Summer is finally here, and the warmer weather is making me feel like I want to be more active, and my patients are telling me they are feeling the same way, too.
After being inside most of the winter, many of us are working on shedding the extra weight we may have gained.
We all have our reasons for wanting to lose weight, and each of us has our own plan for reaching our goals. Whatever the reason—training for a 5K, looking amazing at an upcoming wedding, being comfortable in a swimsuit, or just feeling healthier overall—summer is a great time to kick-start a new get-fit routine.
Of course, it’s always a good idea to try to be as healthy as possible, but some women also have specific medical conditions such as diabetes, heart disease or cancer that will only improve if they are at a healthy weight.
In addition, moving toward a healthy weight can also help women improve their chances of not having cancer return. Now that the Spectrum Health Medical Group Midlife and Menopause team has expanded to include the Lemmen-Holton Cancer Center survivorship program, I am learning more about the importance of cancer survivors being at a healthy weight.
You may be wondering why the Midlife and Menopause team has established a presence at the Spectrum Health Cancer Center. The reason is because many cancer treatments cause the ovaries to stop working and alter the normal supply of estrogen and progesterone, causing early menopause.
We know that menopause often causes changes to our bodies that make it easy to gain weight and difficult to lose it. In addition, cancer and cancer treatments can cause weight gain simply because of worry and stress. It’s common for women who are undergoing treatment for cancer to have an appetite for comfort foods such as mashed potatoes, white bread and cereal.
Add poor sleep, anxiety and depression, and the weight gain is very likely to occur. I’m excited that when I meet with patients at the Lemmen-Holton Cancer Pavilion I can give them information that will help them see the connection between diet and cancer recurrence. Many of them are not aware of the connection, and giving them even a little information can be very helpful.
I found out years ago that women who are experiencing menopause are thirsty for knowledge that can help them survive the ups and downs of menopause. That’s why I invented the Symptom Circle.
This handy tool is in the shape of a wheel and shows the symptoms of midlife and menopause around the outside of the wheel. The inner circle spins and has cut-out windows that list common triggers and what you can do to make the symptoms better. In other words, it gives you actions you can take to feel better and get the results you want.
My first goal in creating the Symptom Circle was to let women know we are not alone when we start experiencing the symptoms of menopause. I also wanted every woman to know you are not crazy when you wake up in the middle of the night drenched in sweat and think it must be because of the extra blanket on the bed.
Night sweats are real and can be caused by many factors, including low estrogen. They can also be caused by having a second glass of wine after dinner, eating ice cream for dessert, or not drinking enough water during the day.
The point is that night sweats and other symptoms of menopause can often be controlled by making lifestyle changes. However, cancer-induced menopause can be very difficult for women because so many of the factors are out of their control. The good news is that many factors are in your control, and they are so basic that many women don’t associate them with feeling better.
Cancer treatment today is truly amazing—we are able to cure more cancer now than ever before. So, what happens after cancer treatment has ended? Survivorship is about more than surviving cancer; it is about returning to feeling like yourself and staying healthy in every other possible way. It means getting back to having more energy, a strong sex drive and continuous good moods. Survivorship is also about not finding yourself with more risk factors for other cancers, obesity, heart disease or diabetes.
Incorporating simple and healthy habits into your daily routine can help decrease hot flashes, night sweats, depression and anxiety. It can also help improve your energy level and sex drive.
On the back of the Symptom Circle, I have created a list I call SEEDS (Seven Essential Elements for Daily Success) that can help women feel how they want to feel—regardless if they have cancer or not. Dealing with increased stress and sudden menopause as a result of cancer treatments can be overwhelming, and the SEEDS can be invaluable for your survival.
Here are the SEEDS:
- Water—80 ounces per day (total servings of water minus caffeine or alcohol)
- Sleep—at least 50 quality hours per week
- Vitamins—daily multivitamin and Vitamin D
- Nutrients—healthy balance of protein, smart carbohydrates and fat
- Exercise—incorporate aerobic, strength-training and stretching
- Fiber—35 grams per day
- Gratitude journal and metered breathing—write in the journal daily and use metered breathing to help you sleep better at night
Women who come to the menopause offices at Lemmen-Holton receive a Symptom Circle, and I have seen great results from many of these patients. I recently had a patient who adopted the SEEDS into her life after she came to see me, and she has had incredible results: a 30-pound weight loss, increased energy, more stable moods, and improved ability to cope with other challenges in her life.
Her cancer was cured, and she is now feeling better than she has in a long time. In fact, she lives in a small town and everyone has noticed the changes she has made.
Many women have come to me at the Spectrum Health Cancer Center with menopause symptoms, and the first thing we discuss to help them start feeling better is the SEEDS.
I have been seeing many of these women in follow-up visits during the last few months, and by incorporating these changes into their daily routine, they are feeling so much better. In addition, they are decreasing their chances of having their cancer come back, and they are less likely to suffer a heart attack, gain weight, or get diabetes.