May 1, 2023
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, an annual campaign to increase awareness of the disease. Each year, over 200,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer. Methods of treatment including chemotherapy, surgical removal of the ovaries, anti-estrogen therapy, and radiotherapy can induce menopause in women who are not yet menopausal.
NOTE FROM JULIA:
My mother and baby sister are both breast cancer survivors. I watched my mother go through radiation therapy and my sister go through chemo and a double mastectomy at the same time. It was heart-wrenching. I did genetic testing and found out I am BRCA2 positive which means I have a higher risk of breast and ovarian cancer compared with someone who doesn't have the mutation. After watching what my sister went through I decided to have a preventive (prophylactic) double mastectomy and a few years after that a complete hysterectomy. I had always been cold before the hysterectomy, needing an extra blanket and socks at night, etc. I woke up from my hysterectomy and felt like a volcano.
Temperature regulation can be difficult for breast cancer survivors, especially for women that have their ovaries surgically removed. The nighttime hot flashes are the worst, waking up at 3 a.m. molten core of the sun hot, drenched in sweat is not fun. For me I have to get up and change pj’s, put a wet cold washcloth on my neck, sometimes even take a shower, drink some cold water, and then try to go back to sleep. It disturbs my sleep and leaves me tired and crabby at work the next day.
Thankfully I work for ThermApparel… and discovered that I can use my UnderCool Cooling Vest for these nighttime hot flashes. Because our cooling packs start to melt and freeze at 70˚F/21˚C I can take my vest out of the fridge or freezer when I go to bed at 10 pm. and leave it on my nightstand until I need it at 3 am. When the hot flash starts I grab my UnderCool, which is still cold, and lay it across me, either across my abdomen if I am laying on my back or half on my back and half on my front if I am laying on my side. It instantly starts to cool me down I am able to go back to sleep right away.
My UnderCool works for more than just nighttime hot flashes. I have worn it for all sorts of situations;
- Work - When hot flashes hit me or I am hot in the summertime.
- Conventions - Being on the convention floor in a dress suit is always hot. There never seems to be enough air-conditioning in those big ballrooms
- Presentations - Ever notice how your body temp goes up when you get nervous or excited? I get so warm I flush, my hair gets wet and I can feel the heat rolling off of me. With my UnderCool I don't overheat and I can think and talk more clearly.
- Yard Work - I love to be in the garden but easily overheat and have to take breaks or just give up. When I wear my UnderCool I can garden for much longer and not feel exhausted afterwards.
- Exercise - I love to walk on the treadmill, if I don’t wear my UnderCool I can walk for 30 min, feel overheated to the point the heat is rolling off me in waves, exhausted and crabby. Sometimes the exhaustion and crabbiness will stay with me until the next day, making work long and stressful. When I do wear my UnderCool I can walk for 60+ min, maintain a safe core temp, not overheat and not feel exhausted the next day. I always wear it when I exercise, even for Pilates.
menopause.org has a great list of nonhormonal and lifestyle alternatives for the relief of hot flashes.
- Avoid hot flash triggers.
- Maintain a healthy body weight.
- Exercise regularly.
- Keep your core body temperature as cool as possible.
Warm ambient air increases a woman’s core body temperature and makes her more likely to reach the sweating threshold for triggering a hot flash. Conversely, cooler air is associated with a lower incidence of hot flashes. Try this:
- Dress in layers with natural fibers, not synthetic, or wicking fabric that absorbs moisture from the skin.
- (note from Julia: the article doesn’t mention cooling vests so I am adding it here. Invest in a good Cooling Vest - there are many different kinds out there. Dave Bexfield of ActiveMSers has a really great review of ThermApparel's UnderCool Cooling Vest and many other vests on the market. He reviews them for people with MS (multiple sclerosis) but the cooling technology will help anyone with heat sensitivity. In doing research for ThermApparel I have tried many of the cooling vests on the market and I recommend ThermApparel’s UnderCool Cooling Vest ...and it's not just because I work for them, promise!)
- Sleep on cotton sheets and with one foot out from under the covers.
- Keep a bottle of cool water at hand.
- Keep a small fan at your desk and on your bedside table or overhead.
- Keep a hand fan with you during the day.
- Take a cool shower before bed.
- Keep a frozen cold pack under your pillow, and turn the pillow often. Some companies make “cool” sheets, pillowcases, pillows, and other products (such as a cooler for the back of the neck) that may benefit some women.
- Invest in air conditioning or a ceiling fan.
So to all the cancer warriors and menopausal women out there, I hear you, I see you, and hope you found this article helpful. Let me know your thoughts, stories, and solutions below.
Chief Communications Officer