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Little tricks to surviving menopause (and Tamoxifen)

Posted in Health

A typical conversation between my cooking partner and I, while busy at work, will go along these lines:

“Should we move on to the dumplings?” she will say. And then “Is it hot? Shall we run the air?”

I will take in the lovely breeze wafting from the windows and reply that no, it’s not hot, I am perfectly fine. Half an hour later, it will be my turn:

“Maybe it is hot. Let’s put the air on.”

And on like this through the rest of the day, in a merry-go-round where our bodies seem to have lost the compass to adjusting to whatever the real temperature is. I always wake up in the morning freezing, wanting to reach for a pair of wooly socks. Then I will sit down to breakfast and, after a few sips of coffee, I will be plunged into the thick of a tropical jungle.

My friend hasn’t had breast cancer and is plagued by your run of the mill menopausal disruptions, namely hot flashes and poor sleep. I, on an estrogen blocker, suffer from the same symptoms and then some. Oh, the fun.

After a whole year on this drug, and with four more to go, I have seen my body adjusting somewhat. The medical community is not particularly resourceful in helping women combat some of the side effects, other than prescribing antidepressants (known to relieve hot flashes and the moodiness that comes with the drug) but women are, on the other hand, really good at exchanging tips of what works and doesn’t, and the internet has facilitated such forums.

After twelve months of trials and errors, of going from eight hours of peaceful sleep to waking up every two hours, things have improved enormously. It took some experimentation on my part, the help of my homeopathic doctor and the nutritionist I have been working with at the Breast Center where I was treated.

Some of my “secrets” would be beneficial to just about everybody experiencing menopausal symptoms. Others are more targeted to estrogen blocking drug users.

SLEEP – I took some lavender oil pills that worked wonders. After three weeks of taking them, I was sleeping like a baby again. Unfortunately, lavender oil, if ingested, could disrupt estrogen blocking drugs so, to be extra careful, I stopped. But, if you don’t have to worry about them, I cannot recommend them enough. My sleep patterns have settled somewhat and, after reading that our deep, REM sleep goes in patterns of two hours, I stopped worrying about my lack of sleep and, lo and behold, I began to sleep better. I won’t get eight hours straight but waking up once or twice is acceptable: I take deep breaths to keep thoughts at bay and usually fall right back asleep.

SKIN – My skin has become drier, a lot drier. It also looks better than it ever has. I credit that to the use of a hyaluronic acid serum under my moisturizer (twice a day) and to a Retinol oil I put on before going to bed. I also stopped cleansing my face twice a day – I only wash it with a foamy make up remover (CeraVe) at night. Most moisturizers do come with hyaluronic acid in them – hyaluronic acid molecules live just under the dermis, with collagen, right on top of our fat tissues. While there isn’t a lot we can do to replenish collagen (short of injections and certain food), we can make sure we keep our hyaluronic acid up. (I use Pestle and Mortar products that are wholly natural and come with great reviews, mine included).
As to my body, I apply a few drops of castor oil to my skin while still in the shower, followed by a moisturizer after I towel off. Huge improvements. And I hardly ever stay in the sun for longer than ten minutes.

Foods that boost collagen are: cruciferous vegetables, coconut, arugula, dried fruits, legumes, white cabbage, egg yolks, onion, garlic and mango.

Foods that promote skin health are: avocado, oranges, salmon, dark chocolate, kidney beans. Notice that most of them are fatty food. The worst thing we can do for our skin is to lose too much weight. Waif in middle age doesn’t work. Visceral fat around our stomachs is not healthy but subcutaneous fat to keep our limbs and faces from sagging and wrinkling is a must.

HAIR – When huge clumps of hair began pooling by the shower drain, I asked my doctor what I could do. He put me on a B12 regimen for a while and that put a stop to it. For dry, listless hair, a scalp massage with lavender oil, twice a week, before washing one’s hair, works better (and it’s cheaper) than all other miracle products on the market. Studies also show such a regimen promotes regrowth after seven months.

MOOD SWINGS – I wrote about the sudden onset of mood swings when I first started taking Tamoxifen. It was startling, out of control and the only thing doctors were recommending were antidepressants. As I do not have depressive tendencies, I resisted. Movement, in the form of running, yoga, walking helped defuse them. If I could sense a mood cropping up at a time when breaking into a run would not be possible, I just took myself for a short walk around the block (or corridor). The endorphins activated by the movement seemed to counterbalance the lows immediately (incidentally, a study was just published that links running to an increased life span of three years).

DIET – Because I veer towards vegetarianism, I must be careful about iron deficiency. There are some vitamins like most Bs and zinc that can only be obtained from meat (or egg yolks) so if you are not eating meat, supplements might be in order. Consuming enough proteins allows me to eat fewer carbs and keep the fat around my middle at bay (those with a high visceral fat mass are more at risk for a cancer recurrence and heart disease). Tamoxifen is known to make weight skyrocket, at a rate of 2 pounds a month. It hasn’t been my experienced but, then again, I work out a lot (and I have noticed my metabolism has slowed down).

HOT FLASHES – I did write about them and their triggers (the worst offenders being alcohol and caffeine). Unless you can tolerate a progesterone patch (which I am not allowed) or are willing to take antidepressants, you are pretty stuck with them. In my case, they seem to wax and wane, at one point disappearing for three months altogether (blissful). Exercising also helps lessens them a bit but my attitude has been key. My mother told me all along: Stop thinking about them. And her wisdom was right: the more I keep busy with my life the less they interfere. When they come, I know they will disappear in 30 seconds or less. But I stopped wearing silk tops.

And, lastly, a word about our vaginas. As we go through menopause, the lining of our vagina weakens, causing loss of elasticity and dryness, making for unpleasant sex intercourse. Estrogen creams help and, these days, oncologists have no objections to topical use of estrogen. The good news is that there are also laser therapies, conducted in three sessions six weeks apart, that will revitalize the elasticity of the vaginal wall. They are only available in major cities right now, at a cost of about $2,500 but I have no doubt they will become less expensive as they are made more available. And, who knows, in a hundred years or so they might even be covered by insurance!

Hotter than July

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    • You are welcome! We are all in this together…

      June 30, 2017
  1. Grazie, soprattutto per i consiglio relativo ai capelli, che non conoscevo. Il resto …. ce lo teniamo. Ho fatto in passato qualche filler di acido ialuronico, con ottimi risultati, ma ormai ce ne vorrebbero litri per avere miglioramenti. Quanto al laser vaginale, è stato suggerito anche a me, stesso costo, durata due anni. Troppo caro, ho deciso di arrangiarmi con ginnastica vaginale e gel specifici. Speriamo che fra cento anni …

    April 22, 2017
    • Io non ho mai fatto fillers, anche se ci ho pensato spesso, ma per ora cerco di barcamenarmi senza perche’ temo che, se cominci, poi sia difficile smettere. Io sto prendendo il Tamoxifen solo da un anno e non ho ancora raggiunto la secchezza vaginale che so che mi aspetta! Una mia amica, che ebbe un tumore al seno 6 anni fa, sta facendo il trattamento adesso e ne ha tratto un gran giovamento. Se mi avessero detto 20 anni fai che mi sarei preoccupata di ‘ste cose….

      April 22, 2017
      • Non credo che il filler crei dipendenza, ma si può vivere benissimo senza. Quanto alla secchezza vaginale, io ho 63 anni quindi la mia è fisiologica. Anche a me, se 20 anni fa mi avessero anticipato certo problemi, sarei caduta dalle nuvole

        April 24, 2017

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