When do I get to say, I had breast cancer?
So I did it. Yesterday, on my birthday of all days, I started taking tamoxifen. This is a medication that blocks your body’s production of estrogen – which is what was feeding my cancer. It is interesting, as the information package talks about how the medication is used to treat breast cancer. It is used to significantly decrease the likelihood of recurrence – mostly used in pre-menopausal women who had hormone positive cancer. After menopause, the drug group of choice are known as Aromatise inhibitors (AIs). It is expected that after a couple of years on tamoxifen, that I’ll be switched over to AIs as they may be more effective. It is a bit of a game of side effects – not sure which is better or worse.
I was struggling with the idea of tamoxifen until just the other day. My mother-in-law has been trying to convince me for months that tamoxifen isn’t evil, it is not bad, it is nothing like chemotherapy or surgery – rather just something you do. It is something that works for you, to help keep the cancer from returning. But then she said something that worked for me – it works on your body in mostly the same ways hormonal birth control does. I had no trouble taking hormonal birth control, so why should I have difficulty with tamoxifen? For me, that worked. It is interesting the things that stick and the things that don’t. I know for many women, tamoxifen has had negative side effects, but so has AIs, and cancer really sucks too … but for some, the idea that it is a pill a day (somewhat larger than birth control pills) that blocks estrogen in a way that is not dissimilar to the way birth control blocks ovulation, kinda works. It works for me anyways. I can do this.
In talking with another survivor about tamoxifen yesterday, her comment was that the info package said it was to treat ‘breast cancer’, but she doesn’t have breast cancer anymore. My thought exactly. When do I get to start staying that I had breast cancer rather than I have breast cancer? In my mind, that date was December 17, 2014 – the day that I had a double mastectomy and the last of my three tumors was removed along with any other breast tissue. The pathology confirmed that all my margins were clear – meaning that there was enough healthy tissue surrounding the cancerous tissue to indicate that they got it all. So, I don’t have breast cancer, I had it.
That being said, I’m still undergoing treatment as a result of breast cancer. My cancer surgery is done. I’ve graduated to 6-month checkups with my breast surgeon. My chemotherapy is done. However, my reconstruction is not yet finished. I still have a couple of gaping wounds that will definitely require another surgery to clean up. I’m weak from the chemotherapy and the surgery. I’ve lost a lot of my muscle mass. I’m working on getting it all back, but recovery is anything but over. So, although I’m done the active treatment for the cancer, I’m not done the treatment as a result of the cancer.