How To Deal With Very Heavy Periods, By A Womb Cancer Survivor

photographed by Ashley Armitage
If you've ever found yourself rushing to the loo with an overflowing tampon emergency or woken up in the morning to find that, despite your giant sanitary towel, blood has still managed to get on your pyjamas and bedsheets, then I feel you.
When I was 24 I was diagnosed with womb cancer, which caused me to have extremely heavy periods and bleed between cycles. My periods often lasted 7-10 days and I had to wear sanitary pads in between, ‘just in case’ of an unexpected blood explosion. I'd bleed during sex, where I found that nothing kills the mood quite like needing to clean up immediately after finishing. Before my diagnosis I needed the largest tampons and a nighttime sanitary towel, which needed changing every hour. I had to set alarms throughout the night to wake up and change.
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During this time, there were some very unhelpful things I found out. Like that there are only so many pairs of pyjamas you can wear in a week before running out. Also, that public toilets seem to be a thing of the past, because they’re never around when you need them.
I am now period- (and cancer-) free following a hysterectomy last June, which was no fun at 24, before having had a family. Something I had always seen for myself is now, sadly, no longer a possibility. But while my years of bleeding are over, yours are not. And from my three long, painful years spent dealing with such heavy bleeds, I also learned some very helpful things about managing high-maintenance periods – and I’m here to pass them on to you.
Click through to read my best advice.
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How to get blood out of absolutely anything

How to get blood out of absolutely anything

Blood is terrible for staining clothes and once the stain has survived a hot machine wash it's almost impossible to remove. Don’t worry though, I found a low-cost easy option for removing blood from just about anything: shampoo!

If possible, try to clean the blood before it’s dried, although this trick still works well if that isn’t possible. Hand-wash the stain with only cold water and shampoo. Blood is organic and full of proteins, and proteins bind with heat, so a hot wash will cement the blood in the fibres and make the stain all kinds of stubborn.

Once you have hand-washed most of the stain out, put the item on the coldest washing machine cycle with biological washing powder (biological powder is packed full of enzymes that naturally break down proteins), et voilà! If the stain is especially stubborn and on white fabric, bicarbonate of soda works as a natural bleach. Simply rub some into the damp stain and leave to soak, or put a few spoons in the machine drawer, remembering to put it through an extra rinse to get the bicarb out fully. I have successfully removed a lot of blood from my clothes using this method, and it has never failed me.
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Get to know your (XXXL) sanitary wear

Get to know your (XXXL) sanitary wear

No matter how prepared I felt I was, somehow I always managed to find myself out with the one bag I owned that wasn't overflowing with spare tampons. I lost count of the amount of times I had to buy a new packet of tampons, which are exceedingly expensive (being a luxury item and all), when I had a million everywhere else. To save some money on all that tax, head to Costco and buy in bulk. Keep them in your drawer at work, in every single handbag, in your bathroom, bedroom…

For me, the largest-size Tampax with accompanying large Always towel was a must. And believe me; applicators are your best friend! If you bleed heavily, you do not want your finger up there because it will be messy, and you will have leakage.

However, if you need as many tampons as I did, that’s a lot of plastic applicators in the bin, so think environmentally friendly and search out the old-style cardboard ones. They are fairly hard to find, so head to a larger supermarket or Boots or Superdrug, as they stock them.

Better yet, use a Mooncup. I haven’t tried one so can’t give a personal account, but I’ve heard great things. One Mooncup will last you several years – so they're very environmentally friendly – and they hold three times more blood than a regular tampon, which could help save you precious hours between toilet runs.
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Keep a period first aid kit at work

Keep a period first aid kit at work

We’ve already covered the tampon situ but in times of menstruation, a first aid kit is needed. I’m talking about the extra period paraphernalia: painkillers, a hot water bottle, chocolate, and clean pants. Don’t waste your time with expensive branded painkillers – it's all the same stuff and that extra caffeine they add to paracetamol will just heighten your menstrual angst. If your cramps or headache won’t budge, taking two paracetamol and one ibuprofen (or vice versa) does the trick. They work on different nociceptors (pain receptors) so are safe to take at the same time.

I found using a microwaveable beanbag preferable to a standard hot water bottle; they keep a comfortable temperature for longer and you avoid those first 10 minutes of scalding yourself. Mine was genuinely a big fluffy cow named Daisy; other grown-up versions are available. Don't worry about looking silly with a hot water bottle at work. Generally most people know that a hot water bottle means ‘period’ and any awkward men (who by this point should be grown-up enough to deal) won’t dare comment.
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The smoothie that will save your life

Eat lots of iron

If you suffer from heavy periods it is really important to get lots of iron in your diet. Iron is essential for producing red blood cells, which transport oxygen around your body to keep your organs ticking over nicely. It is quite common to suffer from anaemia (low haemoglobin/red blood cells) when you bleed excessively, which reduces the amount of oxygen your body gets and causes you to feel lightheaded, fatigued, and short of breath. Foods with a high iron content include red meat, leafy vegetables, legumes (lentils, etc), shellfish and fortified cereals. One way to get a huge boost of iron without having to radically change your diet is to fit in a daily spinach smoothie. My personal favourite recipe is a dream, and with only a few ingredients it’s cheap, easy and tastes delicious. To make it, just whizz up the following:

Tons of spinach (fresh or frozen)
Milk of choice – I’m partial to almond
Any variety of green apple
Cinnamon
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Keep a period diary

Keep a period diary

I don’t mean go all Bridget Jones and detail the amount of wine and chocolate you’ve consumed. Instead, record when your periods are, how long they are, how heavy they are, and any other period-related symptoms. If your periods seem to be changing from what is normal for you, it could be caused by a variety of gynaecological health issues, which you need to be able to spot and tell your doctor. Chances are it’s nothing serious but you could be suffering from anything from polycystic ovaries to a gynaecological cancer.

If you go to your GP fully informed about your bleeding patterns, you’ll be in a good place to get the correct diagnostic tests from them and sort out any problems. The Eve Appeal recommends you go to the doctor if you're suffering from: abnormal vaginal bleeding (any bleeding post-menopause, between periods or after sex), abnormal discharge, unusual lumps and/or itching around your vagina or vulva, persistent bloating, or pain/discomfort during sex.

For more information on the five gynaecological cancers, check out The Eve Appeal’s website.
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