By Hanny Roskamp
I’m 48 now. A year and half ago, I could still say I was “approaching menopause.” But a year ago, the first hot flashes presented themselves, in series of 20 or 30 a day. Menopause had come, no doubt about it. Red-faced and covered in sweat, I wrote my book De houdbare vrouw (The Everlasting Woman). Since then, I’ve put a year and a half and countless hot flashes behind me.
To be honest, I’m rather cold-natured, so I don’t have much of a problem being very warm for a few minutes. I finally understand why the cardigan is such an important piece of clothing for women over a certain age. I actually like hot flashes.
As a result of my journalistic and scientific background, I’ve approached menopause primarily from a place of curiosity. My thermostat appears to be somewhat confused. A little research tells me that during a hot flash, blood pressure drops dramatically for a short time. That’s a consequence of blood vessel dilation, which is also what causes facial flushing.
A recent study at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle tallied the number of hot flashes experienced by more than 1,400 women with and without breast cancer. The study also explored the women’s risk of developing breast cancer. It turned out that the women with breast cancer experienced far fewer hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms. Women aged 50 have an average 2 percent risk of developing breast cancer; during menopause, that number is cut in half. Since reading that, I’ve become even fonder of my hot flashes. I see them as part of my body’s natural defense system. Considering the sweat they engender, you could even call them cleansing.
Sometimes a positive experience hits you from left field: not just hot flashes, but menopause itself, and growing older as a whole. The socially and culturally defined pressure to stay young, fertile and vibrant as long as we can is enormous, but what does it do to us? Don’t we miss out on many things by focusing so much attention on our youthful years, which—let’s be honest—ended some time back? Psychological developments, new insights, spiritual growth—all these are part of growing older. But where do these aspects go while we’re so busy delaying and preventing the physical aspect of aging?
Why is this new phase of our lives characterized by Botox and dates with our plastic surgeons? Why are more and more women embracing hormones that are supposed to keep us young? Of course the media play a role by constantly confirming that we only count if we look young. But most of all, we do it to ourselves, because we’re vain, and we think the package is all that matters. All the while, we’re missing out on an enlightening journey, one that’s vital for anyone who wants to grow as a human being. Let’s talk about this side of the story: getting older as an experience that can be personally valuable to each and every one of us.
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