Choices in Treatment

Choices in Treatment

Some may believe that making a choice as far as cancer treatment is easy. Suffer for a little bit and live, right?

The difficult part is walking down the path that you have chosen and accepting the consequences, whether good or bad. No matter the decision–strictly allopathic medicine, natural remedies, or something in between–the results may be positive or negative, and often not even the most experienced doctor can predict survival.

And when it comes to long term treatment like anti-estrogen therapy, the choice may be a bit more complicated. For a friend, ten years of medication only added 3% to her survival rate, which was more than enough for her to begin the medicine. On the other hand, considering I had inflammatory breast cancer, a cancer that is much more aggressive and difficult to treat, anti-estrogen therapy added 30% to my survival rate.

So if I follow all of the advice from my doctors–all based on world-wide research–my possibility of living a full life is currently at 80%.

What is often not discussed is the pain associated with these medications. I have been on Anastrozole for a few months now, and the body-wide bone pain has begun to increase dramatically. This may be possibly due to the current stress in my life, or simply just the medication itself building up in my body. Needless to say,  the pain some days can be unbearable.

So in the latest visit with my oncologist, he encouraged me to try Letrozole. This might be a better medication for me in the long run, but it will put me back to square one as far as pain. My body will have to become used to the new medicine, which means more pain in the short term. And this could all turn out to be a fool’s errand, becoming an even worse experience and leading me back to Anastrozole.

Honestly, it would be easier to quit the medication totally.

Reading The Last Arrow by Erwin McManus, I found a passage that made me reconsider that possibility:

“Sometimes the only way to set people free from the past is to create a different future that gives those all around you the inspiration and hope to set their own past on fire.”

Or as a friend told me after my most recent diagnosis, “Perhaps you were not meant to learn something from your suffering. Maybe you were meant to teach others how to live through it.”

So pain will be my companion for awhile. Some days I will break from the exhaustion, but I will not quit. And perhaps my continually rising up after defeat, even in the midst of pain, will give others hope.

 

The First Rule of Cancer Club

first-rule-of-cancer-clubSometimes it’s best to just keep things within “Cancer Club,” those of us who have been there and understand the ups and downs of the illness. Cancer pushes the absurdity of living to the extreme, whether in the physical or social or emotional realm. And often even the most loving friends and family members will not get it.

I suppose it would be similar to the first rule of Fight Club: There’s no use talking about certain issues related to cancer with those who have never fought it.

Recently I was told by a dear friend that I should not worry about clothes and such, that those things are simply vanity. Honestly, I understand the perspective that regaining health should be more important than appearance. I get it. However, “living flat” in a society focused on buxom women is difficult.

When I had my bilateral mastectomy–surgery without reconstruction–I realized that breasts were everywhere. They are part of our society’s views on sexuality, womanhood, and self image. Women’s clothes and lingerie and fashion are built around them.

Basically, if you’re a woman, then you have breasts, and you learned early on in life that they are important.

And once they’re gone?

Breast cancer has forced me to come to terms with what makes me a woman. Also, on the more practical side, the surgery has compelled me to look at my clothing differently as I could no longer wear much of what was hanging in my closet. Suddenly being feminine had become a huge and seemingly impossible thing in my life.

And going out of the house among regular people who aren’t part of Cancer Club–people who only see the woman with the hair that’s just growing back after chemo and the flat chest–can be anxiety producing for me. Really, it can be hard to even imagine that I will ever feel comfortable–much less womanly–again. Because the only people who truly understand the issues of womanhood and breast cancer are either part of Cancer Club or work at your local Cancer Center.

So being called vain just because I worry about finding clothes that fit me now that I am flat? I wanted to scream. (I seem to find myself wanting to do that a lot lately, actually.)

Normal, healthy women, no matter their cup size, will most likely never be able to get it. And honestly, I pray that they will never have to hear the words, “You have cancer,” and then face an enormous surgery like a bilateral mastectomy.

Yes, regaining health and surviving cancer should be our focus. But for a woman with breast cancer, feeling feminine is also important. And regaining that feeling after breast cancer surgery and treatment is a big, big thing.


Cancer survivors want to feel beautiful and sexy. Check out the video of AnaOno’s fashion show in New York, which featured lingerie made for women living with breast cancer. Lovely and strong women–seven of whom are living with metastatic breast cancer–finally got their chance on the catwalk. Thank you, AnaOno, for creating lingerie just for us.