Surfing the Crimson Wave
Aunt Flo, Bloody Mary, and The Blob. If you are of the female persuasion you know what I am talking about. I am specifically writing for you, my soul sisters! We are experts at surfing the crimson wave and helping each other stem the tide. If you are a man and reading this, you now know why we travel to washrooms in packs, carry extra cargo in our bags, and offer our jacket to a stranger to wear around her waist. It's our very own Code Red.
So much of who we are as people is tied up with our menstruation. How to manage it, how to control it, how to function despite it, and how to keep it hidden from view. I was diagnosed with leukemia when I was 43 years old and began oral chemotherapy. My oncologist talked to me about side effects. Things like nausea, hair loss, fatigue, and fluid retention. He talked to me about comfort measures, diet, and lifestyle changes. He gave me the same respect and attention he would give to a man. He forgot one crucial detail. I am a woman.
The journey of a lifetime
The change started within months. Aunt Flo was enraged! Her visits became more frequent and deranged. She scoffed at Lady Time and sent the Red Army. Her cycle became more frequent and in her frenzy, she unleashed a torrent lasting weeks at a time. With barely any forewarning I countered her wrath. I stockpiled supplies, hiding them in mundane places never knowing exactly when her onslaught would begin or how long the assault would last.
Before too long Aunt Flo turned up the heat. She left me a writhing puddle in my sweaty couch groove. She demanded I dress in layers only to feverishly unpeel. Just as suddenly her swelter would turn to frost and she shivered me to the bone, my fingers pulling at buttons and scarves.
Her nocturnal activities were her coup de grace! She sent a special envoy of fiery flashes leaping me from my bed. Tearing at my nightshirt I placed fans on either side of the headboard. They were ready at the touch of a button and proved entirely insufficient. Her twilight intrusions rendered me half nude in my backyard, steaming and raving at the moon on many a cold winter's nights. (Thank goodness for high fences.)
Feeling unprepared with menopausal symptoms
What I didn't know was that my life-saving chemotherapy was ending my reproductive cycle. No one had mentioned an increased risk of damage to my ovaries. No had prepared me for menopausal symptoms. The women in my family had spoken lightly of The Change happening for us in our mid-fifties. I was not expecting any of this.
Truth is chemotherapy affects each of us differently. My experience included a very harsh and quick end to my relationship with Aunt Flo. In a matter of months she relented and slowly receded, a river became a trickle and she bid me a final adieu. As a parting gift, she left behind a few billy-goat-hairs on my chin and a new appreciation for Probaclac and Replens.
Finding a fast resolution
Eventually, I spoke to my oncologist and my family doctor who placated me with assurances that all would be well. Stiff upper lip and all that rot. Better to end the relationship with Aunt Flo quickly than try and wrestle her with hormonal remedies and pregnant mare pee. I agreed.
As women, we do our best to manage our innate abilities in what many would define as a man's world. We make arrangements and preparations and hold dearly to cycles, creating sanity from situations men might deem demented should they share the same fate.
Embracing our individual differences
Today I am freed from certain responsibilities that often define womanhood. I stand in awe of my sisters' shared strength. I realize now that our experience is not entirely equal to that of a man's. It is vastly different and does not always hold to comparisons. It is not to be ignored. It will not bend to expectations. It is to be shared which is why I write this to you, for you, in an attempt to understand it myself. Helen Reddy said it best, "I am woman, hear me roar".
What type of blood cancer are you or your loved one diagnosed with?