October is breast cancer awareness month, so I wanted to do an update on my ongoing treatment 2 and a half years after my diagnosis. Firstly, I can’t say it enough but please, please, please CHECK YOUR BREASTS! Know what’s normal for you and if you have any doubts atall, no matter how slight or “silly” you think it is – GET IT CHECKED. When it comes to cancer it is ALWAYS better to err on the side of caution and get a medical opinion on anything you are unsure of. Chances are it is nothing but don’t leave it to chance. Early detection can be the difference between life or death, a scar or no boobs, a treatment plan to prevent the return or your cancer or a treatment plan to try and prolong your life with incurable cancer.
Please do not be fooled into thinking you’re too young, too healthy or fit. I had just turned 42 when I was diagnosed, I was fit, I ate healthily, I breast fed both my boys for 7 months each (which is supposed to reduce your risk), there was no history of breast cancer in our family. If I have learned anything since my diagnosis it’s that this disease does not discriminate, yes it is more common in women over 50 but men can also get it and I have met so many amazing YOUNG (in their 20’s and 30’s), FIT, HEALTHY women who found themselves battling breast cancer. So please do not use the excuse that you “don’t fall into the category” for someone with breast cancer, there is no category so check yourself regularly and if you find anything unusual – get it checked straight away.
For guidelines on how to check yourself check out the Irish Cancer Society page on How to check your breasts
I’ve said it many times, but I was one of the lucky ones, I found my lump early and have been cancer free since my lumpectomy surgery in May 2018. My cancer was a grade 3 (fast growing) tumour but because I caught it early at stage 1 my prognosis was really good from the outset.
This time two years ago I was preparing for my last chemotherapy session and facing into a month of radiotherapy. My breast cancer was ER+ (Oestrogen Receptor positive) which meant that the hormone oestrogen had helped it grow so my ongoing treatment plan was to remain on hormone treatment for 5 years once my chemo and radiotherapy were finished. The purpose of the hormone treatment is to reduce the risk of my cancer returning.
I feel like I’ve been in and out of hospital as much recently as when I was at the height of my treatment. Thankfully, this has all just been for routine check-ups. At the moment my annual check ups are:
An annual mammogram – just to make sure all is ok – thankfully I heard nothing back from my most recent mammogram, so all is good!
Bone density (DEXA) scan – I had this last week – A lack of oestrogen over a long period increases the risk of osteoporosis so this scan checks how my bones are doing.
An annual pelvic scan – I just had this this week – it’s an external and sometimes internal ultrasound (mine have always included an internal exam but it’s painless). Again this is just another pre-cautionary check because the hormone treatment can increase your risk of cancer of the womb (which is what mum had) so this is just to check the ovaries and womb and ensure all looks ok.
My hormone treatment up until recently has been a daily tablet called Tamoxifen, however recent blood tests showed that my oestrogen levels were still too high so I was put on a more intensive hormone treatment plan which involved a monthly injection (hormone implant) called Zoladex.
Zoladex is a hormone therapy drug that works by stopping your ovaries from making oestrogen in prememopausal women. It changes the levels of hormones released in the brain that control how your ovaries work. The effects of these drugs are usually reversible once the drug is stopped (depending on your age).
The needle is a big ass needle but getting the implant is not as bad as it looks (and I hate needles!). The injection is given into the stomach and it’s the one time I’m grateful for that extra bit of fat my stomach has gained lately!😏 Adrian did my post chemo injections for me but I’m not sure I’d trust him with this one, although some do self administer it to avoid the hassle and cost of monthly visits to the doctor (the injection costs about €124 on the drug payment scheme so add a doctors appointment each month on top of that and it could add up nicely). I’ve been told that I might be able to get free appointments with South Doc so I’m looking into that.
Once my oestrogen levels had lowered enough (they’re practically non existent at the moment) I was changed from Tamoxifen onto a new drug called Anastrozole. The tamoxifen had worked by blocking the receptors on the cancer cells so that the oestrogen cannot attach to the cells, whereas the Anastrozole (an aromatase inhibitor) works by blocking the production of oestrogen in the body fat, (stopping the enzyme aromatase from changing the hormone androgen into oestrogen). These drugs are used for women after menopause, who no longer produce oestrogen in their ovaries (which is what the Zoladex injection has done for me)
The great news is that the injection worked and did what it was supposed to. I had thought that once it worked I’d change my medication from Tamoxifen to Anastrozole (which is supposed to be more effective in preventing the return of my cancer) and that would be it. What I didn’t realise is that the new drug (Anastrozole) will only work if I continue to get the monthly Zoladex injection because it is the Zoladex which put me into and is keeping me in menopause. So, it turns out my new treatment plan for the next 4 years or so is a daily tablet and a monthly injection. A small price to pay I guess!
The good news is I didn’t get another migraine after the 1st month on the injection and the few days of headaches each month seem to have eased aswell. I’m only 2 weeks in on the new tablets so it’s a bit early to notice the side effects yet, hot flushes, muscle or joint pain and tiredness are just a few of a list of common side affects but I’ve learned by now to just take it as it comes and see what happens and hopefully I’ll get away with mild symptoms.
Besides all that life is going well since our move to Cork. The boys have settled well into school and are loving making new friends. We are really happy in our temporary home and are loving checking out the gorgeous sights around us.
We’re still waiting for our house to be sold but fingers crossed that will be done and dusted in less than 2 weeks (eeekkk!!) and I start a new job next week (double eeeekkkk!!!)
It’s been a bit of a bumpy start to our new life and I think it’s fair to say Covid and lockdown have put a few spanners in our plans but we’re getting there and grateful for all we have.
I’ve really learned over the last couple of years that life is not about waiting for everything to be perfect because it rarely is, it’s more about savouring and appreciating all the perfect little moments within all the imperfectness. No matter how bad things are, if you look for them, there are always moments to enjoy and be grateful for.
“If you look at what you have in life, you’ll always have more. If you look at what you don’t have in life, you’ll never have enough” (Oprah Winfrey)
“Enjoy the little things in life, because one day you will look back, and realize they were the big things”
And finally…….. Don’t forget to CHECK YOURSELF!!!! 😘