It’s the day before my third CMF chemotherapy treatment and in light of just going through my first Breast Cancer Awareness month as a person undergoing treatment for breast cancer, I thought I would take a few moments to reflect on a few things that are on my cancer plate right now:
1. Hot flashes and fatigue
2. The mental battle
3. Hair loss status
Hot Flashes and Fatigue:
Right before my first chemo treatment, I received a shot of medication that will shut down my ovaries and thus, hopefully save them from the onslaught of toxins that could destroy them and put me into permanent menopause. I’m now about to go into my third chemo treatment (3/6) and I have been experiencing frequent hot flashes for about a month. I would describe these hot flashes as quick bursts of intense sweating and feeling “hot” particularly on my face and upper body. Then they go away after a few minutes. Sometimes they occur in waves, where for a period of time (around an hour or so) it will seem as if my body has just lost its ability to regulate its temperature. I’ll become super hot, then cold, then super hot again, then cold. It’s extremely annoying, but I would not describe it as debilitating. Though I think my oncologist is ABSOLUTELY AMAZING in that he appears to actually care about me (something that I’ve found is hard to find among competent physicians) I do think that there is a gap in counseling young women on the side effects they will feel as they go into treatment and what they should expect. I realize that my oncologist is focused on eradicating the cancer and saving my life and that’s fine, but having gone through egg-freezing, I think that young breast cancer patients could benefit from having a fertility doctor as part of their “team” as they go through treatment, because right now, I’m feeling like I lack a physician with that particular expertise. So, I’ve made a “follow-up” appointment with my fertility doctor and am hoping to bring her “into the fold” so to speak, regarding my ongoing cancer treatment and ovarian shut down. I think she will be a valuable asset. J
Fatigue is another symptom that I’ve been experiencing which is something that is completely new to me. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve certainly felt fatigue before, but this type of fatigue is quite new to me. A few days after chemo, I just am very tired and simple things, like going to a dinner party, or having lunch out with a friend, can zap my energy for days afterward. Again, I wouldn’t characterize this fatigue as debilitating in any way. In other words, it’s not a side-effect that would cause me to stop my treatments, but it is definitely something to which I’ve had to adapt.
The Mental Battle:
Based on my experience, I think that receiving cancer treatment is more of a mental battle than a physical one (though it certainly is a physical battle too). My body has been and continues to be assaulted by drugs, surgery, side effects, etc. and that’s just the way it is. The effects of this assault on the mind are I think what ultimately matters. For me, I am most nervous about the side-effects that I may experience for years after treatment or permanently. I also have a hard time dealing with the uncertainty. It’s hard to turn down treatments that may ultimately save your life, but at the same time, it’s frustrating to not know for sure if the treatment is absolutely necessary and then having to weigh the pros and cons of dealing with serious side-effects without having complete information. I’ve come to learn that uncertainty will now be something that is ever present in my life and I will have to adapt to it.
That has sort of become my mental mantra throughout this whole experience: I am determined to adapt to whatever cancer treatment throws at me and I will do what is necessary to preserve my sense of normalcy. Also, note that I said cancer treatment rather than just cancer. Yes, the cancer is the catalyst to getting treatment, but it’s the treatments themselves that are to me, barbaric,and the cause of much subsequent angst. I realize that "barbaric" could be considered a hyperbolic term by some so I will define that further: Any disease where amputating parts of the body and infusing toxic medication that causes hair loss and infertility is the norm, I consider barbaric treatment. Though breast cancer treatment has come a long way, including the advent of more sophisticated surgical techniques like nipple-sparing mastectomy, cancer treatment needs to progress at a faster rate. There are several encouraging developments on the horizon—including proton therapy, cyroablation and genomic tests.
Hair Loss Status:
I’m two treatments down and I have not yet lost my hair! I get freaked out because I feel like I am losing more hair than I usually do, but I have not noticed bald spots or super noticeable thinning as of yet. That is definitely something to be happy about!