones.

All this doesn’t negate the fact that feel­ing like an old lady at the age of 30 is a huge bum­mer. But I’ll learn to ac­cept that a life with­out any thought of can­cer is, for now at least, just out of my reach. And in the mean­time, I’ll kick the blan­ket off, put my face in front of the fan and wait pa­tiently, know­ing that I’ll get that gold star... even­tu­ally.

CHAL­LENGE # 11 In my next col­umn, I’ll share my ex­pe­ri­ence at­tend­ing a con­fer­ence for young-adult can­cer sur­vivors. Now there’s a sen­tence I never imag­ined I’d say....

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