Breast cancer lesson number 98: If you can’t stand the heat, find someone to help you cool down

With a trip to the menopause clinic on today’s agenda (in yet another part of the hospital – this time Women’s Services) I was planning to fill this post with practical tips to help those going through both an enforced chemically-induced ‘change of life’ and the real thing. Trouble is, you don’t learn much when you don’t get further than the waiting room!

I always like to be punctual, but while turning up two minutes before an appointment is fine, two months is a little on the eager side! Whether it was a glitch in the admin system or an attack of chemobrain (which I am still trying to convince myself won’t affect me), I will never really know. But, let’s just say, the date and time in my diary (agreed over the phone last week) didn’t match the system or, in fact, the letter they’d sent me following the call (that I had failed to scrutinise).

I had a good laugh with the receptionist (who thankfully saw the funny side too) and it wasn’t a wasted trip (I got a PICC line flush and a beautiful back and foot rub thrown in from a kind Dimbleby Cancer Care lady), but the problem I now have is, the appointment is so late in my chemo regime (more than a week after my last poisoning) it almost isn’t worth having. Plus I am now facing two more months of hot flush fuelled nights. Trust me, two nights is enough! I could, of course, go to discuss the fact I may get more sweats on Tamoxifen, but I’m not sure the NHS would appreciate a hypothetical discussion about side effects I might get.

Sadly, the cancer card does not work in all parts of the hospital and I left with little more than a red face – probably due to the hot flush that had appeared as if on cue in protest. So I did what any woman in need of a natural cure would do and I rejoined a beautiful friend and her daughter (who I’d enjoyed a 30-minute pizza trip with an hour earlier) for a consolatory ice cream. It certainly didn’t magic up a new more useful appointment, but it was a brilliant temporary fix.

Hopefully I will be able to ask the oncology nurse for some advice next week (can you really be examined for hot flushes anyway?). In the meantime, I have turned not to Dr Google, but to the Young Breast Cancer Network Facebook group. Within a matter of minutes I was inundated with tips. My favourite has to be a lady care magnet, which you attach to the front of your knickers! Sounds strange and a little heavy, but I am absolutely going to try it.

I’ll let you know how I get on. Just don’t ask me about it in polite company! And, if all else fails, at least there is ice cream!

Breast cancer lesson number 78: The best way to see what tomorrow brings is to sleep through the night

Zoladex may be looking after my ovaries during chemotherapy, but in so doing, it seems to have waged a rather cruel war on my sleep patterns. Would I trade in my much-loved slumber for a little bundle of joy? Of course I would. But, given that that little bundle of joy is currently sitting it out in the hospital freezer, I think the sleep deprivation is a bit premature!

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I am pointing the finger firmly at my ovarian suppression implant – designed to send me into a fake early menopause – but I don’t think it is the only culprit. We now have the comfiest bed ever thanks to our wonderful university friends who clubbed together to buy us a mattress. So why do the drugs have to make things so uncomfortable?

For anyone wondering what has been going on in our bedroom for the last five nights it is this. First, I dress for bed in a rather fetching outfit made up of a bra (yes I was a bit naked without it, so it’s back), a vest (pink of course), some pyjamas (navy of course), a pair of matching bed socks (complete with pom poms) and a sleep cap. I look pretty coordinated, but I also look like I am prepared for an ice cave rather than a comfy comfy bed.

Once in my battle dress, I drift off to sleep without a care in the world, but only for about 45 minutes. Then (and you really could set your clock by it), I am jolted awake by the first of many night sweat/hot flush episodes. It’s like I’m in a spa wandering between the ice cave and the steam room, except there is no attractive ice cave, steam room, soothing music or aromatherapy oils to keep me company. It’s just me – and a whole lot of sweat. Off come the socks, off comes the bed cap and half an hour later I am back in the ice cave searching for the socks and the bed cap once more. Hot then strip then cold. Cold then wrap up then hot. Repeat, sigh, repeat. The bed, once a source of real comfort, now feels like an instrument of torture.

Maybe I should be thanking Zoladex for giving me such a wonderful insight into the sleep deprivation that comes with the early days of parenthood. Given there’s no way of knowing whether it’s working, however, I think it’s not something you should be made to endure unless you have a rather lovely reason to get out of bed (retrieving a sleep cap doesn’t really cut it).

Sleep, if you’re out there, please come back. Whatever I have done to offend you, please let me make amends. Sweet dreams are certainly not make of this.