Category: Symptoms and Side Effects
I thought we’d killed them! In fact I had thought they were already dead well before the winter arrived. We looked for them so many times only to be disappointed when we couldn’t see them. I presumed the birds or next door’s cat had made them into a feast. We had stopped feeding them, stopped ensuring the water was clean and had not given them a second thought when the pond froze over.
Yet, here they are. Alive and kicking! More accurately, alive and swimming! And eating! Our fabulous fish, still zooming around in our horse trough from the 1800s; Seville (very orange), Beirut (grey white patches with orange head), and two whose names I can’t even remember! What’s more there’s an extra bod! It seems the fish got the memo about the Covid lockdown and decided to get busy! Now, I need to find a new name for our new addition and rack my brain for the other names. Where on earth were they hiding on all of those occasions we looked for them?
Blue Sky London Day
I am going to add an interpretation to this event in my mind. A helpful, healthy interpretation. We can do that, we humans. Our minds do it all the time. We often add a narrative, meaning or attribution to an event that is negative, unhelpful and unhealthy. When we do, pain and suffering soon follow.
Alternatively, we can also add helpful, wonderful, healthy, inspiring, enjoyable narratives to events, circumstances, thoughts, feelings and sensations. These can help us feel and create pleasure, celebration and hope. I have decided the discovery of Seville, Beirut, Unknowns 1 and 2 and the new boy (maybe it is, maybe it isn’t) are a wonderful symbol of resilience, energy and thriving in a constantly changing environment and when faced with never ending challenges. My darling fish, you are one of my sources of inspiration for 2021.
I too, am resilient, can find energy, thrive and feel alive no matter what challenges me and changes around me. This doesn’t mean I will feel ‘up’ every moment of every day. It doesn’t mean I won’t have the odd tough, emotional, low week. It does mean that I can cope and I have hope. Today, is a beautiful sunny blue sky London day, the fish are alive and I have had some great news about my body.
Undulating caterpillar inching forward to new heights
Long tough road
The horrid month
It has been seven months since I wrote last. Seven months since I came out from under the horrid month in hospital which almost broke me; the month where I had a stem cell transplant, a blood clot in my arm, a dangerous e-coli infection, went bald and could not be supported by an in-person visit from hubby. That was the hardest part.
Seven months since I got home from that experience only to be hit by a c-diff infection. The time has gone so quickly and seems like a life time ago yet also feels like yesterday, raw, significant, a milestone, an awakening. Covid, lockdown, fatigue, pain, overwhelm, slowness, feeling good then feeling shattered, taking on too much then letting somethings go.
The last part of 2020 was a health roller coaster, though mostly without the sharp heights. Instead it’s been more like an undulating caterpillar of three steps forward, two steps back, experiencing loss and frustration about not being able to do as much, or do things now in the way that I used to be able to do them (and may never be able to again) before embracing acceptance and commitment. In recent months I have finally focussed on what I can do, in the way I can do things, and consequently felt healthier, happier and positive about moving in the right direction.
I finally learned that slow can be good. Really learned it. Fully experienced it instead of deep down thinking it doesn’t really apply to me, only to others. I’ve let go of ‘not being good enough’; put a stop to ‘I need to be hard on myself otherwise I won’t perform well, succeed, be respected, be ok, be enough’. I reminded myself of my catch phrase for last year ‘consistency’ and how the long game even if played slowly, gently, is a good, healthy, empowering game to play.
Another of life’s games has been restored: work. I love it. I love being the clinical psychologist I worked so hard to be. I love making an authentic positive difference to other people, helping them learn about themselves, find their answers, try out their new skills, manage their mental health and become their own mental health coach. I love helping people identify what matters most to them, know their values, embody their values daily and use their values to guide their decisions, make and deepen connections, grow and feel whole. Even writing this paragraph feels inspiring.
Skin reaction to UTI infection – immune system out of kilter
Yet another infection
Yes it’s been tough and it continues to be tough. My immune system has needed constant boosts of growth injections to help it stand on its own two feet. Some people with Myeloma recover steadily after their transplant, some are back to work and exercise within three months. I wasn’t. I couldn’t. My body simply couldn’t cope. It needed more time, more nurturing, more monitoring, more help. I needed more help and that’s OK.
Then, once again as I sat safely in the hands of my amazing medical team and began to improve in the early days of January 2021, WHAM, another infection. Another ‘we need to admit you to hospital’. Sigh. This was a bummer.
My mind began racing. I can’t do this again. I don’t want to be in hospital, without hubby, during covid, when the risk of coronavirus is high. I’ll fall apart if I have stay in hospital again…don’t make stupid mistakes, if the oncologist says you should be in hospital, you should go…I don’t want to, it means another PICC line, another chance of a clot, more chances of infection, more chances of low mood and slower recovery. Please, please, please, let there be another way. Is the Universe giving me another test? Really? Don’t I deserve a break? My mind went to all the old negative unhelpful places.
Resigned and ready for hospital admission
Back to hospital
Eventually I came up for air, paused, took a breath and calmed my mind down. I nutted things out with hubby and made a plan. I negotiated with the medical team that I would medicate and monitor at home, have two weekly check-ups and admit myself if I got worse. Relieved I didn’t have to go in, I packed my bags just in case, cried and begged my body to get better. It didn’t. It got worse. Fever, weight loss, no appetite, no energy and high temperatures. Then arrival of a reactive inflammatory skin condition, joint pain, swollen ankles, knees and knuckles. Lovely.
Never by halves Janino. It wasn’t covid, when covid was all the rage and one I wouldn’t wish on anyone. This hiccup was all caused by a bloody annoying urinary tract infection (UTI) that most of us would send packing to the hills. Instead with my immunocompromised self, it stuck around, dug in and said ‘hey, you are not getting rid of me that easily’ and what’s more ‘I am going to wreak havoc all over your body’. I can almost hear the UTI saying, ‘Yeeha, playtime!’
I dressed in clothes to get straight into a hospital bed and reluctantly presented myself for admission at the Haematology Assessment Unit. Six hours later I was home. Yeah. Home. How cool was that!! The team had made another plan. They propped me up with some different medication, organised a dermatology and rheumatology consultation, and knowing how I felt about admission, had reviewed and decided I would recover better and be at less risk, at home. Here I was back in my safe place again. Relieved. Pleased. Begging my body to improve and begging the bugs to stop bringing my life to a screaming halt over and over again.
Birthday meal in Lockdown – delicious! Look at those curls!
Walking the talk: I asked for help
The UTI is gone, the skin flare has gone and I’m on a four week steroid cycle for the reactive arthritis that seems to have stemmed from my immune system going into overdrive trying to get rid of the nasties. I even have a full head of thick hair, albeit an inch all over and bouncy curls I’ve never had before. I’ll take it. The arthritis may be challenging, it’s hard to walk because of remaining swelling and pain in my ankles and knees. It’s virtually impossible to turn anything or pick up anything up with my left wrist but right now I’m feeling good. It’s been a good two weeks.
I’ve even re-learned that it is OK to ask for help; help to put my shoes on, cut up food, unscrew the top on a jar, get dressed, stand up, get to appointments, get in and out of a car. It pushed all my buttons about needing to be independent, not being a burden, and telling myself I just need to get on with it. I learned to ask for support and for asking and receiving support, to be ok.
Catching hubby laughing at me for trying to help myself and my being too stubborn to ask him for help did both annoy me and make me laugh; at myself and him. He knew that gently teasing me was exactly what I needed and often need to help me keep perspective. I can cope with this residual pain and swelling. It will pass. Something else will show up and I’ll deal with that too. In the meantime, the news from my clinic review today made today an even better day.
Hey body – I hope you know how loved you are
The good news
My immune system is BACK.
My neutrophils are now up over 5 after struggling to stay over 1. My body is generating lovely new cells and my platelets are now over 180. My paraprotein levels are stable coming in between 4 and 6 for the last three months. Whoop whoop!!
What’s more, I have tolerated my first Covid vaccine (Pfizer) well, with no side effects. I can now have all of my other childhood vaccinations re-done. My body is ready. Thank you, body! I knew you’d show up. Well most days I did. Occasionally I wondered if you were going to say it is too much hard work but here you are, showing up and stepping up. Thank you!
I am so so grateful because I love life. I still have a lot to do and more importantly, I still have a lot of person to BE. I can BE and do that now thanks to you, body. Once fully jabbed with all the renewed protection, I will be much safer out and about in the community again. The vaccination timing is looking good for alignment to when UK lockdown eases. Yippee.
I am now on six weekly monitoring instead of having to go up to hospital for one thing or another at least once per week. This is thrilling! This is normal life!!
Latest science about Metabolic Pathways in Multiple Myeloma
Cellular Metabolic Pathways in Multiple Myeloma
I am becoming super geeky about Myeloma and have begun reading loads of journal articles about the metabolic pathways, processes, genes and enzymes that cause, maintain and promote Myeloma relapse. I wasn’t ready for this level of biochemical detail before but now I seem to be able to absorb the info and am fascinated by it. The brain fog has lifted! In case you fancy a bit of geeky biochem cancer guff – check out this link
I am learning about how to shut down the pathways, fuel and microenvironment that Myeloma likes the best – predominantly glycolysis and glutaminolysis. This new in-depth knowledge feels empowering, gives me a sense of control, is already helping inform my decisions about further treatment and identify changes and renewed commitments to my preferred lifestyle choices. A new chapter is opening in my life, health and Myeloma journey. I am working on creating the best integrated health care plan that I can.
I am still being realistic. I haven’t forgotten the stats. I am still in my 5th year of a 7-10 year prognosis. For now, nothing is off the table; the traditional medical route, off-label drugs, supplements (specifically targeted to block pathways), Jane McLelland’s Metro Map and How to Starve Cancer approach, Chris Woollams Canceractive approach, meditation, exercise, oxygen therapy. I feel full of hope for thriving, for a high quality life, a long life and I feel good.
I am alive and kicking.
All there is to do now is to be and sit in this feeling, let it cover me like a cloak or envelope me like an exceptionally warm, comfy hoodie, which seems to be all I wear these days!
P.s. Tookie – while I do love you, keep your paws out of our pond!
Me and hubby
Rebecca Campbell – Goldfish; Erik Karitis – Caterpillar; Jon Tyson – Good news; Kristine Wook – Vaccine Teddy Bear; Brandi Ibrao – I hope you know how loved you are; Chewy – black and white cat
© 2021 Janine Hayward www.psychingoutcancer.com. All rights reserved.
Posted in Blood Clots, C-diff, Covid, E.Coli, Fatigue, Glutaminolysis, Glycolysis, Metabolic Pathways, Pain, Psychology for Cancer, Stem Cell Transplant SCT Tagged with: Blood Cancer, Bone Cancer, Cancer, Crises and Stress, Fatigue, Immune, Immunosuppressed, Mental Health, Metabolic Pathways, Metabolism, Myeloma, Psychology, Stem Cell Transplant, Tumour Microenvironment
56 days since my stem cell transplant (SCT). I’ve now been home for the same amount of time that I was in hospital, 4 weeks. Hospital seems like a year ago. Life can be summed up by two words; SLOW and PATIENCE.
I’ve been slow before (when temporarily injured or after a knee op or three) but this is a new slow. Walking from room to room is slow, sitting down, getting up, slow. Asking muscles to work, their receipt and action of requests, slow. Stairs well, they may as well be Everest! All the yoga flexibility and strength pre transplant has evaporated. Turning on taps, opening containers, putting on shoes are all a huge challenge. Stretching is a mammoth task, let alone trying a forward bend or downward dog. I’m feeble, weak and extremely fatigued. Putting feet up after a shower, afternoon naps (usually two hours) and early nights are a daily must. Sitting down on the closed loo seat mid-way through brushing my teeth is novel yet frequently necessary; standing for two minutes in front of the basin is a tall order. The pace of my life has almost ground to a halt and my new norm is slow.
Stairs may as well be Everest
C-diff (Clostridium difficile)
I am so happy to be home. The night I was discharged I was ecstatic to be out. I’d recovered from the worst of e.coli, was on the road to recovery from SCT when WHAM. Another infection turned up and walloped me in the face. Well, more precisely it whacked me in the stomach and bowel, attaching me to the loo once again. At least it was my loo, with nice soft paper, a wide sink in which my hands actually could be washed without splashing the floor and my feet, with predictable hot water, familiar sprays with berry aroma and none of that hospital cleaning fluid smell. At home, even the loo was heaven. The nurse apologised for not being able to pronounce the intruding infection’s name. I laughed and reassured her it was fine. Unfortunately I could pronounce it all too well. The last word was Italian for difficult!! We agreed it was aptly named and settled on the more commonly used c-diff!
Slow slow slow. Taking it slowly and doing everything to prevent going back into hospital was the name of the game. I fended off the doctors for a week. I reassured them I’d be fine, reminded them that my temperature spikes were nowhere as bad as two weeks previously and that I could handle the infection at home if they just gave me a nice heavy duty antibiotic. Being readmitted would have taken the last bit of happy I had left in me and zap me of any remaining optimism about the transplant outcome. To the doctors’ credit they gave me their dubious looking faces but didn’t push it. They settled for giving me a three hour drip of fluids and the antibiotics. I didn’t realise how rough I looked, sitting in my own room in Haematology, having been assigned my own toilet in order to keep me away from everyone else and no doubt keep everyone else safe from me.
Home is only safe because hubby is here. His hidden talents and remarkable loving caring personality have come completely front and centre. I know I’ve said it before and I’m going to say it again, I am so grateful and extremely lucky to be loved in this way. My heart hurts for those going through SCTs without the support of a caring partner, friend or special loving family member (even when those people prefer space).
Hubby’s been doing all the cooking, washing and stuff around home with no input from me. I don’t do his amazing dinners (perfectly cooked fish with burnt butter caper sauce, delicious lamb with salsa verde or Persian aromatic salad) justice as my appetite has not fully returned and my taste buds are just weird. He gets up in the night (2am, 4-5am) to check I’m ok, to make sure I’m not stuck or being sick, to see if I’m wide awake (often at times the checks took place in hospital) or to see If I have fallen asleep on the sofa.
Our pond with gentle fountain – such a pleasure
He drives me to hospital, often twice in one day. He frequently waits for hours or goes away and comes back again like an on-call chauffeur so I’m not standing around for longer than I need to. Hubby has made sure the garden is immaculate and created a pond with a water feature because he knows I love the sound of running water. If chia seeds, baobab and pea protein are super foods then he is a super being (or bean, my new nickname for him)..sought of sung like superman except SUPERBEAN!
Hospital, new look for waiting
Waiting and self as benchmark
Waiting is the most predominant and draining feature of hospital now. I go twice a week for checks. It starts with an early morning (7.30am) blood test, a wait for results and then an occasionally short but usually long stint in the Haematology Supportive therapy clinic. Though from today I only have to go once a week (whoop whoop!). Other than the general stuff the results the med team are most interested in are my Neutrophils and Platelets and the question asked is, do I have any? The good news is that while my Neutrophils (immune system) have been roller coastering around between .69 and over 1, teasing me as they get towards 2 before falling back again, my platelets have been doing a fairly steady climb and are now at 123 (well out of the woods of the 30s when I would need to be given a blood transfusion). The rise in platelets mean my body is generating new cells. Lets hope they are clear of Myeloma. Once my Neutrophils get over 2 and start staying there, it means I will have some semblance of a rebooted immune system that might just be capable of having some childhood vaccinations and allowing me to be around more people.
The slow, the fatigue, the compromised sense of self, the need to avoid boom and bust, the extreme patience needed with myself about every little thing I try to do and decide not to try to do, is all normal for this point in the transplant recovery process. I tell myself to remember this and to not worry about what others that are post SCT have been able to achieve, start again or do before I have been able to. Instead I focus on using myself, yesterday or two hours ago as my benchmark. Have I been able to do anymore, any faster, any more normally than yesterday or this morning? Yes, great. No, great. It will get better. I will get stronger. My platelets and neutrophils are my friends and working on supporting me as soon as they can. Give them time.
I’m not good at waiting. Though I’m much better than I was before I was diagnosed. Hospital and appreciation of the NHS can do that because waiting is part and parcel of hospital life. I’m still rubbish at it. Last Thursday I waited 1.5 hours with only a 30 second conversation with a nurse letting me know they are waiting for the doctor. It’s understandable but frustrating as I see other patients’ doctors arrive, see them receive their treatment and leave before me, especially when their appointments were later than mine. Still I try to remember the overall amazing service I have received over the last 3 plus years. Some days it is hard though and I want to be angry, upset and cry. Unhelpful thoughts drift in; I booked this early appointment so I wouldn’t have to wait so long (again), this is wasting my life, it doesn’t take this long for blood results to come back or can’t you see from your board I’ve been waiting an age – do something!
My clinical psychologist side eventually kicks in and internally speaks to me – the person living with cancer, the Janine living with cancer treatment and its impact. Notice your thoughts and feelings, acknowledge them fully, connect with them (allow yourself to fully experience them, where and how they show up in your body, their nature, their depth, their source) and then once you have given this process time, engage. Engage with the present world around you (notice three things you can see, hear, smell right now, notice three things with yellow in them).
It’s ok to be angry, it’s ok to be upset and it’s very ok to cry. It’s also very ok to find your voice and ask the nurses again, what is happening and will the doctor come soon? Breathe, stay in this present moment, remember too who you want to be in the world, with others, with nurses, with doctors. I want to be kind, calm, clever and clear. Good, there is clarity in your values. It’s fine to say, calmly, to say gently to the nurse that you are upset. It’s ok to show tears. You can still be kind, still recognise the wait is not her fault, that she is doing her best. You can ask her to see if there is anything else that can be done.
Remember no matter which thoughts come into your mind, acknowledge and connect with them, engage with this moment, right now, moment by moment and then choose to place your attention on thoughts that are helpful, on actions that are supportive. If you are sitting in that hospital chair or waiting anywhere, choose to read, catch up on messages, listen to the radio, write a few notes for this blog, laugh, smile, marvel at your ability to shock yourself as you go past a mirror not recognising the person looking back at you (I so often forget I am bald and look like others’ common perceptions of a cancer patient). Do this rather than sit, feeding the anger and anxiety by watching nurses and other patients, dwelling, being hooked by, ruminating on the thoughts that are leaving you feeling angry and upset.
Hey self clin psych Janino, you are pretty handy at times. It was no coincidence that I met that side of you/me before being diagnosed and travelling life with cancer was it? Thanks for being there. Thanks for helping me apply strategies to lift myself from the fog, the negativity, the anger and sadness. Thanks for helping me notice the little things as well as the big things. I laughed when I discovered my trackie pants were on around the wrong way today. I was thrilled when a café gave me my favourite jacket, having kept it for me overnight after I walked away leaving it on a chair outside. Thank you.
Hubby, our 14 year wedding anniversary comes up this week. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart to the top, for everything you are, you do and for putting up with my slow.
Me & Hubby – headshots
Yogi Purnama – Superman
Michelle Henderson – Mr and Mrs
Macau Photo Agency – Waiting
Erik Nielsen – SLOW
Martin Jernberg – Everest
© 2020 Janine Hayward www.psychingoutcancer.com. All rights reserved.
Posted in C-diff, Fatigue, Myeloma Treatment, Psychology for Cancer, Stem Cell Transplant SCT Tagged with: Cancer, Fatigue, Myeloma, Psychology, Recovery, Side effects, Stem Cell Transplant
Escape! I’m out of hospital. I burst into tears on leaving. Overwhelmed with a sense of freedom and loss. Loss of four weeks of my life and being in the world. Last night was my first night at home since June 27th. Twenty-six nights in one small poorly ventilated over heated room. Up until this experience I had never been in hospital for more than a few nights. Let’s hope I don’t end up back there which is common after a Stem Cell Transplant (SCT). Most people get an infection of some kind and have to go back in for a while. Afterall the immune system is still fairly non-existent. Though I think I’ve done my fair share of infection. E.Coli gripped me for at least two weeks of my four week stay. Not any old E.Coli either.
Specialist Nurse J came in yesterday. She asked me, do you know how sick you were? I said not really; I slept a lot and comparing my bad patch to awful gastro-enteritis which I have had a few times, in some ways it hadn’t seemed so bad. She set me straight, kindly.
She explained she had looked in on me a number of times but I had been asleep. This was a good thing because while most people have infection markers of 10 or below and doctors start getting worried and applying antibiotics, getting xrays, pet scans when infection markers are around 100, my infection marker registered over 400. My temp consistently spiked into 39s.
Nice. Once again I don’t do anything by halves. Trust me. I’m into full body experiences. Though thankfully I slept through a lot of this one! Instead of the Dr B predicted two week stay in hospital I was there 26 days and believe me once you feel well, hospital is not the place you want to be or at least definitely not cooped up in one room and one ward without being able to see the world.
Similar to e.coli
Two windows gave me moments of solace and a wee bit of interim escape. I could just see people playing basketball and tennis in Ruskin park through the tree canopy. Though the windows were in the sluice room which while spotless wasn’t a place I wanted to hang around much. Being reminded I may need to use a commode and other goodies at some stage in my hospital visit; if not now then next time wasn’t an image I needed in my mind. Being in there was handy one day; I grabbed a sick bowl for a moment of queasiness. Everything I needed right there, in the moment. Can’t ask for more than that.
The other HUGE thing that provided relief during this ordeal was all the fantastic facebook, insta, video, whatsapp messages I received. THANK YOU THANK YOU. Also for those I did manage to call for a few moments – thank you for being there, again and again. You are so so special, all of you.
The heavy duty chemo and return of my stem cells has appeared to go well and my neutrophils (basis of immune system) are on the rise. I did get mucositis (raw exposed soreness feeling in throat, mouth and oesophagus) which is common and I didn’t get it badly which I am thrilled about. My platelets are still a little low but heading in the right direction. Once I have hit the SCT + 100 day marker (October) I am due to have a bone marrow biopsy which is the deep breath moment. Will my bone marrow show any signs of Myeloma? Will it show a really low sign e.g. maybe a para protein (pp) of 1, similar or undetectable in my marrow? After all the cells that went back in were collected when my pp was 1. Or will it be higher? Will it come down? Questions, questions, patience needed. In the meantime I’m enjoying being home!
PICC Lines and Clots
PICC lines are good things and you can be unlucky with them. I’m a full not by halves person remember so with my first PICC line a clot arrived and ran up my arm above the PICC line towards my clavicle. If you saw the images on insta, you probably noticed my right arm and hand went an awful purple and swelled to about three times its size. After a week (I think I was a bit out of it) they took my PICC line out (nasty little buggers – they have a fish hook style on their ends so they grip once in (a good thing, nasty when they have to come out). At least the line itself comes out fairly quickly, easily, and reasonably pain free. Another PICC line was put into my left arm and normal intravenous meds resumed. The sub cutaneous line in my right leg (for the Haldol) was moved to my left arm also which made sleeping on my right side a whole lot easier.
With daily clexane (enoxaparin) injections again, the clot eased after a week and I recognised my hand, thank goodness. I was worried. One nurse /doctor (can’t remember now) had said clots can take three months to resolve. I’m still on the clexane but there are few visible signs of the clot now which is reassuring. Just bruises and quite a few of them. Hey, that’s completely manageable so I’m grateful.
A day in the life while in hospital
11pm – finally finish all the intravenous and sub cutaneous meds for the day. With two exceptions 1) haloperidol and something else in a slow driver which continues to provide anti-sickness properties through the night, and 2) TPN – essentially food and minerals delivered over 24 and 48 hour periods into my PICC line (because I wasn’t eating enough especially through the e.coli business. I couldn’t stomach the fortijuice and shakes that were on offer (pun intended!)
2am observations done – blood pressure, oxygenation level and temperature
Between 5am and 6am – more observations and then the intravenous drug regime and oral meds process began. Some meds couldn’t be dripped in at the same time so I would end up doing one hour of something then a flush of saline (or similar) for 10-15 minutes then 30 minutes of something else and then a flush and then two meds at once for an hour (all while the other two described above kept going in!
This would continue for the rest of the day; obs and meds pretty much until 11pm and the cycle would start again. Sleep at night was fleeting.
I showered on good days and confess to going four days without a proper wash! I can’t even imagine it, yick! When you are sick you are sick! I lived in Hubby’s boxer shorts and a singlet. I didn’t care who saw me pacing the ward (on good days) in these. Staff have seen worse and the get up was the coolest and most comfortable thing to wear. Hubby was an angel – delivering freshly laundered clothing, drinks, whims (shortbread) whenever I asked and that meant most days.
Each time I was woken up I’d need to drink, slowly make my way to the loo with Harry; my Med stand with four pump boxes on it to manage each drug and boy could he bleep. Then back again for the next wriggle up the bed in to a semi comfortable spot and before letting a very patient nurse begin the next hook up! Harry’s bleep would be every time an infusion was 5 minutes from finishing, then once finished, then whenever one of the pumps got it into its techie bits that there was a downstream occlusion i.e. there wasn’t but I may have moved my hand a fraction so it decided bleeping until it was checked was a cautious thing to do. In the end I got sick of buzzing for Nurses who had better things to do and would turn the bleeps off myself and restart the infusions when I was sure a pump was being over sensitive. Anything to stop the bloody beep!
Harry’s mate keeping an eye on me.
Hospital food is beige. I get they try and have a lot of people to accommodate. If you have no appetite and are trying to force yourself to eat; the menu is not a pleasant thing. I did however live on tuna and mayonnaise sandwiches when I was up to it and the kitchen staff were lovely.
Funnies and daft things people say to you
On my second to last day I took Harry to the loo as usual only to realise I wasn’t hooked up to him anymore. That was one image I could have saved him from!
You’ll be out before you know it (when I’d already been in 3.5 weeks). Actually I will know it. I’m willing it. Now I’m begging for it.
Oh I’m sorry. It will grow back quickly (referring to my hair and shaved head). Why are you sorry? I’m not sorry. I’m cool with it. I have more things to worry about than my hair!
Do you have kids? No??? It’s not too late. Oh yes it is!! Its ok my life can be complete without kids. Just because you have five and want more (pity your wife possibly?) doesn’t mean I need to have them.
By the way my responses stayed in my head and instead I would just smile.
First night at home
I’ve been awake since 4am, walked into the garden and around it about six times, felt the rain on my scalp and face. Read a fabulous big magazine (gift from a neighbour and the publisher). Check it out here:
I have revelled in cuddles, kisses, touches, smelling and touching hubby. Holding hands is so special when you haven’t been able to do it for four weeks.
Me & Hubby
Photo by CDC on Unsplash – ecoli style
© 2020 Janine Hayward www.psychingoutcancer.com. All rights reserved.
Posted in Blood Clots, E.Coli, Myeloma Treatment, Psychology for Cancer, Stem Cell Transplant SCT, Symptoms and Side Effects Tagged with: Blood Clot, Bone Cancer, Cancer, Chemotherapy, e-Coli, Fatigue, Mucositis, Myeloma, Psychology, Treatment, Worry
When I left you last, Mum was in recovery from breast cancer and Dad’s melanoma was kicking him in the groin (literally). They are amazing people, and fortunately for me they coped and are coping incredibly well with the challenges. Apparently this wasn’t enough to contend with, a trifecta was called for though I thought we had already achieved that. Not to be upstaged, my cancer leapt out of hibernation. My dreaded paraprotein levels (42 at their worst, down to 1 after treatment) are now at 17.
It was gutting to see the Myeloma active again after such a short time. I was again hit by how I wasn’t ‘special’. I wasn’t going to be the person who is miraculously cured by the new cutting edge treatment. I wasn’t going to be one of the statistics up the right (and right) end of the bell curve. I was firmly in the middle of the pack. My body had responded very well to treatment but I was one of the many people who experience the peripheral neuropathy side effect and have their myeloma become active again within 6 months after first treatment. I was well and truly on the path to being the ‘typical’ (albeit younger than usual) Myeloma patient with an 8-10 year life expectancy after diagnosis. I’m almost three years in now…well, you can do the maths.
Tests, tests and more tests
The big upside of being on care as usual and watch and wait, is that over the last six to nine months I haven’t had to go to hospital every week, its mostly been monthly. Except that while my schedule was clearer, I had time to pack in everything that had been on hold while cancer took pride of place. More tests, x-rays, MRIs; I felt like an old hand, navigating the hospital walkways, waiting rooms and procedures with robotic familiarity. The increasingly unbearable pain in my hands, arms and ankles was not Rheumatoid Arthritis after all but more likely the bloody Myeloma.
A rotator cuff injury in my left shoulder (to go with the benign lesion that was already there, maybe it was lonely?) needs physiotherapy. It’s about nine months since the referral, no sign of an appointment yet. I have had a letter asking, do I still want an appointment?. Yes I bloody well do thanks! Well in that case, don’t contact us we’ll contact you, was the reply. Note to Health Secretary (It’s not Jeremy Hunt these days is it, hope not, though sadly I don’t know who it is and if they are any better, could they be worse? That thought is scary!!). Anyway back to the note – Dear Health Secretary, please get the physio department more resources, they are swamped! Hmmm.. not much time off hospital after all.
Treatment two in the sequence for prolonging life after diagnosis with Myeloma
My next round of treatment was due to start when my paraproteins were up to about 30 (or if they started increasing rapidly). Mine had been rising steadily in 1-2 points a month. A January 2020 start back at hospital seemed a reasonable prediction and hubby and I had talked of getting away for a, never before done together three month trip, prior to the treatment shackles going back on. When Dr B said we need to start treatment ASAP, I’m worried about your back. I said no you don’t, we’re out of here. I’ve been dying to go to the middle east so as I’m dying, I’m going!
What I really said was, boo I had hoped it would be January not October, can I put chemo off for a while? He asked if I felt well enough to travel. Of course I said yes. I really do wonder what I would have said if I hadn’t felt well enough. I suspect I would have lied, said yes anyway.
Patient choice and positivity
I was going to test the concept of ‘patient choice’, there is such a thing isn’t there? Nothing was going to stop me getting away with hubby. We both needed a break and this rare chance where we had time off work/hospital at the same time was not going to be missed. I asked what I could do to prepare for the next round of chemo. Dr B said the best thing was to stay positive.
Ha, all the more reason for me to travel before starting treatment then. Being my ‘adventurer self’, experiencing new places, cultures, food, wine with the love of my life, IS what nourishes my soul and makes me feel positive! We negotiated with Dr B for chemotherapy to start in six weeks; not the three months I’d hoped for but brilliant all the same. A strange mix of worry (about treatment) and euphoria surged through my body. I noticed a feeling and realised it was excitement! I hadn’t felt that in ages. Walking home from clinic, visions of Israel, Lebanon and Jordan flooded my mind. I went straight in and booked flights.
I’m back now from an amazing trip. I feel ready. Really ready for the next phase of this Myeloma madness. I even feel hopeful (albeit on top of my usual layer of pragmatism) that I could still be a wee bit special. I could still get that fantastic recovery that may not be likely but is POSSIBLE.
Month one of the new treatment regime. Hit me with it Doc. I can take it. I’ve just knocked three more countries off my bucket list (big grin).
Images: Various places in Israel – Hubby or Me
© 2019 Janine Hayward www.psychingoutcancer.com. All rights reserved.
Posted in Cancer in my family, Myeloma Treatment, peripheral neuropathy, Psychology for Cancer Tagged with: Blood Cancer, Bone Cancer, Cancer, Dying, Family, Myeloma, Para Protein, Patient choice, Positivity, Psychology, Travel, Treatment
Peripheral neuropathy. A fancy pants way of saying pins and needles. Except it is a bit more than that and the more, is scary. When tingling on the soles of my feet and in my hands turned to prickles and cried out for attention, I had just started my 14th cycle of chemo. At night, as if hedgehogs at a rave, the prickles began dancing around, keeping me awake. My self congratulation for having coped well so far and immense gratitude to my body now seemed a little premature or at least to have jinxed me. A strange oscillation between numbness and pain set in. At first, it came and went so I wasn’t too worried. I kept up the once a week, Maintenance Chemo.
The pain got worse. The tingling turned to a sharp micro needle feeling and the ache crawled up my left arm. I remember thinking, this isn’t good. I started talking to hubby about wondering whether the benefits of chemo still outweighed the side effects. We decided they did. I kept going.
So, did the sensation and the pain. The cannula insertion became excruciating. The drip of the drug into my forearm was ok but by the end of the treatment the whole arm throbbed; I hadn’t had that before. In the days in between chemo, the pain, numbness and needling rollercoaster, deepened and didn’t let up. I felt increasingly fatigued, distracted and unable to concentrate. Pain will do that. The symptoms eased a little if I did nothing and stopped using my hands altogether. Have you tried that? It is nigh on impossible! My weekends became slow, sedentary, dull; low mood came a calling.
Peripheral neuropathy doesn’t like hands
Then it hit me; the way I hold a pen had changed. The length of time I could hold a hairdryer and the way I used a hair brush had changed. Whenever a cap needed to come off a bottle, I now ask for help. I was using two hands to open doors or press flush buttons on toilets. Cooking had virtually stopped (and I had thought I was being lazy) instead lifting chopping boards, holding pans, taking roasting dishes out of the oven were difficult. I no longer enjoyed being in the kitchen. No wonder I’d started avoiding it. Hubby rattled off a list of other things I’d stopped doing or was doing differently.
I felt exhausted just thinking about it. Should I stop treatment? Should I keep going? Would I lose the use of my hands if I continued with chemo? What would life be like if I couldn’t use my hands? If the pain was too much? Was I being a wimp? I’m on a clinical trial, I signed the forms, I committed to it; could I simply stop? What would happen to me if I did stop? Would my cancer flare? Was chemo worth it? Was chemo making things worse? How do I decide whether to continue something that may extend my life, when it seems to be significantly reducing, the quality of the life, I have left? My brain; the whizzing and often unhelpful thought production machine, joined the rave.
I told my oncologists what we had noticed about the difficulty using my hands and how I was questioning whether to stay on the trial; questioning whether more chemo was the best thing for me. They ran a few tests and determined I had lost strength in my hands, especially my left hand. They recommended I defer chemo for a week.
That week came and went with no improvement. I went into a holding pattern for another week. Peripheral neuropathy is the pits and as well as dancing needles it feels like being burnt, a searing. The pain was constant, in my shoulder, my forearm and using my hands made everything worse. More MRIs were ordered. I started to worry about new lesions. Was it peripheral neuropathy? Would it get worse? Was it something else?
Deal or no deal
It came down to one week and the limit of missed weeks allowed when on the trial. I had happily missed a few weeks of treatment to be with Mum during part of her radiotherapy and then missed additional weeks while we waited to see if the pain and hand function would improve. We now had to decide, the medical team, hubby and I, the best next step for the one remaining week; chemo or no chemo. Sounds like deal or no deal except there was no money involved, no windfall or good luck, instead hope or no hope. Bones versus hands.
Hands won. Living rather than life, won. This time. Drs L and A recommended I stop chemo; they didn’t want my hands to get worse and so I was kicked off the trial.
After 21 months, 17 cycles of chemo, virtually weekly blood withdrawal, 100 odd cannula insertions…it was time to give the body a break.
Care as Usual
I went off the trial and on to ‘care as usual’. What I didn’t factor in, was that meant I would no longer be looked after by the trial team, the team that had had my back from the beginning, the team I had come to know, feel safe with, could express my fears and questions to and laugh with. I would be losing the team that had been with me since March 2017 when I first stepped into the Chemo Day Unit and steeled myself for the uncertainty of cancer treatment. Sigh.
Then of course there were the dominos. The other life challenges, falling thick and fast. Not sure what I mean? See my last post, Silent Dominos.
So while still dealing with Mum’s recovery and ‘what next’ (she’s amazing by the way) and my peripheral neuropathy and hand malfunction… along came the next three dominos:
- Changing treatment, care team and feeling cast out into a new uncertain hospital process
- Dad’s Melanoma came back
- My cancer got worse
Who on earth had it in for my family? Who had we unintentionally, unwittingly, annoyed?
All of us with cancer. At the same time.
We didn’t deserve this. No one does. I needed to remind myself:
Cancer doesn’t care who you are or what you have or haven’t done. It’s simply not that choosy.
Posted in Cancer in my family, Chemotherapy for Myeloma, Myeloma Treatment, Pain, peripheral neuropathy, Symptoms and Side Effects Tagged with: Cancer, Chemotherapy, feet, hands, Myeloma, peripheral neuropathy, pins and needles, Side effects, Treatment
Hello you. Is anybody out there? Sorry I have been so silent for so long; it’s been a heck of a hard eight months. That’s not to say there haven’t been some good times, some great times, times I’ve felt adventurous, happy, even peaceful. There have though, been times when I’ve thought this is just too much. Too much everything. I may have been giving this blog the silent treatment, yet in my head, I have written so many, many, times.
If any one thing had happened, gone wrong, been challenging; I would have been able to cope. Life doesn’t work that way, though, does it? One thing happens, then another, and while I get my head around those, another and another, like multiple, side by side dominos tracks; they all cascade, one by one and at the same time – bang, bang, bang.
After about the third bang…my ability to do the helpful, healthy things went out of the window. I fell of the tracks… I struggled to get back on. For a week, I managed it, then I fell off again. I picked myself up, recommitted but only for a day … and then I …gave up.
Sugar, alcohol, copious amounts of coffee, long periods of not eating, then eating crap, withdrawal, duvet days, not wanting to socialise, wanting to be on the couch with TV and the cat…all re-entered my life with a vengeance. I was no longer walking the psychologist and cancer care talk.
Except I couldn’t escape the knowing. I knew what was happening. I watched it happen. I watched everything I’d built up to support me, over the previous year since diagnosis, slip away. Despite this, somehow, I was still managing to function, to help others, to turn up at the cancer centre and be the psychologist, I knew myself to be. The cost was high. Exhaustion kicked in. Overwhelm. Then the next domino fell, and the next and another.
So, I fell off the tracks and self-care plans. I stopped walking my talk. Out went the green smoothies and in came caffeine and Pisco sours. I was in cope, any way I could, mode.
Turns out I am very, very, human after all. Who knew?
And the dominos…Well, one you already know about, if you caught my last two blogs,
Isoflavones and Tears on a plane
The others were a shock to me, maybe to you too.
The first set;
1. My hands stopped working.
2. Mum got cancer.
3. An internet troll joined my party.
I’m not silent anymore.
Posted in Cancer in my family, Psychology for Cancer, Symptoms and Side Effects, Uncategorized Tagged with: Cancer, Family, Fatigue, Mother, Psychology, Side effects, Troll
The Tor and sheep’s poo
The stone of the Glastonbury Tor holds the sun’s warmth and shares it with my back. I duck out of the wind, soak in the fabulous views of the Salisbury plains and reflect on the last year and half since diagnosis with Myeloma. Deep breaths of fresh air (fused with sheep poo aroma) fill my lungs. I’m sure the menopause (Meno) conundrum has been one of the most challenging and inspiring learning elements of this cancer journey. Are you ready for part three (and final for now) of the Menopause blogs? Let’s talk ‘alternative’ (read non-medical) Meno symptom management solutions and finally, my decision about what, if anything, to take. It’s probably apt that I am writing this in a place full of people living ‘alternative’ lifestyles or certainly appearing to be very happily in their own world…
The Tor, Glastonbury
Previous posts about Menopause
If you are happening upon this blog and interested in Menopause and Menopause and Cancer please see my previous posts on Menopause (part 1 and 2, links under Recent posts on the righthand side of this page). Now, let’s crack on with the next instalment, part 3, the alternatives to HRT. A rhyme? Unintentional! Any poets out there? Maybe it’s time for Meno poetry. I hear Menopause, The Musical and the comedians (Victoria Wood (rest in peace), Sandra Tsing, Kathy Burke, Angela Verges, and Jeff Allen have and are doing a fine job); room for another genre? Hey, if it gets all of us talking Meno, I’m keen. All poetic contributions welcome!!!
Menopause, The Musical
Menopause (Meno) part three (my final Menopause focussed post for now)
Wee recap; my MMmM project (Multiple Myeloma and managing Menopause symptoms) began by exploring the traditional medical models, asking my oncology team and gynaecologists for advice. I then turned to a wide range of menopause experts by experience and occupation for complementary, natural and alternatives to Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT). I found myself falling into the world of Isoflavones, phytoestrogens, red clover black cohosh and more. Here is what I discovered…
Alternatives to HRT
Actually before we get it into alternatives, let’s be clear, one completely valid option is to take nothing and embrace the menopause process as a natural part of aging; to cope with whatever symptoms are experienced. However, for many of us, in the same way that managing difficult periods, pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS) or tension (PMT), difficult pregnancy, endometriosis, polycystic ovaries, fibroids and other gynaecological processes and concerns, it is either unnecessary to put up with unwanted symptoms or they are simply intolerable. Additional support is needed.
Below are some of the alternatives to HRT and practical solutions I encountered and many of which I have tried. Please note most complementary and alternative treatment options do not yet have robust evidence of effectiveness; though some women will experience benefit from some of these treatments.1
Isoflavones and Phytoestrogen
The definitions and characteristics (interesting nutrition and hormone stuff);
Isoflavones are crystalline compounds whose derivatives occur in many plants (especially pulses), often as glycosides. Phytoestrogens refer to a substance found in certain plants which can produce effects like that of the hormone oestrogen when ingested into the body.2
Isoflavones are oestrogenically potent phytoestrogens. The main dietary isoflavones, called genistein and daidzein, are mostly found in legumes such as soy, chick peas, lentils and beans. Lignans and prenylated flavonoids (also phytoestrogens) have potent oestrogenic activity but there are few studies about them. 2
Evidence is mixed about Soy
A recent study found a reduction in hot flushes when women used soy germ extract with 100mg of isoflavone glycosides.3 It is not clear from studies to date, whether frequent soy consumption explains the lower rate of hot flushes among different ethnic groups.4
Red clover and Promensil
Red clover, another source of isoflavones, contains compounds that are metabolised to genistein and daidzein after consumption. The most studied red clover product is Promensil. 4
- A ‘natural’, non-medical, easily accessible, alternative to HRT
- Growing evidence base that it works in improving unwanted Menopause symptoms
- A three-month dosage duration is recommended initially
- Not enough evidence yet looking at long term effects
- Just like HRT, it is unlikely to work for everyone
Managing women with phytoestrogens
There are few studies exploring Promensil and Isoflavones for the management of Menopause symptoms and other health benefits though fortunately the evidence base is slowly growing.
A recent review highlighted evidence supporting use of Promensil at 80 mg/day for treating hot flushes in menopausal women. This finding was consistent across 3 studies included in the meta-analysis. Promensil was found to be safe over the short-term duration of the studies (3 months).5
A more comprehensive review with a rather unfortunate name ‘Managing women with phytoestrogens’ also reviewed the studies mentioned above. (It makes me angry when its implied or explicitly stated women need managing!!) Setting this name issue aside, the researchers proposed that one of the most widely researched food supplements has been the phytoestrogenic preparation containing red clover isoflavones. Six randomised trials exploring the impact on vasomotor symptoms (night sweats, hot flashes, and flushes) were included, three of which displayed a significant benefit compared to placebo.6
Data from small randomised and observational trials showed benefits of using red clover isoflavones for osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease. Red clover isoflavones may also derive psychological benefits. Safety data is positive so far. The reviewers conclude with further studies would be welcome, particularly in women with significant medical risks.6
A 2018 paper describes a study of 50 patients where a combination of 40mg dose of Isoflavone along with calcium, vitamin D and inulin improved vasomotor disturbances as well as quality of life and sexual function in menopausal women. This was a small trial with a number of limitations so the results while promising, need further investigation.7
From the makers of Promensil (Check out their website and research claims)
Here are two sheets summarising clinical support for red clover Isoflavones relating to a range of health domains.
Clinical Support for Red Clover Part1
Clinical Support for Red Clover Part2
They also explain the difference between Promensil and other red clover products including soy isofalvones. Check it out here.
There had to be some debate, right? This is Menopause we’re talking about after all! Studies involving Promensil were reviewed, analysed and reported in a 2014 Cochrane review paper. 4 Only five trials met the search criteria and the authors argue that,
No conclusive evidence shows that phytoestrogen supplements effectively reduce the frequency or severity of hot flushes and night sweats in perimenopausal or postmenopausal women.
On a positive note the same review highlights the possibility of a positive outcome from genistein and concludes
…benefits derived from concentrates of genistein should be further investigated.
Read the full paper here.
Other ‘Alternatives’, Complimentary Medicine and Lifestyle choices for managing Meno symptoms
Beyond the better known isoflavones, I came across a number of other recommendations for using supplements, making lifestyle changes and employing complimentary medicine for reducing unwanted Menopause symptoms and side effects. I then went hunting for scientific evidence of each product’s effectiveness and began trying a few things out. Here is a list of the alternatives I looked into:
- Vitamins (A, C, D, E, K, Zinc)
- Omega 3
- Black Cohosh
- Chill Pillows (a new take on chill pill!).
- Chinese Medicine
- Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
- Non-hormonal pharmaceutical treatments
Some women have found benefits from natural remedies BUT the research is mixed and caution is advised. Check out these summaries; 1,8,9
Complimentary alternative therapies.
Natural remedies for hot flushes
A paper Mallhi et al with a long list of alternatives, dosage and known side effects.
Here are my discoveries in more detail; I hope they prove useful…
Probiotics and Vitamins
Now for a confession, I can’t remember exactly who told me to take probiotics and a full range of vitamin B’s, Calcium and Vitamin A, C, D and Zinc to help with menopausal symptoms (blame it on Chemo and Menopause memory impact!). I am 99% sure, I first heard this from my Nutrition therapist, then from the amazing lady who runs our local health shop and then finally I’m sure it came up in the interviews facilitated by Katie Phillips with Menopause experts that I have mentioned in my previous posts (See links below for some of the interviews and more about Katie). I take VitD, VitB and Calcium daily as part of my Cancer treatment as advised by my medical team so it has not been a hardship to add the probiotic.
Muhleisen’s paper highlights probiotics for reinstating vaginal equilibrium in menopause 10 and Britton’s paper advocates probiotics to prevent vaginal dryness and atrophy.11 Count me in!
According to a recent review, Omega-3 supplements may alleviate night sweats but not hot flushes.12
Vitamin C, D, E – more mixed results
A 2013 paper highlighted that Vitamin C and E reduce the intensity and number of hot flashes via promotion of adrenal function though it is very important that the correct dosage is used and no large doses are taken.13
In contrast, LeBlanc’s 2015 paper and 2010 studies (by Dennehy et al and Lerchbaum et al ) show there is no evidence that vitamin D or E helps vasomotor symptoms but do recommend vitamin C, D, K and calcium for maintaining bone health.14,15,16
Zinc and Vitamin K
Zinc and Vitamin K are positively associated with bone mass however I couldn’t find any evidence for either reducing unwanted menopause symptoms.17,18, 19
For healthy hair during menopause – vitamin Bs, C, Proteins and Fats
Sugar craving during Menopause – check your Vitamin C levels
Consider going VEGAN or simply eat more plants!
One study showed that vegans reported less bothersome vasomotor symptoms than omnivores.20
I couldn’t find any relevant studies regarding Vitamin A and menopause and menopause symptoms. Please let me know if you can!
While an older 2010 study found black cohosh reduced hot flushes21 a recent, more comprehensive Cochrane review concluded there is insufficient evidence to either support or oppose the use of black cohosh for menopausal symptoms.22
Chinese Medicine, Dong Quai, Ginseng
Another 2016 Cochrane review found insufficient evidence that Chinese herbal medicines were any more or less effective than placebo or HRT for the relief of night sweats and hot flushes.23
Non-hormonal pharmaceutical treatments (e.g. SSRIs often referred to as anti-depressants)
A 2010 review of studies found Clonidine, SSRIs and SNRIs, gabapentin and relaxation therapy showed a mild to moderate effect on reducing hot flushes in women with a history of breast cancer.24
A Chillmax Pillow
This is a wonderful, wonderful recommendation (thank you Sis-in-law and Mum-in-law!!) Slip it under your pillow case or lie it vertically down your pillow to provide your head and neck with a cool sensation. Ahhh, bliss.
Acupuncture may be beneficial in comparison to not taking anything though the evidence is weak at the moment.25
Ha. We can never escape this one it seems. While exercise isn’t directly linked to vasomotor symptoms of menopause including hot flushes it is recommended to support the related impact of Menopause changes and symptoms. Check out these articles – A good time to exercise and Meno and constipation.26
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
There is growing evidence that CBT can help reduce the impact of Menopause symptoms.27 The British Menopause Society have released a helpful leaflet that has been endorsed by the UK National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE).28
Alternatives to HRT and Cancer
A 2013 systematic review of soy and red clover as used by breast cancer patients or those at risk of breast cancer, found a lack of evidence showing harm from use of soy with respect to risk of breast cancer or recurrence. Soy intake in line with a traditional Japanese diet (2-3 servings daily, containing 25-50mg isoflavones) may be protective against breast cancer and recurrence. Soy does not increase circulating estradiol or affect estrogen-responsive target tissues. Prospective data of soy use in women taking tamoxifen does not indicate increased risk of breast cancer recurrence. Evidence on red clover is limited though existing studies propose that it may not possess breast cancer-promoting effects.29
A 2015 study proposed a combination of Soy and probiotics may have potential for reducing the risk of breast cancer.30
Another three-year study concluded that when compared to HRT, Promensil was safer as there was no effect on known breast cancer risk factor.31
New shoot amongst the dryness
Menopause, Sex and Vaginal Dryness
Let’s talk about sex baby, let’s talk about….sex. Remember that track by Salt n Pepa? Except I’m talking about sex during Menopause. Many women find sex painful due to vaginal dryness or don’t fancy sex at all as Meno creeps up on them. Women – you do not have to put up with this state of affairs. For dryness, there are medical issued and organic/natural products that can make a real difference. Consider trying out Yes (mostly organic) or Sylk products. Here is a link to an article 32 which includes a comparison between multiple product options. How Important is vaginal lubricant and moisturiser composition? If you are concerned that your vaginal dryness might be severe and not easily solved by a moisturising lubricant you may be interested in this presentation on Vulvovaginal Atrophy (VVA). It has some great info on the moisturising lubricants too.33
Will I go through Meno twice?
One thing the gynaecologist did say is that I am very unlikely to have to go through Menopause twice; that is, it shouldn’t reverse once my chemo stops and start again at a later stage. That seems like a kind gift from the Universe. I’ll hang on to that.
Of course, I will still be part way through my own Meno journey, living with the uncertainty of not knowing whether mine will finish after 3 years, 7 years or be considerably longer lasting. Hey, so long as the symptoms are managed and I continue to feel myself, I am happy and willing to embrace this new, wondrous, challenging and clever process, my body goes through. Hopefully too, in a few months’ time, after being on my chosen treatment and monitoring symptoms, I will be much clearer about what is a Chemo or Cancer induced symptom versus a Menopause symptom. Meno and hormones may no longer be a fall-back excuse for my ‘well aren’t I moody today’ moments!
So now to my decision:
For me, taking nothing is not an option at this stage as maintaining an even mood, improved libido and reducing hot flushes are a must. Do I try Promensil and or trust in the gynaecologist who was adamant HRT was the way to go? I wonder what is holding me back. I think it is my oncologist with the anti-HRT opinion that is still bothering me; I need to have another talk with him.
My Decision(s) and a U-turn
Talking and researching must stop at some stage and a decision be made. Continued talking and researching can make decisions much harder to make; there will always be contrasting views and experiences. A stake in the ground, a baseline, is needed. I must make the decision that is right for me with the information I have today. After all, I know any decision is not set in stone, I can change it later, if new information comes my way, or my body doesn’t like the solution I try or the decision stops feeling right to me.
So, what’s it to be?
I’m going to start natural plant based bioidentical HRT gel and progesterone tablets.
Except I’m not. Deep Breath.
Just when I had decided to start natural plant based bioidentical HRT (I had even submitted the prescription) my Mum, my very precious, kind Mum, was diagnosed with breast cancer. Deep breath. I won’t talk about this now, other than to say, the all important public health system has once again appeared to have caught the little nasty early; thank you health teams, thank you Universe.
Now, with breast cancer in my family, my chances of getting secondary cancer (and breast cancer) seemed to have leapt from a statistic to a reality. Another deep breath. Talk to self; be sensible. I let my med team know and asked for a mammogram and a chat with the breast cancer team. My oncologist referred me immediately.
I had based my ‘go with HRT’ decision on two factors in the end: a) The delivery mechanism for the estrogen component is via gel and does not go directly through my liver and, b) the research investigating HRT side effects and long term effects is present and more robust than Promensil, at this stage. Although now…
Out with HRT and in with Promensil
The HRT rational above was discarded considering the increased risk of secondary cancer and my recent family diagnosis. Promensil now seemed much more appealing. Despite the lack of larger and longitudinal studies, I decided Promensil was work the risk. I needed help and I was being monitored extensively each week; if a negative impact occurred, I figured it would be picked up quickly and I could stop Promensil immediately.
Two other things helped me embrace this decision; it felt right as soon as I had made it (a better feeling than I ever had with HRT) and it fitted with the additional chat I had with my oncologist. He knows me best, is a clinical lead and has spent most time with me over the last 15 months. He has my best interests at heart and has always coped with my endless queries and requests for repeated explanations. While I do trust the others in the haemo-oncology team, I gave weight to his opinion and his caution over adding this long-term medication into the mix. He said he felt HRT would add extra risk, risk that wasn’t able to have a statistic put on it due to my individual circumstances and the few studies exploring HRT and Myeloma relapse.
Finally, I am reminded that while I usually place my store in scientific evidence, just because something hasn’t been rigorously studied yet, doesn’t mean it won’t later be discovered to be beneficial. Cannabis oil for chronic illness/pain and ketamine for some mental health disorders spring to mind, as substances we might have first thought of as harmful yet in certain doses and conditions, have been found to have positive outcomes. Mindfulness didn’t start out with an evidence base, yet now, it is well established as having beneficial outcomes in many circumstances.
Therefore, I have taken the risk (whatever that is) of introducing yet another supplement/medication into my life.
Promensil 80mg Red Clover Isoflavones
Promensil = Improvement (my case study so far)
I started Promensil while conducting this research and then stopped when I thought I’d better gather the evidence first and make a more informed decision. I was a bit reluctant to stop as I hadn’t noticed any adverse effects and there had seemed to be an improvement in Meno symptoms. When I stopped, the night-sweats returned with a vengeance.
Promensil is shaping up to be a wonder product for me. Although I am open to the possibility it is a placebo effect. Now back on it, I have taken one pill, once per day, for six weeks (the double strength version). Much to my delight the full body night-sweats with drenched bed linen and night clothes are no longer!! I don’t remember having one in the last fortnight at all! Plus, a lovely UK heat wave have meant nights have been hot (in the mid-20s Celsius/77 Fahrenheit at times). The improvement timing couldn’t have been better, otherwise I think I would set the bed and house on fire or internally combusted!
My daily hot flashes now tend to occur in the afternoon, rather than all through the afternoon and evening, are less severe and less frequent; down to 2 per day though I haven’t monitored closely. I do know I’m not stripping off clothes and putting them back on minutes later any near as often, not even every night.
For the last ten days, I have switched to taking Promensil around lunch time or a little later, as most hot flushes appeared in the afternoons or evenings, when they did occur. I have discovered this has had a positive benefit too; flushes have reduced again and while I have not been taking a log, it seems I am only getting one flush a day now.
The jury is out on other symptoms. I seem to sleep slightly better, deeper while asleep though I still wake often. I need to monitor the Meno symptoms closely at the end of each week and during my non-chemo week, to determine any changes; the chemo and steroids at the beginning of the week are likely to interfere with sleep (negatively) and energy (positively). In the middle two weeks of the six on Promensil, I thought my mood had been slightly more even, though I need to check with Hubby on this; suspect he may disagree!
Over the last two weeks with so much going on, health, family and otherwise, I have exercised and meditated less, my mind has been very occupied and I think my mood has fluctuated a lot. Feels like the Promensil was unlikely to have any positive impact on that symptom! Though, who knows maybe my mood would have been worse, if I hadn’t taken it. No science here, no objectivity, remember these are just observations, interpretations and surmising. Though, I am the expert in my own body and mind so I’m rolling with a ‘Promensil is working’ concept for now.
On a couple of occasions, I’ve noticed if I drink a hot drink quickly or have a moment of frustration or stress, a hot flush followed very quickly. I’ll keep an eye on this and try to notice if it always happens or appears random rather than linked to hot drinks and stress. Though I believe this is not uncommon. Check out these known triggers for hot flushes.
Menopause was hard to write about
I have found Menopause hard to write about. Maybe I hesitated because I wasn’t sure whether I was going through it or not: the symptoms are so like those that accompany cancer and chemo. No, that wasn’t it really, I was embarrassed, at first. Outside of my very close friends and eventually, close clinicians, I have found it one of the hardest subjects to raise. I’m not sure why. Especially when, I am a psychologist who believes in taking the unhelpful stigma out of, well, EVERYTHING.
Menopause has been more difficult to disclose than cancer: WEIRD. Talking about menopause with and due to cancer and chemo: DOUBLE WEIRD. This combo takes Meno, ‘to another level’ (the catch phrase of 2017-18, I’m sure). Talking about some aspects of Menopause have been harder than others; vaginal dryness for instance. For some reason, I found this really hard to write/talk about. Worried I’d be judged maybe? Worried people would assume I was experiencing vaginal dryness and for some reason not wanting people to assume that everything I write about, happens to me? Strange, given mostly it does, and the blog is of a personal nature. But that’s the point isn’t it. Get talking. Reduce stigma. There is nothing to be embarrassed or awkward about. These processes are natural, they do not need to be hidden, talked about in secret or god forbid, suffered in silence.
I think underneath it all, I believe my and many European societies or so called developed countries with an individualistic tendency, associate women, during and post menopausal as old, unsexy, and past it. I know that simply isn’t true. Sophia Loren, Helen Mirren, my Mum, spring to mind – all sexy, awesome women, regardless of age. Yet I worried and continue to worry about feeling and being: old, unsexy and past it, particularly when my skin gets thin and wrinkly from steroids and chemo, my grey hair becomes more abundant and my energy or libido feel low. I worry when I stop feeling like myself.
All is not lost; applying psychology skills, and finding psychological flexibility, I constantly and consistently challenge these thoughts and feelings. Though some days it is hard to do. I remind myself of a new more helpful perspective. I take time to reflect, recognise and acknowledge that I haven’t felt old or unsexy every day or every moment of the day. In fact, I have and do feel mighty fine, a lot of the time (another rhyme?). Not bad for a woman fast approaching 50.
Menopause communities…have you found yours?
Thank goodness for the new wave of open discussion about Menopause and growing social communities like the Menopause Café movement. It’s about time. Here are two Meno stories and an episode of Loose Women about Meno. You may also want to check out the magazine Menopause Matters. I’m very grateful for Katie Phillips, her wonderful interviewees, the menopause café team, the celebs who have shared their stories (Kim Cattrall, Zoe Ball, Meg Matthews, Lorraine Kelly to name a few (see their and others’ stories here) and the ordinary (spectacular) women in my life who have disclosed their menopause journeys to me. Thanks for helping me get over my embarrassment by reminding me; I am not alone and that my Meno related decisions will be the right ones for me.
I have a lot of time for the author Christine Northrup with her interest and application of both her medical and holistic complimentary health expertise. Here is one of her books that you might find particularly useful.
The Wisdom of Menopause
Please do share the link to this blog, ask any questions you may have and do let me know:
- What has been the hardest part of your menopause or menopause with cancer journey?
- What has been the hardest part of caring for someone going through menopause or menopause and cancer?
- What have you discovered?
- Your Meno poem
Resources, References, Study papers and more:
Menopause, The Musical
Communities: The Menopause Cafe
2 English Oxford Living Dictionary (August, 2018).
Definition of isoflavones. https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/isoflavone
Definition of phytoestrogen. https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/phytoestrogen
Alternatives to HRT
1 Complimentary alternative therapies
8 Natural remedies for hot flashes – black cohosh, ginseng and more
9 Mallhi, T. H., Khan, Y. H., Khan, A. H., Mahmood, Q., Khalid, S. H., & Saleem, M. (2018). Managing Hot Flushes in Menopausal Women: A Review. Journal of the College of Physicians and Surgeons–Pakistan: JCPSP, 28(6), 460-465.
Soy germ and isoflavones
3 Imhof, M., Gocan, A., Imhof, M., & Schmidt, M. (2018). Soy germ extract alleviates menopausal hot flushes: placebo-controlled double-blind trial. European journal of clinical nutrition, 1.
Support for Promensil
5 Myers, S. P., & Vigar, V. (2017). Effects of a standardised extract of Trifolium pratense (Promensil) at a dosage of 80 mg in the treatment of menopausal hot flushes: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Phytomedicine, 24, 141-147.
6 Panay, N. (2011). Taking an integrated approach: managing women with phytoestrogens. Climacteric, 14(sup2), 2-7.
Controversy & Genistein
4 Lethaby A, Marjoribanks J, Kronenberg F, Roberts H, Eden J, Brown J. Phytoestrogens for menopausal vasomotor symptoms. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2013, Issue 12. Art. No.: CD001395. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD001395.pub4.
Vitamins, Black Cohosh and more
Vitamins in combination with Isoflavones –
7 Vitale, S. G., Caruso, S., Rapisarda, A. M. C., Cianci, S., & Cianci, A. (2018). Isoflavones, calcium, vitamin D and inulin improve quality of life, sexual function, body composition and metabolic parameters in menopausal women: result from a prospective, randomized, placebo-controlled, parallel-group study. Przeglad menopauzalny= Menopause review, 17(1), 32.
10 Muhleisen, A. L., & Herbst-Kralovetz, M. M. (2016). Menopause and the vaginal microbiome. Maturitas, 91, 42-50.
11 Britton, R. A., Irwin, R., Quach, D., Schaefer, L., Zhang, J., Lee, T., … & McCabe, L. R. (2014). Probiotic L. reuteri treatment prevents bone loss in a menopausal ovariectomized mouse model. Journal of cellular physiology, 229(11), 1822-1830.
12 Mohammady, M., Janani, L., Jahanfar, S., & Mousavi, M. S. (2018). Effect of omega-3 supplements on vasomotor symptoms in menopausal women: A systematic review and meta-analysis. European Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology and Reproductive Biology.
Vitamin C & E
Support for Vitamin C & E
13 Doshi, S. B., & Agarwal, A. (2013). The role of oxidative stress in menopause. Journal of mid-life health, 4(3), 140.
No support for Vitamin E (Note – an older paper and findings may be outdated)
15 Dennehy, C., & Tsourounis, C. (2010). A review of select vitamins and minerals used by postmenopausal women. Maturitas, 66(4), 370-380.
14 LeBlanc, E. S., Hedlin, H., Qin, F., Desai, M., Wactawski-Wende, J., Perrin, N., … & Stefanick, M. L. (2015). Calcium and vitamin D supplementation do not influence menopause-related symptoms: Results of the Women’s Health Initiative Trial. Maturitas, 81(3), 377-383.
16 Lerchbaum, E. (2014). Vitamin D and menopause—A narrative review. Maturitas, 79(1), 3-7.
18 Kim, D. E., Cho, S. H., Park, H. M., & Chang, Y. K. (2016). Relationship between bone mineral density and dietary intake of β-carotene, vitamin C, zinc and vegetables in postmenopausal Korean women: a cross-sectional study. Journal of International Medical Research, 44(5), 1103-1114.
19 Jaghsi, S., Hammoud, T., & Haddad, S. (2018). Relation Between Circulating Vitamin K1 and Osteoporosis in the Lumbar Spine in Syrian Post-Menopausal Women. The open rheumatology journal, 12, 1.
17 Kim, M. S., Kim, E. S., & Sohn, C. M. (2015). Dietary intake of vitamin K in relation to bone mineral density in Korea adults: The Korea National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (2010–2011). Journal of clinical biochemistry and nutrition, 57(3), 223-227.
21 N.B. Old study – Borrelli, F., & Ernst, E. (2010). Alternative and complementary therapies for the menopause. Maturitas, 66(4), 333-343.
22 Leach MJ, Moore V. Black cohosh (Cimicifuga spp.) for menopausal symptoms. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2012, Issue 9. Art. No.: CD007244. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD007244.pub2.
25 Dodin S, Blanchet C, Marc I, Ernst E, Wu T, Vaillancourt C, Paquette J, Maunsell E. Acupuncture for menopausal hot flushes. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2013, Issue 7. Art. No.: CD007410. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD007410.pub2.
23 Zhu X, Liew Y, Liu ZL. Chinese herbal medicine for menopausal symptoms. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2016, Issue 3. Art. No.: CD009023. DOI:10.1002/14651858.CD009023.pub2.
Non hormonal interventions e.g. SSRIs
24 Rada G, Capurro D, Pantoja T, Corbalán J, Moreno G, Letelier LM, Vera C. Non‐hormonal interventions for hot flushes in women with a history of breast cancer. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2010, Issue 9. Art. No.: CD004923. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD004923.pub2.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
28 British Menopause Society – CBT for Menopause Fact Sheet
27 Stefanopoulou, E., & Grunfeld, E. A. (2017). Mind–body interventions for vasomotor symptoms in healthy menopausal women and breast cancer survivors. A systematic review. Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics & Gynecology, 38(3), 210-225.
Vegan-Plant based diet
20 Beezhold, B., Radnitz, C., McGrath, R. E., & Feldman, A. (2018). Vegans report less bothersome vasomotor and physical menopausal symptoms than omnivores. Maturitas, 112, 12-17.
26 Move Over Menopause – 5 reasons why this is the best time to exercise.
Alternatives to HRT and Cancer
29 Fritz H, Seely D, Flower G, Skidmore B, Fernandes R, Vadeboncoeur S, et al. (2013) Soy, Red Clover, and Isoflavones and Breast Cancer: A Systematic Review. PLoS ONE 8(11): e81968. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0081968
30 Toi, M., Hirota, S., Tomotaki, A., Sato, N., Hozumi, Y., Anan, K., … & Ohno, S. (2013). Probiotic beverage with soy isoflavone consumption for breast cancer prevention: a case-control study. Current Nutrition & Food Science, 9(3), 194-200.
Use of Promensil in women with a family history of Breast Cancer
31 Atkinson, C., Warren, R. M., Sala, E., Dowsett, M., Dunning, A. M., Healey, C. S., … & Bingham, S. A. (2004). Red clover-derived isoflavones and mammographic breast density: a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial [ISRCTN42940165]. Breast Cancer Research, 6(3), R170.
Some of the interviews
Katie Phillips (facilitator of week of My Menopause – interviews with menopause experts)
Celebrity Meno Stories
Importance of vaginal lubricant and vaginal moisturiser (with helpful product comparison)
32 Edwards, D., & Panay, N. (2016). Treating vulvovaginal atrophy/genitourinary syndrome of menopause: how important is vaginal lubricant and moisturizer composition?. Climacteric, 19(2), 151-161. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.3109/13697137.2015.1124259#aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cudGFuZGZvbmxpbmUuY29tL2RvaS9wZGYvMTAuMzEwOS8xMzY5NzEzNy4yMDE1LjExMjQyNTk/bmVlZEFjY2Vzcz10cnVlQEBAMA==
Vulvovaginal Atrophy (VVA)
33 Treating vulvovaginal atrophy/genitourinary syndrome of menopause: Lubricants, Moiturizers and Vaginal DHEA. Slides by Nick Panay, Imperial College London.
Ice-creams – Mark Cruz -334535
Sheep – Sam Carter -191161
The Tor in Glastonbury – Hello I’m Nic -710394
New shoot amongst the dry – Stas Ovsky -632497
Two cups – Tom Crew -661269
Boy and microphone – Jason Rosewell -60014
Four women – Menopause Musical – https://www.ents24.com/uk/tour-dates/menopause-the-musical-touring
Promensil picture 1 – me
Promensil picture 2 – https://promensil.co.uk/
Probiotics – me
Chillmax pillow – me
Article related pictures – me
Book – https://www.drnorthrup.com/
© 2018 Janine Hayward www.psychingoutcancer.com. All rights reserved.
Posted in Menopause, Symptoms and Side Effects Tagged with: Alternatives to HRT, Black Cohosh, Calcium, Cancer, Chinese Medicine, Complimentary therapies, Ginseng, HRT, Isoflavones, Menopause, Myeloma, phytoestrogen, Promensil, Psychology, Red Clover, Soy, SSRI, Treatment, Vitamin B, Vitamin D, Vitamin E, Vitamins, Zinc
I flashed my boobs to three women I barely know today. Actually, it was less of a flash and more of mid-term exposure. Sometimes I wonder if I have no dignity left or if an automatic behaviour kicks in; be matter of fact and ‘get on with it’. The women (a care assistant, chemo nurse and clinical trial doctor) were all female, super nice and respectful. That helped. It’s funny, I notice I slip into, ‘put them at their ease mode’ even though it’s my boobs that are on display, being covered in sticky pads and wired up for an ECG. I suppose it’s a way of making myself feel better. Happy medical team, more willingness to look after me, happy patient, me.
Hmmm…as happy as you can be after another day of hospital appointments: early morning blood test, five hours on the chemo ward, loads of waiting for drugs that should have been ready, sky high blood pressure, racing heart (hence ECG), and chemo. To top it off, boobs were touched up, not once, but three times, while there was a struggle to get the ECG set up and working properly. The ECG that usually takes 5 minutes, took over 30 minutes and then, of course, I had to wait for it to be ‘signed off’ and for my blood pressure to come down, before I could escape. Happy me.
Menopause (Meno) part two
Anyway…my boobs are back under wraps so this blog is again going to focus on Menopause. Men, the decisions women must make about whether to put up with symptoms, how to find and interpret information about how to manage symptoms and decide what symptom management solution to choose, can be a full-blown, time consuming project. It’s rarely straight forward. They may need your help and similarly, you may need theirs, if Andropause (Andro) impacts you. Both Meno and Andro are especially tough, if you are living with cancer or the possibility of cancer recurrence (see Menopause Part 1).
This is my menopause discovery and decision story with hope that it shares useful sources of information and pearls of wisdom. I am no menopause expert. I have done a lot of leg work which I hope saves you and your significant others, time, and leads to your discovery of rapid, helpful, tailored solutions that work for you and the women in your life. My discovery includes growing ‘Meno’ communities offering understanding, support and a safe place to talk – hurrah! Men, women, please do use this and my previous blog on Menopause, pass them on to your male and female friends and partners. Ask any questions you have.
Daily Mail Headline – Woman’s death related to Menopause
Women, please seek help, don’t put up with symptoms unless it is your conscious, measured choice to do so. Don’t lose your life to Meno – yes – sadly – it appears, one woman may have experienced severe distress related to Meno, treatment, depression and difficulties with treatment1 (Caution – it is a Daily Mail report, though her diaries appear to have provided an insight into the woman’s pain and distress).
Tummy fat and grey hair
Remember, Meno symptoms are often super challenging. They includie mood swings, hot flushes, night sweats, brain fog, short term memory loss, difficulty in finding words and stringing sentences together, fatigue, bone loss, low libido and vaginal dryness. Others I didn’t mention that are also frustrating and challenge identity for many women, are the replacement of our luscious hair with a greying, coarser version (if chemo or living with alopecia hasn’t stripped us of hair already) and the addition of tummy fat (due to a loss of estrogen, see article).
Estrogen or Oestrogen
By the way, I should have said in the last post (and for those that don’t know) estrogen (also spelt oestrogen) refers to any of a group of steroid hormones which promote the development and maintenance of female characteristics of the body.2
The arrival of tummy fat for women who have always exercised or been lucky enough to have slim tummies can be super distressing (though I don’t know one woman, whatever shape, loved or loathed, that welcomes tummy fat!!). Add to that, Meno hormone changes can increase sweet cravings – oh joy, another challenge, especially when trying to keep sugar on the down low to prevent cancer. There is good news; menopause symptom management solutions appear to positively impact tummy fat! At the very least solutions make it easier to exercise without feeling we will set the whole place on fire or internally combust. Still, for some, supplements or hormone therapy won’t be the right path and an estrogen-loss based belly, may prove difficult to budge.
MMmM, Information Sources and Standoff
The Universe aligned to bring me different sources of Menopause information right when I needed them. I know this has not been the case for many women; they have found it hard to find any information beyond their GP’s knowledge and the common offer of Hormone Replacement therapy (HRT). Often, HRT, has only been offered if the women have been listened to, heard and had their symptoms taken seriously.
My medical team
I started out on this MMmM project (my new term for Multiple Myeloma and managing Menopause symptoms) by asking my medical team. Like nutrition, gynaecology is not their world. They are haemo-oncologists and don’t, and can’t, know about everything. This is despite my expectation, wish, hope, that they would be fonts of all knowledge about any factor that might impact my cancer, treatment and living well with both. The oncologists had very little information about Menopause and symptom management. What they did have, was solely about HRT, did not consider alternatives and seemed out of date. They did not have any specific info about Myeloma and Menopause. I suppose on reflection, this should not have been surprising; Myeloma is still rare in women (it is predominantly associated with males of black populations in their 70s).
My oncologists disagreed!
One was pro use of HRT and the other thought HRT would be a bad idea. It would probably have been more apt to call this standoff, My Meno Brexit; one oncologist is English, the other European, and no agreement has been reached! This difference has ended up being the lasting concern that has made final decisions difficult.
The female oncologist suggested HRT may be a good idea due to its bone protection properties. The male oncologist was concerned that given the procedures such as stem cell transplant and additional chemotherapy I would be likely to need in the future, the addition of HRT could exacerbate the risk of secondary cancers turning up.
With this haemo-oncology, MyMenoBrexit standoff as the second layer in my context to making a menopause decision (the first being, wanting to find out what was a cancer or chemo symptom versus a menopause symptom) I sought more information on the pros and cons of HRT and alternative options (if there were any).
Other information sources used (see links at the end of the blog):
- Two appointments with a gynaecologist where I found out about some of the latest research, clinical guidelines, risks with HRT and opinions regarding Promensil (an alternative).
- The menopause exhibition I happened upon led me to info and samples of Promensil and Vaginal dryness/lube solutions (Sylk and YesVM and YesVB).
- A week of online interviews (approximately four each day) with Menopause experts (from both medical and holistic backgrounds) run by Katie Phillips.
- BBC Radio show about Menopause.
- Women in my life who suspected they were, were currently living with, or, had gone through perimenopause and menopause.
- Breast Cancer Now website.
The low down; My discoveries.
This and the next post are a brief synopsis of the wealth of information I gathered. Although, it may feel a wee bit long in places, I have also tried to make it comprehensive enough to be useful. If a natural, totally non-medical approach is your thing I recommend selecting and listening to the online videos of interviews with experts without medical training or with a holistic approach (link at bottom of the blog). I listened to most of the interviews and was predominantly interested in experts who talked about research, evidence and their years of experience helping women manage menopause successfully. This is what I found out…
Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)
- Works well (improved sleep, skin, mood, flushes) and low risk for many women
- Can reduce risk of heart, cholesterol and bone problems
- ‘Good bioidentical hormones’ versions (plant based rather than equine) are safer
- Consider gel or patches if impact on your liver is important to you
- Some cancers (e.g. hormone receptive cancers) can mean HRT is off the menu
- Despite the many pros, HRT won’t be everyone’s cup of tea
There are a lot of misinterpreted research studies, obsolete data and unhelpful myths out in the world about HRT. For many women, especially women who start taking HRT earlier (before 50) and stay on it for a short period (4-5 years) HRT appears to have many more positives than negatives going for it. It has few side effects and is not linked to getting cancer any more than being overweight, a smoker or drinking too much alcohol increases the risk of cancer, well breast cancer anyway.3 Here is a helpful graphic below showing this.
However, it is very important each woman weighs up the risks for herself, talks with her GP, Gynaecologist and medical team (if being supported for cancer or other illness) before starting HRT.
For now, I really like Dr Louise Newson’s summary of HRT and the primary care women’s health forum useful graphic.4 Check out both here – dispelling HRT myths.
An official report (though not without controversy)
If you are interested in the academic, research reports, here is a link to The British Menopause Society & Women’s Health Concern 2016 recommendations on hormone replacement therapy in menopausal women.5 I find this report helpful because it summarises HRT research outcomes, risks and benefits relating to:
- menopause symptoms including hot flushes, mood, musculoskeletal and sexual function difficulties, and
- other important concerns including osteoporosis, cardiovascular/heart, cognition, cancer, post cancer, stroke, thrombosis/blood clots and premature ovarian insufficiency
The article also discusses pros and cons of different methods of taking HRT, pharmacological alternatives to HRT including Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs, often referred to in the media as anti-depressants) and doesn’t ignore the evidence for phytoestrogen solutions. Phytoestrogen refers to a substance found in certain plants which can produce effects like that of the hormone oestrogen when ingested into the body.2
Transparency, risks and criticisms
I must let you know there has been some controversy about the recommendations for HRT and the National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) guidelines (2015)3. Some researchers and clinicians including oncologists have claimed the safety of the latest types of HRT have been exaggerated. However, this criticism is also controversial and has been challenged! Another standoff; there are quite a few kicking about in this world of Menopause!
Risk- House on the edge
HRT, breast cancer and risk
I’m sure you can imagine that the last thing I want to do, after undergoing treatment for Multiple Myeloma, is to then be diagnosed with breast cancer or any other cancer for that matter. Worse, if I discovered that a decision that I had made, such as to take HRT, contributed to the likelihood of me being diagnosed with breast cancer and… I hadn’t taken time to learn about the risks or weigh them up beforehand, I suspect I would become angry with myself, feel sorry for myself, be disappointed and ultimately very, very sad.
If on the other hand, I become informed as best as I can at the time (i.e. now), weigh up the pros and cons, decide to take HRT and I still get diagnosed with breast or any other cancer, I would have to say I had done my best, it was not my fault. I’d attribute my new diagnosis to be being rather bloody unlucky at that point and hopefully summon some energy to discuss and embrace a treatment plan.
My way is not the right way for every woman
I recognise that some women (and men) would rather embrace a plan recommended by a specialist or medical team, without questioning it or researching alternatives. Exercising faith that the right thing for them has been chosen and placing full trust in the people who spend time being the specialists in these areas, is one way of making decisions. No one method of deciding what is right for me, for us, for your significant women, is better than another; it’s about what works for each of us individually.
With my current diagnosis of Multiple Myeloma, I am more at risk of other cancers6 (particularly AML and MDS) so I was interested in the criticisms of both the report’s recommendations about HRT and the NICE guidelines.
Among several criticisms, on a key concern, one side says ‘up to 7000 extra cases of breast cancer within ten years’ would result from women taking HRT while the other side (also seemingly experienced researchers and clinicians) back up the Women’s Health Concern report. They argue that of 1000, 50-year old women in the UK, 23 would be expected to be diagnosed with breast cancer before they reach 60; however, if 1000, 50-year old women took combined HRT for 5 years, 28 would be expected to be diagnosed with breast cancer before 60 (an increase of five per 1000) and that taking estrogen alone is associated with even lower or no change in risk.7, 8
The Breast Cancer Now website have some very useful graphs that make risks easier to put in context. They are based on data from the Breakthrough Generations Study that aims to find out what causes breast cancer (supported by Breakthrough Breast Cancer and The Institute of Cancer Research). The graphs show that using combined HRT for fewer than five years leads to about seven extra women out of 1,000 to develop breast cancer between the ages of 50 and 54. 9,10
I have included a link to Breast Cancer Now, a link to a study about ‘the true size of the increased risk‘ and links to the write up of the controversy issued in Post Reproductive Health for you to make up your own mind. I recommend reading all of it as you will see how the critiques were also critiqued!
Final note on this…while the stats talked about here relate to women, hormones and HRT please remember men are diagnosed with breast cancer and can experience challenges with hormones also.
HRT & Multiple Myeloma
Surprise! (ok, not really). There is very little research available, particularly involving well powered studies (with enough participants for meaningful conclusions to be drawn) exploring the impact of taking HRT on the risk of Myeloma or Myeloma relapse. That might explain why the haemo-oncology team were struggling! One study with a summary of associations between reproductive factors and Myeloma (open about the caveats / limitations of their data), concluded that there is no significant role for reproductive factors or HRT related hormones in causing Myeloma. So, if I was going to set my store by this study, I would assume HRT is unlikely to make my Myeloma worse or cause a relapse.11,12
What does all this risk data and controversy mean for me, for us?
At the end of the day we need to ask ourselves;
Whether you have or have had cancer or not; Will the benefits of relief from Menopause symptoms outweigh the risks of developing breast or other cancers?
Now, a few other things to consider (as if the long list above wasn’t enough already!)
Lovely horse called Prince
No horse for me please!
Plants, horses, bioidentical hormones and HRT delivery mechanisms
I love horses, they are beautiful…and I simply don’t fancy any of their hormones inside me, thanks. Years ago, ‘bad’ synthetic hormones seemed to be all you could get when it came to HRT. Pills manufactured in a lab, based on hormones extracted from horses’ urine were given to women to help with Meno symptoms. I hope GPs no longer prescribe such versions as apparently, the body finds it easier to break down plant based hormones.
These days, the reputation of bioidentical hormones (manmade hormones originating from plant oestrogens that are chemically identical to those the human body produces13) is becoming more positive, even ‘good’. For some people, anything that goes near a lab is ‘unnatural’. For others, a plant based hormone, structurally identical to those in humans, is natural enough.
Pill or gel or patch?
The other thing to think about is the form in which to take HRT. A pill can be easy and easily tolerated by many. Although, a pill does mean the liver needs to get involved and process it. For those of us who for whatever reason need to be especially kind to our liver and not give it anything else to directly process/worry about (for instance as they continue with chemotherapy) a gel or patch delivery mode may be better. In summary, if I decide to go with HRT, I will be asking for a good plant based bio identical hormone delivered via gel or a patch.
Let’s take a breather.
Need a breather? I do. Coming up in part 3; Alternatives to HRT, including ‘Take nothing’, Isoflavones and Phytoestrogens. I will find an easy to understand description of what these are all about. Before I go, a small bit about Tinnitus and an important bit about a fabulous group of women.
HRT may help prevent tinnitus! I wouldn’t know what to do with myself if I decided to take HRT and it ended up positively impacting my tinnitus. I’d probably become evangelical about the stuff! More about this here (or ‘ear’!) 14
The wonder of women
Last month, I managed to get away from hospital life for a few days and hang out with a fabulous bunch of straight talking, fun loving, wise, wonderfully womanly women. They are diverse: their ages, pasts, lives, loves, and losses. They laugh a lot, are bound together by long standing, friendship and family, and friendship within family. When they talk over the top of each other (yet still hear everything), squabble, give each other a hard time – the depth of love, caring, empathy, loyalty and commitment to being there for each other is still palpable. It was a safe place to talk about health, a safe place to talk about menopause and a fab space to ignore both topics for a while. A tonic. You know who you are. Thank you.
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- What has been the hardest part of your menopause or menopause with cancer journey?
- What have you discovered?
Articles and summaries:
Symptoms, updates on HRT safety, antidepressants
1 Daily Mail reporting as it might be, her diaries provided an insight into the woman’s pain and distress http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-5900653/Woman-hanged-struggling-cope-menopause.html
4Myths about HRT and info on Menopause generally – Dr Louise Newson https://menopausedoctor.co.uk/news/world-menopause-day-dispelling-hrt-myths/
Some of the interviews with menopause experts.
Katie Phillips (facilitator of week of My Menopause – interviews with menopause experts)
References, papers and guidelines
2 English Oxford Living Dictionary (July, 2018).
Definition of estrogen. https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/us/estrogen
Definition of phytoestrogen. https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/phytoestrogen
3 NICE Menopause guidelines here https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ng23
5 The British Menopause Society & Women’s Health Concern 2016 recommendations on hormone replacement therapy in menopausal women http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/2053369116680501
Criticism, support, risk and HRT
1 Post Reproductive Health http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/2053369116629288 (second part of paper with numbers may require payment unfortunately re war of words and numbers – reference below)
Increased risk – true size – Jones, M. E. et al. (2016). Menopausal hormone therapy and breast cancer: what is the true size of the increased risk? Br. J. Cancer, 115, 607–615 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27467055
7 Brown, S. (2016). NICE menopause guidelines: A war of words and a war of numbers. Post Reprod Health. 22(1):11-2.
8 Daily mail report referenced in S Brown’s NICE menopause guidelines: A war of words and a war of numbers. New HRT advice is biased and misleading
9 Breast Cancer Now – HRT and Breast cancer risk
10 Breast Cancer Now – HRT and Breast cancer risk – underestimated? http://breastcancernow.org/news-and-blogs/news/effect-of-combined-hrt-on-breast-cancer-risk-likely-to-have-been-underestimated
Breast Cancer Now website and Generations Study
Myeloma and HRT
Second Cancers After Multiple Myeloma
11Reporoductive factors and Multiple Myeloma http://cebp.aacrjournals.org/content/cebp/early/2015/12/29/1055-9965.EPI-15-0953.full.pdf
12 Italian Study https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15554564 (note this study wasn’t corroborated by other, though smaller studies)
Hormone replacement therapy decreases the risk of tinnitus
Cat_dog – Paul J Everett_standdown (Flickr and Creative commons_public use)
Horse (Prince) – me
Swaggy – Christin-Hume
House – Cindy Tang – 25654
© 2018 Janine Hayward www.psychingoutcancer.com. All rights reserved.
Posted in Menopause, Symptoms and Side Effects Tagged with: bioidentical, Breast Cancer, Cancer, estrogen, Hormone Replacement Therapy, hormones, HRT, Menopause, Myeloma, oestrogen, phytoestrogen, Tinnitus
A fire has started at the bottom of my ribs. It caught hold in an instant. Creeping upwards, slowly at first but I know what’s coming…it’s picking up pace…then whoosh; my chest, head, face and whole body is washed with heat. Fever type heat, taking over the lymph nodes, my forehead, my entire skin. All my sweat glands are working overtime and can’t compete, they give up. It’s a hot flush or flash and boy is it flashy. It makes its presence known.
Now, I’m hot and wet. Nup. Not that kind. The kind where you feel grubby, like you need a shower and a change of clothes. The night sweats are the worst (well for heat), waking up absolutely drenched, the bed linen soaked and feeling too hot to sleep (if I had any in the first place) …and knowing it will happen again in 10 minutes or an hour (if I’m lucky).
The worst is when you get up, feel good, have a shower, do your makeup, still feel good and then while you are finishing off drying your hair or just as you leave the house or need to head for a train…. whoosh it happens again…. that good feeling a distance memory when frustration, feeling stinky and in need of a second shower takes over. Decisions; go out sweaty or be late and have another shower. Lovely. Stinky wins most of the time. I hate being late. I feel like a woman of the Victorian age as I spray myself with perfume to cover up the body odour.
Mid-life crisis or Climacteric or ?
Speaking of ages and eras, I googled menopause and synonyms came up; maturity, mid-life crisis, climacteric, grand climacteric (no less), matureness, post maturity. Mid-life crisis – what an unhelpful way to talk about menopause. Though finally and slowly, Menopause is being talked about (mind you, we could do with a royal to take up the band wagon and bring it into the bright light). Climacteric is an interesting one, apart from referring to Menopause in medical circles it also denotes a critical period or event and having extreme and far-reaching implications or results. I got a shock when I discovered what some of these far-reaching implications were. Men, this is just one of the places where you come in!
In the week when I decided to research Menopause and Cancer the universe must have been aligning; three different sources of Menopause information happened into my path. The first one; I turned on the radio and heard the presenter say a piece on Menopause was coming up. Perfect timing.
Menopause; a completely natural process involving women’s bodies producing less oestrogen and changing progesterone hormone levels. I’ll come back to the implications of these in part two of this blog. For now, let me tell you about something I heard on the radio that shocked me. The host talked of how she had discovered some high flying, dynamic women at the top of their career had left their jobs due to the difficulty they had experienced in managing the symptoms of menopause.
Shocked doesn’t really explain it. In this day and age? I didn’t doubt that the symptoms must have been horrendous; I was stunned that women were not being adequately supported by medicine or natural means to enable a normal physiological transition to be facilitated so that their lives and work were not impacted in such a significant way. The feminist in me wondered if men would have put up with this state of affairs though to be reasonable, menopause appears to be a learning curve for many of us. Consequently, I was shocked.
I was even more shocked when men joined the discussion and explained their relationships had broken down, divorce had resulted and they described their many regrets about not having understood what the women in their lives were going through during menopause.
Job loss, love loss. OMG. Menopause, you can be incredibly cruel and we need to talk about you, a whole lot more. Now!
Symptoms and Years
In my humble opinion, Menopause symptoms are sh*t: mood swings, hot flushes, night sweats, brain fog, short term memory loss, difficulty in finding words and string sentences together, fatigue, low libido and vaginal dryness. They often start when women are in their 40s and 50s though can start when women are much younger.
Symptoms often last YEARS. Men, please note this. YEARS not weeks or months. Most women (8 out 101) face life impacting menopause symptoms for between 3 and 7 years and for some women, the rest of their lives. On top of this, perimenopause (the few years before menopause starts) usually brings unhelpful, generally unwanted symptoms too including disrupted sleep, headaches and heavy periods.
Ok, not all women experience these symptoms so we must be careful of making assumptions however MOST women do find themselves having to go through yet another massive learning curve about their body. And guys, it would be great if you came along for the educational ride. Not least because men go through a ‘pause’ of sorts too!
For men, it’s called andropause and refers to age-related changes in male hormone levels. Male menopause (not necessarily a helpful term) involves a drop in testosterone production in men who are age 50 or older. It’s often affiliated with hypogonadism. Both conditions involve lowered testosterone levels and similar symptoms.
You’re getting on my wick…
Ha. So we DO have an excuse for being irritable and bitchy. Sort of…well, not really…because it’s not that helpful, is it? Usually most of us just feel worse when we let irritation get the better of us and say or do something we wish we hadn’t said or done. However, when we know hormones may be playing a big part in our mood we can use our awareness to catch ourselves in our irritation and then choose our words and actions carefully, with more sensitivity. Not always easy but likely to result in a better day. It’s also OK to acknowledge we are feeling easily irritated!!
The more we talk about menopause, the more men and women will be able to identify when peri-menopause and menopause start. We can then learn about the options for managing the unhelpful symptoms. Finally, both men and women can then practice and take responsibility for being supportive, tolerant and understanding of each other and ourselves as we go through these changes. Maybe then, we’ll be able to avoid mountains from molehills and the extremes; relationship challenges and break down, negative outcomes for career and lifestyle.
Now imagine dealing with all of this…and cancer…and chemo.
Except, there’s more.
I wish it was just the symptoms listed above and the frequent embarrassment that accompanies them, that many women were dealing with. Going through the menopause can play havoc with women’s sense of identity, sexiness, and value in the world. Western society still predominantly relates to the menopause phase as women becoming old and somewhat invisible rather than being mature, loving and fully living life.
Edna M. Astbury-Ward summed it up well in her 2003 paper
The social construction of menopause as the entry point to old age may represent a challenging and difficult time, because while women may feel young, society tends to perceive them as rather less attractive and less fully functioning. This perception of menopause as a negative milestone is often found only in Western cultures. Medical culture also influences the meanings of middle and old age, particularly for women at the time of approaching menopause.
Cultural bias against ageing and sexuality has contributed to that stereotyping of older women as asexual. In general, the media has not served the ageing female well. Older men are often marketed as sexy, yet older women are rarely seen outside of advertisements for hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and Conti knickers.2
I suspect we need a new, positive and helpful narrative for the completely natural yet often difficult to go through transition that is menopause. The recent menopause cafe phenomenon may be helping with this as a space is provided to discuss menopause and challenge stereotypes.³ Princess Anne, Duchess of Cambridge, Kate; Duchess of Sussex, Meghan – you don’t fancy taking up the band wagon, do you?
Chemo vs Menopause
This was the backdrop to my realisation that chemotherapy and menopause symptoms are eerily very similar. I had been struggling to manage some of the chemo symptoms, particularly the lack of good quality sleep yet they may not have been chemo side effects at all (or at least not current side effects).
My next challenge along this cancer journey was now starkly obvious; to work out how best to support myself over the next year of treatment or to review treatment options, I needed to discern what was a chemo symptom and what was a menopause symptom and then learn how to address each in the best way for me. In the back of my mind it also occurred to me that I may end up going through this whole process twice so getting a handle on it was crucial to enjoying my life and living it to the full. Twice, because my menopause was possibly chemotherapy induced and not following its natural path. I was yet to find out if there was a chance my symptoms would stop then start again once chemotherapy was complete (joy of joys).
There it was, a whirlpool of thoughts swirling around, when in the space of a few days, I turned on the radio at the right time, walked into a foetal medicine building to use the loo only to discover a medical exhibition on menopause and noticed a webinar series advertised on social media involving a week of interviews where experts in menopause shared their pearls of wisdom.
Timing and attention; thank you, Universe.
Part two coming up -– the nuggets from the Menopause experts and my oncologists’ stand-off!
I am going to take a breather now… oh, and another shower.
2 Astbury-Ward, E. (2003) ‘Menopause, sexuality and culture: Is there a universal experience? Sexual and Relationship Therapy’. Journal of the British Association for Sexual and Relationship Therapy. 18(4), 437-445
³ https://www.theguardian.com/society/menopause – Menopause café and challenging stereotypes about aging.
© 2018 Janine Hayward www.psychingoutcancer.com. All rights reserved.
Posted in Menopause, Myeloma Treatment, Symptoms and Side Effects Tagged with: Cancer, Chemotherapy, Menopause, Myeloma, Side effects, Treatment
I’d be pulling my hair out over the steroid incident (see last post) or I would be, if it wasn’t falling out, on its own accord. I’d be pulling my hair out over this week’s incident: a miscommunication between the Clinical Trial team and the Lab that makes up my chemo drugs resulting in me having to wait an extra three hours, until after 5pm, to be hooked up and receive my treatment. I didn’t get home until late and that meant less recovery and down time than I usually have on a Monday. Well, I would be pulling my hair out over this, if it wasn’t already receding at what seems like a rapid rate and coming perilously close to exposing my devil’s horn. I only have one (maybe I do things by halves after all!) bump of calcified bone formed from hitting my head a million times over my life time: on open cupboard doors, someone’s elbow when standing up, fridge doors, you name it I’ve managed to bump that same place on my head in some extraordinary ways! Hair loss and receding hairline, missed steroids and treatment delays. More, thank you Chemo, moments.
I know I’ve been lucky: I started with a lot of hair. A lot! Unlike many people going through Chemo for breast cancer and cancers other than Myeloma, my treatment is not usually linked with complete hair loss. I would not be a sexy bald (though have decided to do my best to embrace it, if it does happen). It is stressful to see the masses of hair come out in my fingers, in the sink, in my brush, in the air.
Hair loss – today’s right hand scoop – a light day (yay!)
Hair loss – today’s left hand scoop – a light day (yay!)
Hair loss – today’s offering
I’ve lost about a third of the volume so far. My hairdresser K, who I’ve known since 1993 (longer than my hubby and my ex!) knows my hair well and confirmed I wasn’t dreaming this. I am fortunate: I have regrowth already. Well lucky of sorts. The regrowth is crazy curly and goes out at right angles. Hubby nicknamed my curls, Turkey Twizzlers. Helpful. Giggle.
With my hair down, things are hidden and a bit tidier but the odd curl makes its way out over the day and spooks me when I look in the mirror – how long has it been jutting out like that ???!! OK curls can be cute (very very beautiful in fact, like those that adorn my sister-in-law and gorgeous niece) however a whole heap around my face when I am used to waves and straight hair takes some getting used to (as I imagine being bald does too). The curls are also resistant to smoothing serums and are frankly unmanageable. I give up. I hope they hurry up and grow long so gravity straightens them out.
Growing. Regrowth. That’s a good sign, isn’t it? The Chemo can’t be killing off all the good cells. Surely my nails and hair wouldn’t grow if my body didn’t tolerate the Chemo well, most of the time at least (and when I get my steroid on the right day, not bitter, can you tell?!). My nails, will I jinx them saying this? They seem super resilient so far… I hope it lasts. For the first time that I remember, my results show I’m calcium deficient so now I’m on an extra tablet for that and reintroducing halloumi and mozzarella.
Sticky eyelids and thin skin
Hair loss, sticky eyelids, thin skin that leads to blisters or adhesive grazes when they wouldn’t normally occur are just some of the small and large niggles cancer and chemo have added to my life. Sticky eyelids are frustrating…I’m constantly pulling at my lashes to ‘release’ my eyelid from my eyeball. Refresher drops help a little though the stickiness quickly returns. Are there any advantages to sticky eyelids? I can’t think of any? Do let me know…
I put on a favourite super comfy pair of boots and invariably on a day when I’m running for a train or having to do loads of walking, five minutes in, I have a blister. Pre-chemo I wouldn’t have had a blister – its why I put these boots on after all! Scrabbling around for plasters, hoping they’ll stay on, too late, damage done, now nothing works. I revert to trainers as soon as possible.
Anyway, back to hair. What to do? Regain has been suggested. K has told me some of his clients also living with cancer have had great success with it though its best started as early as possible. What do you think – should I give it a go? I suspect it would possibly be introducing a toxin however is it a worthwhile trade-off? Every week there is something new that I think needs my attention and involves time consuming research yet if I don’t do it, I feel like I’m not doing the best I can do. It’s so exhausting.
Changes in body image will take getting used to and as always require kindness and compassion. It can be helpful to look in the mirror and look for what I love and am grateful for and not just focus on the unwanted changes.
For some people, hair loss is one of the most difficult aspects of living with cancer treatment as it can be entwined in their personal sense of self, preferred way of presenting self to the world and identity. It can also be tied up with ideas and assumptions about what it is to be feminine, masculine, young, virile, strong and attractive to others. Hair loss can trigger anxieties or trauma associated with earlier life experiences where people received unhelpful comments about the way they looked.
Society influences about what hair should be like overall, or at certain ages or what a hair style represents can also trigger unhelpful assumptions, rules and thoughts such as I must cover up my baldness, no one will find me attractive, I’m no longer feminine/masculine therefore there is no point being open to a new partner, friends won’t want to be seen with me so I shouldn’t meet up with them.
Hair loss and anxiety relating to hair disorders can be extremely distressing for some people…however you do not need to put up with it. Talking therapy with a psychologist can help with the distress. Therapy can help you uncover your thoughts and feelings about your hair and image, discover what is helpful and unhelpful, what is keeping distress going and identify new strategies to try out that nurture your identity, social interaction and self confidence. Therapy can help you accept your new or current image and not be stopped by any unhelpful thoughts about it.
Trichotillomania and Alopecia
There are many other difficulties relating to hair that people live well with live every day. Trichotillomania and Alopecia are just two of those. For those that experience great distress about these talking therapy can also help in similar ways as described above. If distressed, if one of these conditions is stopping you feeling like you or doing the things you want to do – don’t go it alone – a psychologist can help.
Trichotillomania (trik-o-til-o-MAY-nee-uh). Sometimes referred to as hair-pulling disorder, is a mental disorder that involves recurrent, irresistible urges to pull out hair from your scalp, eyebrows or other areas of your body, despite trying to stop.1
Alopecia and Alopecia areata. Alopecia refers to hair loss generally while alopecia areata refers to a specific, common cause of hair loss that can occur at any age. It usually causes small, coin-sized, round patches of baldness on the scalp, although hair elsewhere such as the beard, eyebrows, eyelashes, body and limbs can be affected. Occasionally it can involve the whole scalp (alopecia totalis) or even the entire body and scalp (alopecia universalis).2
Mental Health Awareness Week
By the way – It’s mental health awareness week in the UK and this year the focus is on stress. More about it here https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/campaigns/mental-health-awareness-week. Talking about mental health helps to reduce stigma. I know I’ve said I don’t always welcome being asked ‘how are you?’ however that mostly related to diagnosis and early treatment days of living with cancer. I encourage you to tell someone how you are feeling. If you can ask someone else who you suspect may be feeling low or anxious or whose behaviour has changed (they’ve become more withdrawn, don’t seem to enjoy the things they used to enjoy or you notice appear to be struggling) if they want to talk. 5 minutes can make a huge difference. You don’t have to say anything special, just listen, acknowledge what they are saying and help them understand they are not the only ones to feel that way.
I know this because I work with people every week who share their experiences and symptoms. Research tells us1:
- Worldwide – Major depression is thought to be the second leading cause of disability worldwide and a major contributor to the burden of suicide and ischemic heart disease
- UK – Approximately 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year
- England, 1 in 6 people report experiencing a common mental health problem (such as anxiety and depression) in any given week.
- USA – Approximately 1 in 5 adults—43.8 million, or 18.5%—experiences mental illness in a given year.
- Australia – Almost half of the total population (45.5%) experienced a mental disorder at some point in their lifetime
- NZ – one in six New Zealand adults (16%, or an estimated 582,000 adults) had been diagnosed with a common mental disorder at some time in their lives.
Each person’s circumstances and road/process of recovery and managing mental ill health may be different yet there are often commonalities of impact on lives and symptoms.
Just imagine, this week might be the week you seek help or offer help to someone living with stress or living with the stress of cancer. What a difference you will make maybe without even knowing.
Then think of me with a Donald Trump style comb over. IT IS NOT GOING TO HAPPEN!
3 see Mind and Mental Health Foundation and National Health Alliance on Mental Illness, Australian Government – Department of Health, NZ Mental Health Foundation for references and other details
Images: Upright Hair – mohamed-nohassi-531501-unsplash & Me
© 2018 Janine Hayward www.psychingoutcancer.com. All rights reserved.
Posted in Psychology for Cancer, Symptoms and Side Effects Tagged with: Alopecia, Alopecia areata, Cancer, Chemotherapy, Hair, Hair loss, Myeloma, Psychology, Receding hairline, Side effects, Sticky eyelids, Trichotillomania