Kate Garza is back with a new blog post for our fall conference blogging series, It’s About You. The yoga instructor, writer, wife and mother of three discusses the “breast cancer journey” concept, while discussing her own and her anticipation of Breast Cancer Today: Individual Treatments, Shared Experiences.
Everyone calls it a journey – the breast cancer journey. And if I weren’t so sick of that term, I would use it, too. It is descriptive to a point, and it allows other people to remember that you are not living the life you had in mind anymore. But this so-called “journey” is really more the life equivalent of being kidnapped, thrown into the trunk of a car and driven in the dark to an unknown location. That’s the image that flares in my mind anyway, when I hear “journey with breast cancer,” a junket with only sketchy clues about where you may end up.
I was diagnosed with stage II invasive breast cancer at age 53, almost 2 years ago now, when my kids were 15, 16 and 17 years old. Life would have been complex enough with three kids moving up and out, but throw breast cancer on top of that project and I had more moving parts than I could track with sophisticated software.
I had a fairly garden variety diagnosis of estrogen receptor-positive/HER2-negative breast cancer. I followed the standard treatment with lumpectomy, 8 cycles of chemo and 30 doses of radiation therapy. It was the most difficult health crisis I had run across in my life and treatment left me exhausted and brain-fried, but grateful that I traversed without complication. I finished a week before number one graduated from high school. After a month off for R&R, I began taking an aromatase inhibitor (AI), letrozole.
After 3 months of difficult joint pain side effects, I switched to anastrozole. Again, the difficulties with pain and mobility arrived, but I stayed with the second medicine for 6 months until, completely frustrated and full of pain with every movement, I gave up. I was done. I couldn’t see the point of prolonging a life that felt this bad. Did I mention that I am a yoga instructor? I couldn’t move. Not even enough to practice the yoga that might help me feel better. And working, in my chosen profession, was out of the question. So by the time my second child graduated this past June, I was 2 months into my medication vacation and starting to feel much better. I could move again. Pain with walking and the sleepless nights were beginning to fade away.
But that didn’t sit well with the medical team. My plan for hyper nutrition and clean living was shot down like clay skeet over an open field. I was advised by all in white coats with my family chiming in, that I should give tamoxifen a try. Less joint pain-related side effects, they said. Almost as effective as the AIs. And so I received a prescription which, any day now, I really will go over to the pharmacy and pick up.
Why do I have so much difficulty with side effects? Nobody knows. That’s a part of the ride that really plays out in the dark. Since we’re all different, have distinct body types, metabolism, nervous systems, other health issues, it is impossible to predict how one will fair with a prescribed treatment.
It would be one thing if it were time limited, like active treatment. I can stand anything for 6 or 9 months. But when I’m looking at 5 years of “side effects” and the damage, in my case, to fascia and connective tissue, that’s a difficult road to take.
So I’m feeling my way, trying to avoid both pain and recurrence. I’m hopeful but wary. And I’m interested to learn more and find options that will work for me.
That’s why I’m looking forward to LBBC’s fall conference, Breast Cancer Today: Individual Treatments, Shared Experiences, particularly the sessions dealing with hormone-sensitive disease and related treatments. I want to find out if there are any updates in research and medications. And perhaps, by the time my third child graduates next spring, I’ll still be living both pain- and cancer-free with some peace of mind about avoiding recurrence.
I must head to the pharmacy now and try that tamoxifen. It’s the next leg of my journey.
I’ll send postcards….. from wherever.
Get the unique medical information you seek for specific types of breast cancer, and connect with others who share the experience of coping with the disease. Register now for our annual fall conference.