Genes and Hormones

As I suspected, I do not have a BRCA gene mutation, more common in Ashkenazi Jews than the general population. That mutation predisposes the bearer to breast and ovarian cancer. The very very cheery and and rushed genetic counselor gave me the news Thursday. She's still waiting to see if I have a certain other mutation responsible for breast and uterine cancer. I need to get her one more piece of information before she can tell me that I'm a suspect. And if I am? I guess a hysterectomy will follow. Does this never end?

Recently I talked with a woman I know about professional/academic matters and then she said, You're my age, aren't you? and I am, and she turned the talk to menopause and hot flashes. Hers sound worse, only because she doesn't have a partner, so that she's been on dates when she's broken out in a sweat. At least I don't have to be embarrassed about them when I'm with L. How many times have I asked him, Is it hot in here? And we know the answer: No, it's just me. That, more or less, is the title of no fewer than four books about menopause. I think I'm still fascinated by the oddness of the flash. I'm like a kid who keeps saying: You know what? That's what! How many times have I implored L to touch my clammy scalp just to feel its sponginess? And he doesn't like to do it because of the clamminess. The attribute that gives amphibians a bad rap.

What could be the evolutionary advantage of the hot flash? I can't figure it out. I found an article that explains that motherless children are more apt to survive if they are cared for by an older woman without her own children. That makes sense. But surely there must have been some women through time who lost estrogen, yet remained free of hot flashes. Unfortunately, those women wouldn't still reproduce, so that's a dead end. I try to cheer myself: Could it be that menopause symptoms were more extreme back in antiquity? What if there were once scads of menopausal women who were so irritable and ferocious that they killed their offspring? The genes for the worst symptoms would have died with them. So we should be grateful now, huh?

The macrobiotics folks point to soy, which is good for easing hot flashes. Except if you had a breast cancer tumor that was estrogen-positive. In that case, you have to avoid soy because it's too close in form to estrogen. So I am soy-less and flashing. It helps to fold a scarf into a band and to wear it at my (low) hairline and tie it at the back of my neck. That way the fabric absorbs the sweat. Or at least keeps it from dripping into my eyes. Tonight I wore a tie-dyed bandana and S called me Tom Sawyer.

(I typed "Tom Sawyer" and "sweat" into Google and found quotes from Huck, such as: "Looky here, Tom, being rich ain't what it's cracked up to be. It's just worry and worry, and sweat and sweat, and a-wishing you was dead all the time," and just thinking about how I could be foxy and twist the quote some to make it relevant to menopause made me embarrassed...and sweaty.)