Tuesday, November 22, 2016
Starting Breast Cancer Hormonal Therapy – Lupron: Month 1
fter being diagnosed with breast cancer this second time around, my doctors decided to up the ante to make sure that it wouldn’t come back again. I’d already had a lumpectomy in 2013, underwent radiation, and then started on a five-year-long plan of Tamoxifen pills. Because my cancer cells were estrogen receptor positive and fed off the estrogen hormone to grow, the pills were supposed to block that hormone from reaching the cancer cells and thus significantly lower my chances of recurrence. But turns out it wasn’t enough. I’m not even four years in and I’m battling this monster again.
Now not only did we remove cancer cells with a second lumpectomy, hopefully clearing out the area entirely with a bilateral mastectomy scheduled for December 2nd, possibly zapping the spot with a second round of radiation, and continuing a daily intake of Tamoxifen (for the time being), but I’ve also started monthly hormonal therapy injections of Lupron. The Tamoxifen might keep estrogen hormone from reaching the cancer cells’ receptors, but the Lupron will completely lower the amount of estrogen I have running through my body. In essence, I will be going into a fake menopause for the next year in the hopes that any traces of cancer still left in my body will be starved to death. Should be a fun ride.
As with most things prescribed to fix one medical issue, this one can mess you up in other ways. For example, a rare side effect of Tamoxifen is uterine or endometrial cancer. Meanwhile, Lupron can lead to a thinning of the bones and worsen depression, two side effects I’m highly wary about because of my petite frame and mental health history. Other common side effects include hot flashes, vaginal dryness, mood changes, decreased libido, and forgetfulness. And because this drug is typically prescribed to manage endometriosis, a disorder in which tissue that normally lines the uterus is found outside it, a woman’s period will be spotty or stop entirely for the duration of the treatment. Anyone’s who experienced menopause will probably tell you that it highly sucks and that’s basically what I’m expecting out of this journey. When I started on the Tamoxifen, the most common and hardest side effect to deal with was the hot flashes and it took at least two years before my body temperature was able to regain some stability.
The Lupron injection itself wasn’t totally painful, but I was incredibly anxious leading up to it because I hate needles. I went into it thinking it would be a shot on my arm, but they went with my tush instead. This was fine because I think the needle might have poked right out the other end of my tiny arms; I actually have some fat stored in my ass. Some soreness followed for the next couple of days, but Advil helped me handle that.
While my mood has been bouncing around the past month, it’s hard to tell what’s caused by the hormonal change and was is just natural considering this stressful situation.
I kept waiting for the hot flashes and mood swings to immediately take over, but nothing was really noticeable for the first two weeks. By the end of the third week though, I started to get hints of a hot flash when laying in bed. I like to sleep completely covered from head to toe and I’m sure that paired with the heat going in the apartment didn’t help. The first full-fledged hot flash happened towards end of week four. Alex and I were cuddling in bed under the covers. We were both fully clothed and I had on a sweater because his apartment is usually chilly. After a few minutes of nuzzling, I felt my body temperature start to shoot up and when I couldn’t handle it anymore, I sat up, threw the covers off of us, zipped my sweater off, flung the T-shirt up over my head, and sat there wiping my forehead waiting for my body to cool down. It just sneaks up on you so quickly.
“Wait, I have something for you,” Alex said from behind me. I thought he’d go grab me a cup of cold water, but instead I felt his icy hands up against my back.
“Yes,” I moaned before exposing the back of my neck to him so that he could warm his hands on my skin. I usually shriek in pain whenever cold hits me, but this time? It was such a relief.
Damn hot flashes, I thought. And so it begins.