My Brief Life as a Woman By Dana Jennings Dana Jennings. (Lonnie Schlein/The New York Times)
As my wife and I sat on the couch one night this past winter, reading and half-watching the inevitable HGTV, I started sweating hard and my face got so fevered and flushed that I felt as if I were peering into an oven.
I turned to Deb and said, “Man, I’m having a wicked hot flash.” And she said, “Me, too.” Then we laughed. You laugh a lot — unless your hormones are making you cry — when you’re having menopause with your wife.
I was in the middle of treatment for an aggressive case of prostate cancer last winter, and it included a six-month course of hormone therapy. My Lupron shots suppressed testosterone, which is the fuel for prostate cancer.
When your testosterone is being throttled, there are bound to be side effects. So, with the help of Lupron, I spent a few months aboard the Good Ship Menopause with all the physical baggage that entails. It’s a trip that most men don’t expect to take.
The side effect that surprised me most were the hot flashes — not that I got them, I was expecting that, but by how intense they were. They often woke me in the middle of the night and made me sweat so much that I drenched the sheets. In midwinter I’d walk our miniature poodle, Bijou, wearing shorts and a T-shirt. I sometimes felt as if Deb could fry eggs on my chest. (It’s also a bit disconcerting when your hot flashes are fiercer than your wife’s.)
When it comes to hot flashes, ladies, I salute you. After my brief dalliance with that hormonal phenomenon, it seems to me it’s an under-reported condition. And it’s certainly under-represented in the arts. Where are the great hot flash novels or movies? How come there’s not a Web site or magazine called “Hot Flash Monthly”?
Hand in hand with the hot flashes came the food cravings. I lusted after Cheetos and Peanut Butter M&M’s, maple-walnut milkshakes, and spaghetti and meatballs buried in a blizzard of Parmesan. Isn’t it funny how cravings very rarely involve tofu, bean curd or omega-3 oils?
Then there was the weight issue. During the six months I was on Lupron I gained about 25 pounds. That was partly a byproduct of the cravings, but it also stemmed from the hormonal changes triggered in my body.
And I hated it, hated it, hated it. I had never had to worry about my weight, and I began to understand why media aimed at women and girls obsess over weight so much. It was strange and unsettling not to be able to tell my body, “No,” when it wanted to wolf down a fistful of Doritos slathered with scallion cream cheese.
When I wasn’t devouring a king-size Italian sub or smoldering from a hot flash, it seemed that I was crying. The tears would usually pour down when I got ambushed by some old tune: “Sweet Baby James” and “Fire and Rain” by James Taylor, “That’s the Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be” by Carly Simon and, yes, “It’s My Party” by Lesley Gore. Not only was I temporarily menopausal, but it appeared that I was also turning into a teenage girl from the early 1970s.
There were other side effects, too, like headaches and fatigue. But when I started drinking Diet Coke for the first time in my life, my son Owen couldn’t take it anymore. He said, “Dad, are you turning into a chick?”
So, what else did I learn during my six months of hormone therapy?
Even though I only got to spend a brief time on the outer precincts of menopause, it did confirm my lifelong sense that the world of women is hormonal and mysterious, and that we men don’t have the semblance of a clue.
And, guys, when your significant female other bursts into tears at the drop of a dinner plate or turns on you like a rabid pit bull — whether she’s pregnant, having her period or in the throes of menopause — believe her when she blames it on the hormones.
One more thing. I don’t really know whether menopause likes company — you’d have to ask my wife that — but I do know that it really, really likes HGTV and Peanut Butter M&M’s.