Don’t shoot! I am about to deliver a dirty little secret kept by doctors. Why? I don’t think anyone wants to know. I’ve held this post for a year while waiting to get up the nerve. My hand shook while pressing publish.
I had only heard rumblings about it and that was long ago, after Paul McCartney’s wife, Linda, died of breast cancer. I quickly forgot, until last summer.
The bomb was dropped into the conversation while enjoying lunch al fresco with a friend who had just finished radiation treatment for stage I breast cancer. “You know, we’re not supposed to drink alcohol,” she said.
The light in the outdoor courtyard shifted as the splashing water in the fountain transformed into broken glass. My heart sank along with the fork down to my plate. “I remember something about that.”
I was diagnosed with stage I lobular breast cancer in April of 2013 and had a double boobectomy the following month. It was more than a shock after living a super healthy and active lifestyle. Being a health nut, we built a “green” house in 2000, ate organic foods and used organic cleaning supplies for two decades.
After returning home, I woke up my computer and clicked to AmericanCancerSociety.org; the only site my oncologist recommends for information. I searched for “breast cancer and alcohol.” Breast cancer made the list of seven types of cancer related to alcohol use: mouth, throat, voice box, esophagus, liver, colon and rectum, and breast.
I quickly dismissed it as the cause of my cancer since I am a lightweight. Sometimes I would suffer with horrific stomachaches after consuming only two glasses of wine. I have never needed alcohol to embrace my wild side like when I danced on stage in New Orleans while rocking out to Michael Jackson, karaoke-style.
Then I researched a little further and bummed out. Some women can be affected by only a few glasses of alcohol per week. It raises estrogen levels. My stupid cancer munched estrogen like a starved goat in a field of clover.
I raised my glass of wine in a toast at a wedding on August 9th, 2014. After taking a sip, I knew it was my last. When I met with my oncologist six months later, I told him I had stopped drinking alcohol.
“Good for you,” he said. “That’s a very healthy choice. Giving up alcohol after being diagnosed with breast cancer to reduce the risk for reoccurrence hasn’t been tested yet.”
“Why aren’t doctors telling us about the correlation between alcohol and breast cancer?” I asked.
He looked at me with concern and said, “I thought they were.”
Every year gynecologists ask how much alcohol we drink. Mine never said, “Alcohol consumption raises your estrogen level and can cause breast cancer.”
Recently, I had a bone density test since I’m on a new anti-cancer drug, Anastrozole, which blocks all types of estrogen production. The patient form asked how much alcohol I drank. I answered zero and asked the radiologist about it. She said that 2-3 drinks per day can cause osteoporosis, but had never heard it related to breast cancer.
Here’s the thing. Alcohol is a toxin. Although our ancestors depended on it when water wasn’t safe to drink, it kills 2.5 million people worldwide every year. That’s not counting how it’s contributing to cancer deaths.
Many people are still riding the pro-alcohol health wave because it contains antioxidants. So do almost all fruits and vegetables, coffee and tea. The list is humongous.
It is true that moderate use of alcohol can prevent heart disease. I know a pathologist who said she could tell if the patient had been an alcoholic. “Their arteries are like hoses.” Everyone wants to live to celebrate his or her one-hundredth birthday, so do I.
Do I think alcohol caused my breast cancer? Not entirely, but it might have contributed to a perfect storm of factors. The “why me” question has been my biggest struggle with this disease.
As time passed, not drinking alcohol has become my thing. It’s been over a year and I don’t miss it at all. Maybe that will change someday, like when I celebrate my ninetieth birthday, but for now, I’m happy drinking seltzer. My husband, Danny, has a designated driver everywhere we go. Bonus for him!
After telling someone about my choice, I add that I don’t expect anyone else to make the same decision. I lived a granola lifestyle before breast cancer. Avoiding alcohol along with anything that raises estrogen production is the change in my life that keeps me from worrying about cancer recurrence. I have been cancer-free for two years. Yay!
What if you are a worrier? Think about it. Talk to your doctor. Do what’s right for you. I’m just the messenger. I’m unarmed. Don’t shoot.
Did you know about the link between alcohol and cancer? If you did when did you hear about it?