Drugs, Hugs and Losing My Jugs: A Breast Cancer Journal - August 5, 2015 - All That Tampon Money
This is the twenty-ninth entry in a 31-day Breast Cancer Awareness Month exclusive series featuring the real journal entries of breast cancer survivor, Jessica Sliwerski. Read the previous entry here.
My sleep has been shit. I’m spending eight hours in bed, but it’s garbage rest. I struggle to fall asleep and once I finally fall asleep, I wake up at least three or four times feeling so uncomfortably hot. My whole body is on fire and even after stripping off my clothes and despite being only two feet from the pumping air conditioner, I cannot cool down. I am so hot, I cannot fall back asleep and once I do, I wake up again.
“I’m getting chemo sweats,” I told my dcotor during therapy. “I heard this would happen. I cannot sleep. I am fucking exhausted.”
“When was your last period?” she asked.
“The day after round 3. It lasted only that day and then it was gone. I didn’t get it this month,” I said, starting to cry. “I hate my period. I fucking hate it. Not getting my period was one of the three things I enjoyed about pregnancy. That, having big boobs and feeling Penelope kick. But not getting my period because of cancer feels like a kick in the balls. Yet another thing that’s been taken from me. Yet another reason to feel stripped of my femininity,” I bitched.
“It sounds like you are experiencing hot flashes,” she concluded.
“Awesome,” I said. “Fucking awesome.”
I am done with chemo, but the gifts just keep coming. I am trying to move on, but here is yet another reminder of just how much havoc the poison wreaked on my body. Another reminder that despite coming so far, I still have so much further to go.
“It’s working. The chemo is working,” my grandma said to me when I was complaining to her over text. And while I know this, it’s hard to continue to be optimistic day in and day out. Just when I start to feel like I am finally getting better, some new ailment knocks me on my ass again.
I’m exhausted, not only from lack of sleep, but from the hamster wheel of enduring one dreadful side effect after another and the emotional energy required to pick myself up, dust myself off, smile and carry on with optimism.
I’m tired. I’m fucking tired.
And then today happened.
Having completed chemo, it is time for the next phase of treatment — hormone therapy. I arrived at the hospital excited to see my doctor and feeling anxious yet optimistic about this next chapter. I wore a hot pink tank top that said “We Stopped the War in My Rack” because, well, we did. But just because we stopped it doesn’t mean it won’t come back.
Hormone therapy, like chemo, is meant to be my protective shield, further decreasing the chance of recurrence. Since my diagnosis I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time reading about hormone therapy. I knew everything I needed to know about a a certain drug and was anticipating the doctor telling me she recommended it because all my cancer friends are on it.
Except that is not what I was told. Instead, she told me she is recommending two different drugs. One is a shot. It will shut down my ovaries — my body’s estrogen-making factory. My cancer is estrogen positive, meaning it needs estrogen in order to thrive. Deprive the cancer of its food source and it withers away and dies.
Sounds simple, right? Well, yeah, sort of.
Minus the part about starting menopause at the age of 33. All I could think when I heard the doctor talk about menopause was, “Fuck. More fucking hot flashes.”
But it’s more than just hot flashes. There are a buttload of other side effects including, but not limited to: osteoporosis, increased risk of diabetes, increased risk of high cholesterol, joint pain, bone pain (yay, more bone pain!), weight gain, acne, thinning hair, aging skin, whiskers… the list goes on, but I’ll stop there because I’m already depressed.
I will be in menopause some 20 years earlier than I ever thought I would be.
This was not at all the news I thought I would hear. I sat there shocked as the doctor continued to explain the treatment. Because estrogen isn’t just coming from my ovaries, but also hangs out in my adipose tissue, once I’m good and ‘pausing (approximately two weeks after receiving the shot), I will take a daily pill “used to treat breast cancer in women after change of life.”
Wait. Time out. After change of life?
So, having a baby, being diagnosed with breast cancer, cutting off my breasts and losing all my hair does not constitute change of life? I didn’t get the memo that all the other horrible shit I’ve endured was simply foreplay.
“How long will I do this?” I asked the doctor.
“Five-to-ten years,” she said. “Like the drug.”
My hunch is I will do this longer than 10 years, unless something better comes along. I will not naturally be in menopause in 10 years and as long as my ovaries have the ability to create estrogen, I have to take drugs that will prevent any lingering cancer cells in my body from devouring that estrogen and starting some nasty shit.
“So, I give myself this shot?”
“No, you will come here every 28 days, or once a month, and we will give you the shot.”
“You’ll give it to me?”
“No, you’ll get it downstairs.” Downstairs is the infusion area where my girl works.
“Who will give it to me downstairs?”
“The same nurse as my chemo nurse?”
“OK, good. That’s good,” I smiled, giddy despite all the other depressing shit the doctor was telling me. Not only did I now have a legit reason to keep coming to the hospital, I would also see my girl!
“Why not remove her ovaries?” my mom, who was holding a very noisy Penelope, asked.
The doctor explained removing my ovaries may be an option, depending upon how well I “tolerate” this therapy — meaning how well I tolerate menopause. If I tolerate it well, then an oophorectomy (that’s the hilariously fancy word that means removal of the ovaries) would be the next conversation. But we cannot straight up remove that shit right now because if I don’t do well with the change of life, then the fallback option is the same drub and I need my ovaries in order to take it.
I was explaining this to my friend on the phone this afternoon and it made me laugh — “I need my ovaries in order to take the drug.” And because I started laughing, she started laughing.
“I don’t know why I’m laughing,” she said.
“Me neither. This is so not funny. At all,” I said, laughing harder.
“It’s like that awkward laughing. Like when you’re uncomfortable and shouldn’t laugh, but you do. I do that.”
“Me, too. Except this is funny, you know. It’s so fucked up, I can’t not laugh. Like, I’m going to be 33 and in menopause. And in case the menopause doesn’t work for me, I still need my ovaries as a backup in order for the other drug to work. Fuck it. I don’t care whether or not I tolerate the drug. I’m not doing anything else but this. I need to live.”
My friend has not yet met with her oncologist, but we both suspect her oncologist will recommend the same treatment because it’s the hot new thing for premenopausal women whose cancer is fueled by estrogen. She was most worried about the osteoporosis.
“Really?” I asked when she expressed this concern. “I’m most worried about cancer coming back. Osteoporosis seems manageable to me. There are things I can do and will do to prevent that. But cancer’s a fucking wild card. I’d rather treat a broken hip than cancer.”
But speaking of osteoporosis… I will have a baseline bone density scan in two weeks and there will be routine monitoring of my bone density thereafter. I’m meeting with the nutritionist at the hospital to figure out how to get as much vitamin D and calcium in my diet as possible. Of course I am just as worried about osteoporosis as my friend is, but I am more scared that my cancer is going to return in the next five or ten years and kill me.
I am sad I will be in menopause. It is not what I was expecting, just as I wasn’t expecting cancer. I have given so much already and now I am giving more. And I will continue to give and give and give if that’s what I must do in order to have more time with husband and my baby.
I recently saw a father wearing his baby and walking down the street. He only had one leg. I wondered if he’d lost the other leg to cancer and I thought to myself, “I would give my leg. I would give both legs. I would give anything to be able to keep living.”
My friend texted me later this evening, saying, “I have another knee slapper from my mom. Ready?”
Her: “Think of all the money you’ll save not buying tampons.”
Me: “I fucking love your mom. Remember this one? I look at myself and I want to scream. But what can I do? I must take it.”
Her: “That sounds like my mom. Hilarious. When did she say that? Lmao.”
Me: “At your last chemo sesh. I wrote it down. Right after she told us we may survive breast cancer and then get hit by a car.”
Her: “I’m thinking, What am I going to do with all that tampon money?”
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All photos courtesy of Jessica Sliwerski