Hi, stranger.

It’s been awhile.

I don’t remember where I left off, and now that I have finally started writing, I am loath to stop and go look. So I’ll just give a quick and dirty overview of where I am, health-wise.

So I had cancer, I had chemo, I had radiation. Chemo plunked me directly into menopause, as it is wont to do. I struggled hard with menopausal symptoms for two full years. A short list of such symptoms would be hot flashes (~20 a day, on bad days), night sweats (did not get a full night’s sleep for 2 years), skin thinning (I would bump into something and start to bleed), wrinkles appearing literally overnight, hair thinning, weight gain, breakouts, irritability, mood swings, and depression (even while on medication). I basically made it through the first year clinging to the “knowledge” that chemo after-effects wear off after a year. And I made it through the second year thinking that surely, I must reach that light at the end of the chemo tunnel soon. And as the third year approached and I seriously contemplated suicide, I went to my oncologist and my gyno and said, “I cannot live like this anymore.” The agreed and in spite of the fact that I have hormone-receptor positive cancer, put me on hormone replacement therapy (HRT) – estrogen (a patch applied twice weekly) and progesterone (a pill taken nightly). This went fine, hot flashes disappeared, I finally started sleeping again, and my period came back. Unfortunately you’re not supposed to have a period when on constant progesterone, so I had to go in for an ultrasound and an endometrial biopsy. (Gosh I hope I didn’t blog all this before, but if so, sorry.) The endometrial biopsy sucked ass but turned up nothing bad. The ultrasound actually showed follicles (eggs) in my ovaries, which of course sent me over the MOON – a previous blood test had shown I had no eggs left.

Per the two doctors, I went OFF hormone therapy, because it appeared my body was bouncing back. Oh, not so! All my symptoms came back with a vengeance. I went back on HRT at a lower dose of estrogen (0.05mg to 0.025mg) but the symptoms continued. So I am now back on 0.05. Well, actually not today. But I’m getting there, hang on.

I guess the first thing to note is that my gyno was well aware of the fact that I wanted another child. I discussed it with her in depth on multiple occasions. However, when I called her at one point and asked what to do if I became pregnant while on HRT, she told me, rather coldly, that I should not become pregnant while on progesterone, and that J and I should be using condoms. I told her that seemed counterproductive to me conceiving, and her reaction amounted to a shrug. I then proceeded to switch gynos. (It wasn’t just this – I also could never get ahold of her, and her office once refused to refill my estrogen prescription, stating that their notes showed my oncologist had said I shouldn’t be on it, which was completely – not just incorrect, but an outright lie.) Yesterday I got a letter in the mail stating that she is retiring, and I am not surprised, because I didn’t get the vibe she really cared about me as a person. I don’t think she was loving her job.

When I went to see the fertility doctor in October, she was surprised that gyno had me on a steady dose of progesterone while knowing I wanted to conceive, since PROGESTERONE IS BIRTH CONTROL AND KEEPS YOUR UTERINE LINING THIN. So even if I HAD conceived, I would not have been able to carry the baby because there was nowhere for an egg to attach. ūüė°¬†She switched me to – gosh you know I can’t even remember. I think it was supposed to be two weeks on of a double dose of progesterone, then two weeks off. But the double dose of progesterone made my hot flashes come back like whoa, so she cooled it to two weeks on of a single dose of progesterone, then two weeks off. That’s been fine.

Last month, two days before Christmas, I got a period for the first time in four months. Super normal, just like the old days.

This month, on the 21st, I got my period – not even for a full day, for a few hours. A one-tampon period. Then nothing. Honestly, guys, my body has been so jacked up for so long that I didn’t even think anything of it. Just typing that somehow made me want to cry. I guess – here’s the thing, I never thought I’d still be dealing with this shit three years after completing chemo. I thought I’d be, you know, worrying about whether or not I’d have cancer again. Maybe even having cancer again. But not dealing with shitty shitty bullshit fallout related to my treatment. What a load. Anyhow. Four days passed and then it’s like the floodgates opened. I woke and was bleeding again so I put in a super (if any dudes are reading this, that’s the strength) tampon. Four hours later I went to pee and had bled completely through the tampon, through my underwear, and into my pants. I replaced. Four hours later, same deal. THIS WENT ON FOR FIVE DAYS. I was exhausted, demotivated, and had some of the worst cramps of my life for those five days. It’s now day 7 and I am still having slight old blood (brown) discharge.

I conferred with my gyno (new gyno, much better) and have again gone off HRT (as of yesterday). I will remain off for a week and go in Monday to have my blood tested and see where my hormone levels are. Best case (please cross your fingers) scenario – my hormones are returning/have returned to normal and I can stop HRT and go back to having a normal monthly period. I don’t even – I mean I’d still love another kid, but I’m almost 41 now, and after everything I’ve gone through, I’m not even focused on that at this point. All I want is for my body to function in somewhat the same way it did before I had cancer. That’s all.

And here’s the thing. This all sucks so much BUT THIS HAPPENS TO WOMEN ALL OVER THE WORLD ALL THE TIME. Why aren’t we talking about how breast cancer, even when cured, fucks you up for life? Why aren’t we talking about how no one has any answers?!? Like, that is the most stunning and enraging part to me! NO ONE can tell me when/if my body will return to normal. NO ONE can tell me WHY my body is doing the stuff it’s doing. I mean honestly, not even TWO DIFFERENT GYNECOLOGISTS WHO ARE FUCKING TRAINED IN WOMEN’S BODIES UNDERSTAND WHY I KEEP BLEEDING! This is an actual quote from the gynecologist I actually like:

“Interesting that your period comes before you stop your progesterone.”

YEAH IT IS! Everything my body does seems to be “interesting” and “curious.” Could you please tell me why?! I know other women must have gone through this! I don’t believe I am a reproductive freak of nature! I have had ultrasounds and scans and biopsies that indicate everything down there looks perfect and in good working order, so why can’t anyone predict what is going to happen or when or how or WHY?

Sorry I went off the rails there but it is so incredibly frustrating to feel like you know as much as your doctors do about what your body is doing and is going to do, especially when “as much” is essentially nothing.

Also, in conclusion, I am dreading the blood work because I always get my hopes up thinking it is going to be THIS TIME that my blood work comes back normal-ish and it never does. In three years it never has but I know I will still get my hopes up and have them dashed when I find out my damned body is still menopausal at 40 and there is still no one anywhere who can tell me when or if that will change.

That brings everything up to date. I’ll post when I get the blood work back or if anything else happens. And if the post just says “My body still sucks,” you’ll know what that means.

September

Hi friends.

As I approach my two-year cancerversary, which is Monday, I have some news to share. Don’t worry – I remain cancer free!

As some of you may know, when I was diagnosed in September 2015, Julian and I had been planning to begin trying to expand our family the following summer. I would love to have a girl baby, but would equally love another boy – I just have a gut feeling that our family is not complete yet, that we are supposed to be a quintet.

I, like most other people, was not aware of the effect chemotherapy can have on a woman’s reproductive system, both during and after treatment, until I was diagnosed. That is when I discovered the cold, hard facts about the possible infertility chemotherapy can cause. Still, when my oncologist offered to refer me to a fertility specialist, I declined. Why? Many reasons. Specifically, I already had two beautiful children; I thought “seeing a fertility specialist” meant “freezing my eggs,” which frankly sounded like an awful procedure; and most importantly,¬†I didn’t think infertility would happen to me.

Ridiculous, right? I was diagnosed with cancer at 37; the January before, I learned I’d had gall disease since I was a teenager. Why did I think anything that could happen wouldn’t happen to me? Maybe it’s because of those very things. Like, “Omg I have cancer as a 37 year old vegetarian who managed to bear two kids with only one fallopian tube. Of COURSE I’ll retain my fertility.” In addition, my oncologist put me on Lupron during chemo – a horrid drug that stops your ovaries from working, sending you directly into menopause, but has been shown to “sometimes” prevent infertility. How they determine that, I don’t know, since from what I have heard it’s basically a craps shoot whether you get your period back or not. But that’s not really the point.

Looking back, I wish I’d seen that fertility specialist. I wish I’d gotten all the information available to me. I wish my oncologist – who I¬†love, don’t get me wrong – had said, “If you ever think you ever might possibly want to have another baby, just go see what the specialist has to say.” Because now I know there are other ways of preserving fertility – I read yesterday about a simple procedure where one ovary is removed and frozen, and then the outer layer – where the eggs are stored – is grafted back on to the remaining ovary, restoring fertility. Would I have done that? Yes. If I had a time machine, I’d go back and do it now. But alas, I was in denial. I thought I knew all the risks. I was both right and wrong.

Tired of my oncologist and my gyno both telling me I just had to “wait and see” what my body would do, I finally made an appointment at Seattle Reproductive Medicine (you know, like I should have done two years ago). A trans-vaginal ultrasound revealed my ovaries to be so small they were nearly undetectable. My uterus, while healthy, is a menopausal uterus – small, with a very thin tissue lining. A blood test measuring AMH came back so low that the doctor prefaced the result by telling J and I that it “couldn’t tell you the difference between low egg supply and zero,” but that mine was at the very lowest limit. She went on to tell me that’s not to say I couldn’t ever conceive, but the possibility is “remote.”

Why did “remote” hit me like a bucket of cold water? Low, small, even a percentage number – those I think I could have handled. But “remote” – remote is the snowy woodland where someone freezes to death because she lost her way hiking. Remote is where they used to send the very worst criminals to live and kill each other. Remote is so small it can’t even be quantified. Remote is not impossible, but it’s impossible’s next of kin.

I had previously asked J about adoption – which for some reason, he is not interested in – and between the ultrasound and the blood test I had even had a revelation that perhaps we could get an egg donor and a surrogate and have a baby that is at least a half sibling to our boys. So I had done a small amount of research into that, but even so – even so, I was hoping against hope they’d tell me my egg supply was lowered, but not – not that my chances were “remote.” I’ll be 40 next year – “remote” was already around the corner anyhow.

This was on Tuesday. I cried. A lot. I felt stupid, greedy, uninformed, angry, regretful, ungrateful, lost. For the last two days I have been processing. It’s still not real to me, if you can believe that – somehow, in my stubborn brain, remote is not far enough. I still feel this glimmer of hope. But my logical brain keeps trying to put that glimmer in check. And so I am struggling.

I haven’t told you everything yet, though. And I’m not sure if I should put it down, because we don’t know where we are with it. So take it as that, information, not opinion or decision. Just information we were given from a doctor, information that I will present to my oncologist at my regular appointment on Monday and ask his opinion of.

If they were to give me low levels of estrogen and progesterone – very low, the same my body would be making itself had my period come back – my uterus would rebound and begin working again as though my ovaries had not given up the ghost. Then, if we wanted, we could choose an egg donor, and I could actually carry the baby myself, nurse it myself. Genetically it would not be mine, but who’s to say how much DNA a baby picks up in the womb? Whose blood would be running through its veins? Whose heartbeat would it hear? Whose milk would it drink?

If you are by chance reading this, and you have been diagnosed, and you have not started treatment – even if you have children, even if you think you are done, even if you aren’t sure you ever want them – please go see a fertility specialist. Seeing them will do no harm. Know ALL your options. Regret is a horrible feeling to have after you’ve managed to survive a brush with death.

I’m okay!

Okay first a short bit of clarification.

It’s not like I am desperate to have a baby – that’s not what all the tears were about yesterday. I have two awesome babies – I am luckier than many! But we definitely were seriously considering another baby, and it just sucks to have that choice taken away. When my period came back that one time in June, I honestly thought, “Wait, maybe I¬†don’t want another baby!” I just want to have the choice.

Much of the sadness/anger revolves around not the reproductive side of menopause, but the physical side. I have hot flashes constantly, and they’re miserable. They’re made worse by alcohol, so even a glass of wine can set them off. I have sore hips and a stiff back. My skin breaks out. I’m bloated and irritable. my hands are swollen and stiff every morning. I am forgetful. These are all menopause symptoms. I had hoped my hormone test would come back on the pre-menopausal side, so I could look forward to these annoyances tapering off. Instead, I’m still in the middle of menopause, which means I could be dealing with this stuff for a long time yet to come – years, even.

Anyhow, I talked to Dr. K last night and really there was nothing new – my numbers look bad for my period right now, but he says they can’t predict what will happen over the next four months (end of March is one year from the end of chemo). He says he has 75 year-old women with lower estradiol than mine, so it’s just a question mark right now. In three months he’ll test my blood again and see what the numbers are. Until then, I continue to wait.

But I’m okay. I’m great, actually. I have an amazing family and an awesome life and wonderful, supportive friends. And I’m alive and cancer free, so for now I’m just going to suck it up and deal with the little physical set backs and hope for better days ahead with regard to that!

Hormones and Grief (Video)

A 5-minute video about what’s going on with me. Apologize for the mood and for not just typing it instead – just don’t have it in me to type this up right now. If this doesn’t work, I also uploaded it as unlisted on YouTube:¬†https://youtu.be/Ap5svJsM6V0

I also want to add that it’s not just the baby thing that is upsetting me. It’s all the physical ailments, which are being ascribed to “hormones,” and have no end in sight. It’s going through menopause before my time, before I’m even forty. It’s feeling cheated and old and helpless. It’s everything.

Short but sweet!

37 when diagnosed and started chemo, 38 when completed chemo, told my chemopause could be permanent, would probably take at least 6 months to know –

My period came back today. ūüôā Weird thing to write about, I guess, but since we really felt robbed of making our own decision whether or not we wanted to try for another baby, this was a super important thing to both Julian and me. Additionally, it makes me feel really positive – my body is becoming mine again, and if I could recover so quickly from chemo, I must be pretty healthy! Other than this stupid cold I am now battling, which came hot on the heels of the stomach bug from last week. In spite of those, feeling pretty good – and this also explains last week’s depression.

Hurrah!

Decisions, decisions.

I’m going to try not to go on, because I know reading people’s meandering thoughts on themselves and their issues – whatever those issues may be – can really be quite boring, and I like to think I am not arrogant enough to think my musings are any better than most. Nonetheless:

Being diagnosed with cancer is not a decision, but it’s the start of many. Treat or don’t treat (seems crazy, but look at Jackie¬†Collins)? Lumpectomy or mastectomy? Chemo or no chemo? Naturopathy or no naturopathy? Radiation or no radiation? Hormone therapy or no hormone therapy? And on and on and on. Having cancer is one of the lowest blows I’ve been dealt, but I don’t get to sit back on my laurels and wait it out. I have to do research, ask questions, and look inside my own head and heart for answers that don’t exist, that are just guesses. Educated guesses, but guesses nonetheless. Some people are willing to take everything their doctor says as gospel and just follow that path, which is great – but it’s not for me. I have every faith in my doctor, in his education and experience – but he can only tell me what is right for the majority, not for the individual. And I am, if nothing else, an individual!

So as much as I wish I could simply say, “I’ll do whatever you say, just tell me where and when,” I just can’t. And now here I am at the last decision I mentioned above – hormone therapy or no hormone therapy?

I have talked about it ad nauseam in this blog, so I’ll just do a brief update here. The lesion removed from my breast was determined to be estrogen receptor positive – ER+. What that means, in brief, is that estrogen helps it grow. So as long as my ovaries are releasing estrogen into my system – which, according to Wikipedia, will be for the next 7 – 17 years – any stray cancer cells in my system, or new cancer cells that develop, are likely to be boosted by the estrogen coming from my ovaries. Solution? Taking a pill or getting a shot to turn off my ovaries for the next five years to deprive those cells of estrogen.

The drug of choice to do this is called Tamoxifen, and I have already decided against that. There are a myriad of reasons, which I have discussed in previous posts¬†(several previous posts), but the primary reason is that it and Prozac are completely contraindicated for each other and I am not sacrificing my mental health. I’m just not doing it. So as I mentioned in my last blog, Dr. K suggested I stay on Lupron, which is what I am currently on now along with chemotherapy because it’s supposed to help preserve fertility (in some women, some of the time).

Lupron is… really shitty. I am bloated. I am fat. I am hungry constantly. I am getting new wrinkles (literally, it’s not just in my imagination). I cannot sleep. I have to be on ANOTHER medication to cut back on the hot flashes and night sweats, which were occurring roughly every half an hour – try to imagine waking up every half an hour on sheets completely drenched in sweat. I have never been anti-medication – it’s quite literally what keeps me sane – but I am caught in this medication to treat medication to treat medication cycle right now and I HATE it. I long for the days when all I needed was an antidepressant and an antacid daily! In the end, I don’t want to do Lupron either. Which means, really,¬†I DON’T WANT TO DO HORMONE THERAPY.¬†That’s it.

Last visit, while I was crying about this very subject, Dr. K said that with my cancer, when it was caught, how I’ve opted to treat it, etc., my survival rate is already in the 90th percentile. He also said that hormone therapy will only increase that percentage by a few points. So there’s the decision: Is five years of misery, of not feeling like myself, of pills and shots and feeling like I have no control over my body, worth those few percentage points? And the answer is: No one knows. If I don’t have a recurrence, it’s totally not worth it. If I do have a recurrence – we still don’t know, because I might have had that recurrence even WITH the Lupron.

So I think in the end, my decision, hard as it is, has been made. I will finish my chemo. I will do the radiation. And then I will say au revoir, cancer, and move on with my life.

And although this is already far longer than I intended, let me close with one last decision I have made: Cancer¬†is not going to run the rest of my life. I have seen lots of posts about how breast cancer changes you, how once you’re diagnosed it’s always there, the other shoe waiting to drop (if you’re unclear why, please see my post on metastatic breast cancer). Yeah, it’s changed me. I will never forget this time, nor am I ignorant about what it means for the future. And I’ll follow up with every test suggested, stay on top of my health, remember that 30% of women with breast cancer end up dying from it – but also that 70% of women don’t. I’m planning to be part of that 70%.

Hot! Hot!! Hot!!!

If you’d like to see the full video for this, which is pretty cool if you’re a Cure fan,
check it out
on Vimeo.

One of my least favorite side effects of chemo/Lupron is the hot flashes. They are why I am awake at 5am writing this blog (I’ve been up since 4:30), and why I haven’t had a full night’s sleep in at least a month and a half.

During the day, every 1-2 hours, I feel my face begin to warm, then the first prickles of sweat. This quickly spreads to my head, neck, and then over my entire body, until I feel overheated and covered in perspiration. Sometimes it’s precipitated by a hot room or activity – something as simple as charging up the stairs. Other times I am sitting perfectly still at a comfortable temperature and it comes out of nowhere. I don’t like them during the day – they’re uncomfortable and make me feel gross – but I really hate them at night.

At night, about every 2 – 3 hours, I am woken from a sound sleep by a hot flash. Yesterday, I was taking a daytime nap after having been kept awake by them the night before. I was in the middle of a dream and IN MY DREAM realized I was starting a hot flash, which then woke me up. Each time I am awoken, I have to throw all the covers back and wait the 5 – 10 minutes it takes for the flash to pass. I sleep in a room with a window open in the middle of the winter. This helps cool me off during the hot flash, but once it’s passed, I have to get back under the covers because I’m freezing.¬†¬†I already suffer from and am medicated for insomnia. The medication does not override the hot flashes, nor help me fall back asleep when they come after 4am. When they come in the early morning like this – which is pretty much daily – I am fully awake by the time the flash passes and simply lie in bed thinking of things I could be doing. Now and then I am lucky and can force myself back to sleep around 6, only to be reawoken by my kids between 7 and 8. Today, there’s no point in even trying, as it’s chemo day and I need to be up to shower and get ready at 6:30 anyhow.

Last appointment with my onc, he recommended I try an OTC herbal treatment called Remifemin, which I have dutifully taken twice a day for three weeks, but the hot flashes persist. I’ll tell him that today and he will probably prescribe something, which just makes me feel overwhelmed and angry. Another medication to treat another side effect of another medication to treat… etc. I am over it.

All of the other side effects/complications – even the diarrhea – come and go, ebb and flow. But the hot flashes affect me every single day, because it’s hard to function ¬†normally when I NEVER get a full night’s sleep, and it’s impossible for me to sit still and not exert myself every single day to avoid the daytime flashes.

Today is treatment number 4. Three down, three to go. I will be so glad when this is in the rearview, and I better never get cancer again.