Reelin’ in the Years

I have spoken previously of the challenges a young BC patient faces compared to those of an “older” woman. Of course the journey is difficult at any age – there are both pros and cons to enduring this journey at a younger age, or older.

I want to shed some light on another taboo subject.  A subject so far from my mind at the tender age of 32 (is it a bit presumptuous to think that 32 is still a “tender” age?).

Today I want to talk about: Menopause. Menopause? Yes, menopause! It’s another unexpected experience thrown in front of you, when you are a young woman diagnosed with BC. The journey has taken me from: one minute pumping my body full of hormones to produce a good egg harvest to freeze, to secure my chances of having a family one day… to being jabbed with a needle to actively shut down my ovaries, and propel myself into menopause. My poor body doesn’t know its left, from its right at the moment.

Chemotherapy toxins can cause the onset of premature, or early menopause (for women under the age of 40 it’s called premature, for ages 40-45 it’s called early… over 45? you didn’t get a mention, sorry). The medical world suggests (I think research is still being conducted): if your ovaries are not “active” during chemotherapy, the chances of them being damaged during treatment, is reduced. So it can’t hurt to shut them down, right? Long Service Leave for the ovaries. Happy Holidays.

Meet, Zoladex.

What exactly does Zoladex do? The medical description, courtesy of webdoctor (it seems fairly accurate), is: “Zoladex is given to desensitise the pituitary gland and stop the natural production of FSH (Follicle Stimulating Hormone) and LH (Luteinizing Hormone).” Too technical? To put it simply, it tells the brain to stop producing the hormone, that tells the ovaries to do their job.

Zoladex is an implant that is injected under the skin of your abdomen. It’s administered using a BIG-ASS-NEEDLE. Another needle in the stomach. Been there, done that, got the T-Shirt. “Would you like some numbing cream?” asked the nurse. “No, I’ll be fine. It’s just another day at the office.” I replied.

I’ve now had two Zoladex implants. The first was given on the same day as my first round of chemo…because having chemo for the first time wasn’t enough! I was too focused on what changes my body was experiencing from the chemotherapy, I didn’t stop to think if I was experiencing any side effects from the Zoladex. Last week I was given my second injection (they are administered every four weeks). A few days later, I was sitting on the couch, wondering why I was feeling so hot and bothered, in sporadic bursts. “Well, I don’t want to state the obvious, but you’re going through menopause,” mother reminded me. “Oh yeahhhhhhh.” Hello, Hot Flushes! (also referred to as Hot Flashes)

Hot flushes are a hard thing to explain. One minute you’re going about your business, the next, your core temperature rises and your body feels as though it’s being engulfed in flames. It’s not the most practical thing to manage during chemotherapy treatment, I have to monitor my temperature ensuring it doesn’t exceed 38 deg. At the moment, every five minutes, I am reaching for the thermometer to check it’s not time for another trip to the Emergency Ward.

This whole journey has become a giant learning curb. Experiencing hot flushes is just another slap across the face from reality (a very gentle slap). It’s a reminder that I am not invisible to the side effects of these drugs. I always do my research of the possible side effects, but I never actually consider that I will encounter them…strange, I know. I had the same realisation after my second round of chemo. “I don’t know why I’m so tired,” I grumbled to mother, my mouth fighting another yawn…after having slept 14 hours. I guess it’s the glass-half-full in me.

I like to think that I am fortunate. I get a preview of what is to come in life later down the track. I’m ahead of the game with girlfriends my age. I’ll be the calm, wise woman, giving advice on how to manage the hot flushes and night sweats.

But for now, all I know: it’s going to be a looooooong Queensland summer.

***Side note: For all the Qantas crew reading this…I think it’s fair to say: I am thermally challenged *takes jacket off*.

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