“Black and white soldiers alike wonder if this really means freedom. Not. Yet.” – Hamilton
So, surgery, chemo, and radiation are all over. And that means cancer treatment is over, right? Sort of, but not really. The day after radiation ended, I started taking Tamoxifen. This is a pill given to pre-menopausal women to interfere with their estrogen receptors. Because my cancer was estrogen-positive, I have to take a pill like this for at least 5 years to lower my risk of recurrence. So far, no side effects, and I’m hopeful I won’t have any. But for my particular type of cancer, the similar medicine given to post-menopausal women seems to work better. For that reason, I’m going to have my ovaries removed in November. Then I’ll officially be menopausal (unofficially, I’ve been in menopause since chemo started) and they can switch me to the other drug known as an aromatase inhibitor. And in December, I’m having surgery to have my tissue expanders replaced with breast implants. Hopefully that will be the end of the surgeries and then it will just be taking the pill and regular checkups and scans to be sure the cancer hasn’t returned.
Also because of the risk of recurrence, every weird thing that happens to me now has to be filtered through the “is this cancer?” lens. This was made clear to me two weeks ago, right towards the end of radiation. I hadn’t been feeling that well but decided to go out for my six mile run anyway and just take it slow. Given that the heat index was over 100 degrees, that was a poor idea. After I got home I started to feel much worse and ultimately ended up with a migraine and a lot of projectile vomiting. I didn’t know if this was from radiation, or if I should be worried, so I called my oncologist’s nurse to ask. I ended up going in for an appointment a couple of days later and being told to stay home and rest for a week, and there was at one point a plan for an MRI or CT scan of my brain to see if there was any cancer popping up there. A little bit unnerving, but luckily I started feeling better so the scans are canceled for now – unless the symptoms return.
So it’s unpleasant to wonder if every little twinge is a tumor popping back up. And it’s been a weird adjustment trying to remember what my life was like before all these appointments. It’s frustrating that I’m starting to get my energy back but not really feeling 100% yet. I guess I thought everything would automatically go back to “normal,” but it’s not that simple. That’s probably why most cancer survivors talk about a “new normal.” As my friend Carol T. said, “when you’re in the middle of a war, you don’t think about what peace looks like.”