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Menopause is the lovely event that occurs in women typically between ages 45 and 55. The best way to describe it is like puberty for adults- hormones change, dramatic mood swings occur at random moments, joints ache, the heart sometimes pounds, and my personal favorite symptom- the hot flash- makes its first appearance. For most women, this kind of adult puberty lasts five or more years. But not for chemo patients.
By no means have I ever gone through menopause myself—I am only 19 and often find myself with that awful puberty song they teach you in fourth grade stuck in my head—but I have had my fair share of being frozen out of the car when Mom has a hot flash. I was unaware that our car’s air conditioner could drop to such temperatures. Thankfully, these are the only remnants left of her chemo and her menopause.
One thing many people don’t realize is that chemotherapy drastically speeds up menopause in women. While everyone is different, for my mother, the four days that followed chemo treatment were the worst. While quickening the process of menopause, chemo also makes most patients extremely sick for a few days after treatment. For us, the magic number was four. During these four days, Mom would typically sleep most of the time, but when she was awake, it wasn’t pleasant. She would get sick, her skin would have a yellow tint to it, she hardly ate, and her mood… Let’s just say it was best to leave her alone and bring her anything she might need BEFORE she needed it. Survival, on my part, was all about anticipation.
When trying to get through those four days, it felt like they would never end. Honestly. They were some of the most difficult days I have ever faced, and all I had to deal with was a cranky mom. Seeing her so sick just killed me. I can’t even begin to imagine what it must have been like for her. But she’s a mother and the strongest woman I know, and she made it through as gracefully as possible. We joke about it now because Mom doesn’t even remember it. One of the blessings of chemotherapy is that it often causes you to forget those few days after treatment. I still tell her stories she has no recollection of, and we laugh about it. But at the time, I never imagined finding any form of humor in the situation.
Now I think it’s lucky Mom went through menopause so quickly. I just finished my freshman year of college and my roommate, who I love dearly, would always tell me stories of her mother’s menopausal ways. Just so you know, I have met her mom, and I love her just as much as I love my roommate. My response to my roommate’s stories was always a chuckle and “My mom did it in four days.” While chemo brutally shoved five plus years of menopause into four days for my mom, listening to stories of normal menopausal women now and looking back on it all, I’m glad my mom did it the way she did. It definitely wasn’t easy, but it’s just one more of those “blessings in disguise” that cancer has brought to my family.