From Chicken Soup for the Soul in Menopause

Comforting Dreams

Dreams come true; without that possibility, nature would not incite us to have them.

John Updike

In 2003, my wife Scharre was diagnosed with breast cancer. After several consultations with her doctor and surgeon, she decided to have a double mastectomy even though the cancer was only detected in one breast. Scharre had the operation early in 2003 and spent the rest of that year undergoing chemotherapy.

When the chemotherapy was completed, Scharre was prescribed the drug Tamoxifen to be taken twice a day for five years. The oncologist explained that Tamoxifen reduced the amount of estrogen the body naturally produces; ten years earlier, in 1993, Scharre had had uterine cancer, resulting in a hysterectomy. She was also placed on hormone replacement therapy after her hysterectomy; the oncologist said that while the HRT she was taking did not cause her breast cancer, it appeared it may have accelerated the growth of these new cancer cells.

Since Scharre had been on HRT during her fifties, she never experienced menopause. Now, at age sixty-something, she learned that she would get to go through the “passage” after all, since the oncologist did not want to put her back on synthetic hormones. He warned Scharre that some of Tamoxifen’s side effects included high-intensity hot flashes and night sweats.

After Scharre completely recovered from the effects of her chemotherapy treatments and was feeling back to normal, I asked her what she wanted to do to celebrate her survival from her second bout with cancer. Scharre replied that she would like to take another trip to Alaska with our truck and trailer, similar to the trip we had taken four years earlier. With that said, we made our plans and soon departed from our hometown of Crescent City, California, heading north to Alaska.

Both retired, Scharre and I love to camp comfortably, and do so in our twenty-six foot trailer, which has all the amenities you could wish for. Excited about our trip, Scharre stocked up the trailer, anticipating our latest adventure. Every day brought a new twist in the road, but we were enjoying ourselves immensely, with the exception of Scharre’s menopausal flare-ups. I felt sorry for her when this happened and as any good husband would do, I made sure she was comfortable, then I stayed out of her way.

The night sweats were the worst part of her symptoms. Several times a night I would wake up to find Scharre on top of the covers naked, covered in sweat, and miserable. The amazing part of this was that it would be in the low thirties, but she was on fire. She would eventually recover from these hot flashes—as she cooled down, the sweat on her body would begin to dry, and she would get cold. Scharre would then pull all the covers off of me trying to get warm!

While we were camping at Denali National Park in Alaska, we attended several fireside talks where the rangers gave detailed instructions on what to do if a bear attacked. After one particularly rattling bear-related fireside talk, we cautiously walked back in the dark to our campsite and went to bed. Snoozing away nice and warm in our bed, I had a crazy dream; I was at a tourist attraction, and they had hired teenagers to identify fresh bear scat on the property so they knew where to take tourists to see the bears. I ended up alone in a cart being pulled by a small garden tractor, and legendary entertainer Johnny Carson was the driver.

Johnny drove the tractor down this dirt road, which had brush on both sides. After going a short distance, both of us could see dirt being thrown up over the top of the brush beside the road. Johnny pulled up next to the area and it became evident to both of us that a bear was behind the brush, and it was a big bear. It then became immediately apparent to me that I was in a vulnerable position if the bear came at us; I was debating whether to stand my ground, go into a fetal position, or try to outrun both Johnny and the bear.

In the real world outside my crazy dream, Scharre was recovering from one of her hot flashes. Becoming quite chilled, she quietly crawled out of bed and picked up the big feather tick comforter from the couch. At the exact instance I was anticipating the bear’s charge at Johnny and me, Scharre threw the heavy comforter onto the bed and on top of me.

Luckily we were in an RV park—we had to visit the Laundromat the next day to wash our sheets. I’ve had my own night sweats ever since.

Cliff Johnson

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