His response? A very long deep breath.
Don’t get me wrong. I am living A LIFE, but there are times when I imagine having my old life — the one before cancer. Is it possible to ever get that back? Personally, I’ve never heard of it happening. Have you? Maybe to some extent some people go back to their old selves. Maybe people with “early stages” of awareness — the ones who do not want to know too much and only deal with the problem at hand.
I am too aware now.
I am a cancer patient. It took me a while to accept that. For me, it is unavoidable to think about it though. There’re a lot of reminders— the scar on my breast, my fear of letting my hair grow past my chin, the daily Tamoxifen pill I need to take, my regular doctors appts., to mention a few. I had been imagining that maybe, if I eliminated some of those things that remind me of being a cancer patient, I could regain some level of denial. Maybe I would be able to finally create an identity — I don’t know WHO I am these days — and feel a sense of belonging. It felt good to imagine being closer to my old self again.
Except, when I was actually confronted with an opportunity to make such a change, I reconsidered.
Last week, I was given a chance to eliminate one of those things that remind me of being a patient. I’ve been complaining about Tamoxifen side effects a lot lately. The most recent symptoms I’ve been experiencing are hip pains. My mind always goes to the dark place, so I decided to contact my oncologist. It took me over three weeks to call because I wanted to hold on to denial as long as possible. But I knew it was important to let her know about my symptoms.
I spoke to the nurse. After a couple of hours, the nurse called back to let me know my onco isn’t worried about the hip pains. However, she would like me to try to stop taking the Tamoxifen for one week to see if my hip pains are related.
Image that. An opportunity for me to pretend I have a simple life for one week.
Just the night before I was fantasizing about the possibility of stopping it. And yet, even though the test would only be for one week, the idea made me panic. “I am not ready to stop Tamoxifen.” I said to the nurse. It did not matter that my oncologist doesn’t think it’s risky, as she has done this with other patients who experience severe side effects from this medication. I told the nurse I would have to think about her recommendation.
So, I am still taking my Tamoxifen. How does one differentiate between fear and instincts? I tend to follow my instincts but I don’t want to become a victim of fear.
The reaction I had about my oncologist’s recommendation gave me a lot to think about. I’ve been having conversations with doctors about stopping treatment to give myself one chance to build a family. I am contemplating the idea of carrying my child next year. If I do, I will need to stop Tamoxifen for at least a year. Yes, I know some of you must think it’s a crazy idea considering the risks, but it is still possible to have a safe pregnancy. There’s also no proof that pregnancy is linked to cancer reoccurrences. It’s reasonable for you to think I am crazy, but it’s also reasonable to want to have more quality of life.
But it turns out that I’m still scared to try one week without my pill. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that I am still under 5 years. The recommended time on the pill is 5 to 10 years.
Do I really want to leave everything aside to seek the life I had before my diagnosis? Cancer happened. The damage has been done. This has created a fear in me that doesn’t allow me to walk away from treatments so easily. I am afraid I can’t turn off the fear switch. But many women do stop treatments to build families. Why can’t I be one of those women?
I also think to myself, am I so naïve to think I can pull this off? Could it be possible I am still in complete denial about my health situation to even consider stopping treatments? Haven’t I been exposed to enough? I guess I am still holding on to hope in some way, although my relationship with hope is still complicated.
There’s a lot of effort involved with survivorship and more often than not I feel trapped between two worlds. Decision making becomes more challenging. Sacrifices are made. We give up quality of life in order to hold on to existence.
I am not sure how I will do it, but my desire to have a simpler life still lives.
If you are on Tamoxifen, have you experienced hip pains?
Have you taken a break from tamoxifen (or fully stopped taking it) due to side effects?