Wow! I’ve written ten of these. Something about that feels significant, though it probably isn’t. But it is nice to realize that blog posts accumulate just like days since diagnosis. Time passes and does heal all wounds eventually.
It still feels like I’m wanting the time to pass more quickly, though. The post-treatment fatigue is mostly resolved, but now I’m getting used to Tamoxifen. Tamoxifen is the selective estrogen receptor blocker (SERM) I will take for the next five years. I take it because my cancer had estrogen receptors, meaning that estrogen helped it grow. The idea behind Tamoxifen is that if any cancer is left in my body, then blocking the receptors for estrogen will starve it of an important chemical food it needs and I’m all for starving my cancer.
I tend to do pretty well with drugs and told myself that Tamoxifen would be fine, but the start was rough. I had a hot flash that lasted about three days and then I had stomach upset that lasted for a week. One morning I woke up with the worst headache I’ve ever had. It went away in a few hours, but the pain was intense. I had brain fog, fatigue, forgetfulness.
Now my biggest problem is chills: out of the blue I can feel feverish and shivery, or just unusually cold. The symptom struck me as so strange that I eventually googled it and found out, to my relief, that other women have this problem, too. I read an article on the phenomenon and discovered it is not well understood because no one studies it. Both Memorial Sloan Kettering’s and Mayo Clinic’s websites say to call my physician if I have chills on Tamoxifen, so I’ll do that tomorrow, even though I don’t think the chills are a serious problem.
The reason all this matters to me beyond the obvious physical discomfort is that it makes me feel like I am still a cancer patient. I don’t call myself a “survivor” because I don’t feel that label really fits since I’m still being treated for breast cancer. Still, though, my cancer has been surgically removed and irradiated. I should be able to say that I had cancer. The reality is, I’m in cancer limbo—the purgatory of Tamoxifen. That’s a much better place to be than cancer hell, but it means I’m not done managing the disease and won’t be for another four years and eleven months.
The time will pass, though, and what is important to keep in mind is that so much of life will happen, too. My son will graduate from college this summer and his sisters will, too, three years later. I hope I will have finished a third book by then. My husband will likely be done being Department Chair and have returned to being a Professor of Physics. Our dog will be a lot older (for a dog, that is) and our rhododendrons will have gotten taller. We may even have a new President.
No one wants to be in purgatory, but patients in cancer limbo can still sample the joys of ordinary life. I’ll try to focus on all that, on the life that is happening, even as part of me keeps impatiently waiting for the Tamoxifen time to pass.