So here it is....the entry I never wanted to post. I've written and deleted it about a hundred times this year, for a couple reasons. For one thing, I was raised not to whine, and no matter how I try to word this, in my head, it sounds whiny. For another, I KNOW that I got off easy on the whole cancer thing. To say now that even though I'm healthy, I'm struggling, well, it just seems wrong. Ungrateful, somehow. Because it could have been so, so much worse. Because not everyone gets better.
And yet: I am struggling.
For anyone who might not know, I was diagnosed with breast cancer at
the end of August in 2010. The following month, I had surgery to remove
four tumors, and when my incisions healed I had 35 radiation
treatments. I didn't need chemotherapy and I was able
to keep working full time through the treatments, though at times it
was difficult. I finished radiation on December 23, 2010. That same
day, I started taking the hormone Tamoxifen, a course of treatment that
is often prescribed for five years following
breast cancer. If you can make it the full five years on Tamoxifen,
your chances of recurrence are greatly reduced.
At first, Tamoxifen caused some mild stomach irriation and hot flashes,
but that went away and I got along pretty well. Every now and again,
the hot flashes would come back for a few weeks at a time, but they
weren't too bothersome. Last year, around the holidays,
they came back worse than ever, but mostly just at night, so my doctor
gave me a medication called gabapentin, to help with the flashes so I could sleep. It works well, but I have to get at least eight hours of
sleep or I feel loopy and hung over the next
day. So I don't take it every night. Around that same time, however, I
started noticing other things going on. For one thing, I suddenly
became much more emotional. Pretty much anything could make me cry.
Walker said I was crabby, so he started spending
more time away from home.
In February, when my beautiful friend Cheri lost her own battle with cancer, I
just kind of fell apart.
As days passed, then weeks, and I could not shake my blue mood, I
went back to my oncologist. I've heard from other Tamoxifen patients
that it can cause these types of emotional side effects, but my doctor
didn't think that was happening in my case. He
felt I had seasonal affective disorder brought on by our unusually
long, cold, dark winter. He recommened that I get a full spectrum lamp
and use it for thirty minutes a day. So I did. In fact, I got two, one
for my home and one for my desk at work. It
didn't seem to help much. He offered me antidepressants, but I refused
them. According to what we discussed, I am not clinically depressed.
And I have had family members experience suicidal thoughts when taking
antidepressants, so I am saving medication as an
absolute last resort.
As winter dragged on, and on, and on, things deteriorated at home.
Walker was unbelieveably supportive through the cancer treatment, but
now.....I think he's just at a loss. He can't fix it, and it's looking
like nobody else can, either. So he avoids
it. If he sees tears, he leaves the room. If I get crabby, he leaves
the house. I don't blame him, but knowing he'll take off if I'm not
having a *good* day means that I hide my emotions from him. Over the summer, I'd
have a string of *good* days and think, yay, finally!
I'm over the worst of it, life will get back to normal now.....but then
pretty soon, the anxiety and moodiness would return. The only thing
that really seemed to help was exercise, lots of it, and outdoors as
much as possible. I logged a LOT of miles on
my bicycle. When the incredible heat of August blew in, I took to
riding my bike before dawn, holding a flashlight in one hand. I would
ride and ride, til the sun came up, and go home exhausted, sleeping
through the heat of the day. I went to another oncologist,
just to see if there would be a difference of opinion that would lead
to another treatment option, but I was told that at my age and stage of
life, even if it was determined that Tamoxifen is behind these issues,
there is no other drug I can try. Later, after
menopause, there are several others. By then, though, I will be
already finished with hormone therapy. I just have to try to stick it
So here we are, almost to fall. The kids are back in school, the
pool is closed, and the nights have a chill in the air. Normally this
is my favorite season, but this year, frankly, I am terrified. The news
is reporting this this winter is expected to
be longer, colder, and snowier than last year, and I don't know how I
will get through it. One day at a time, I guess. One hour at a time,
if necessary. I hope Walker and I can find our way to spring, still
together, but my first priority has to be getting
healthy. Maybe, if I'm really, really lucky, all this crap will go
away as suddenly as it came, and I'll get my life back.