When scheduling my six-month cancer checkup, I made the mistake of booking a flight to California right afterward. Talk about anxiety. Nothing like racing against the ticking clock before a blood pressure test. These appointments are stressful enough! I planned to talk to my oncologist about the exact date when I could stop taking the cancer drug, Anastrozole when I hit my five-year finish line. Six more months…
I can see the light fantastic at the end of a long five-year road.
As I dressed in a fun traveling outfit, I got the dog ready for the kennel with my fingers crossed. Little did I know how frantic the day would become.
A little backstory:
Since my double boobectomies in May of 2013, I’ve endured many checkups; nine in fact. Afterward, I would freak out when the phone rang, imagining bad results. The check-up itself is always more than pleasant. I’ve been fortunate to have an absolutely wonderful oncologist who gets my sense of humor. That’s hard to find.
Why no chemo or radiation?
Because my doctors caught my breast cancer when I was stage 1 and I got rid of both boobs, my “numbers” came in really low, which is good. It didn’t make sense to have chemo or radiation for an increased result of 3% less chance of recurrence.
A daily dose of Tamoxifen and then Anastrozole became my routine. I would take them for five years. They both dissolved estrogen, which is what my cancer ate. Everyone has estrogen in their bodies. Men have estrogen. Post-menopausal women have estrogen through their adrenal glands and fatty tissues. I don’t have any!
In some ways, these drugs have been worse than the double boobectomies. At least my boobs healed up and I could move on with my life. Because of the drug, I wake up every day with anxiety. Not the freakout kind, but that icky feeling that I’ve done something wrong even though I haven’t. It reminds me of PMS. Ugh.
They also have other “delightful” side effects:
Tamoxifen raises the risk of blood clots and uterine cancer. When I had knee surgery, I had to give myself blood thinner stomach shots. Without the ability to clot, my knee swelled up and didn’t heal. I am still working hard to build strength in my left leg after muscle atrophy. It’s getting a little stronger.
Anastrozole dissolves bone, another reason to hit the gym and lift weights. I’ve been lucky to not have the joint and muscle aches.
Both drugs drained my energy level and enthusiasm. Not cool for a Wild Rider.
When I was between drugs, I didn’t take anything for two weeks. I woke up feeling super happy and energized. I was my old self! I prayed Anastrozole wouldn’t sucker punch me. It did.
Why did I stay on the drugs?
I would do anything to increase my chances of being cancer-free after five years. I never want to go through it again.
As you can imagine, I’ve been counting down the months until August when I can stop taking Anastrozole. With only two appointments to go, I wanted to know the exact date I could throw out my pills.
I scheduled my appointment February 8th, on the dot of six months.
Then I piled on the anxiety with a super tight schedule!
The morning of my appointment, I finished packing for my vacation and then drove the dog to the kennel. I was running a little behind but figured I’d have plenty of time to make my flight after my appointment. I was super organized so I tried to stay calm. I could do this!
I arrived at the kennel with my Bichon, Roxy, with twenty minutes to spare before my checkup. It was a little tighter than I thought, but no one was in line. Easy peasy!
The cute receptionist with curly brown hair greeted me and I handed her my vet’s note about Roxy’s updated kennel cough shot vaccination.
Her smile faded as she handed it back. “We don’t accept handwritten notes.”
Frowning, I took a look at the vets stationary with their letterhead and logo. “How do you take them?”
“With a printout of the shots. Let me ask my manager.”
She left the pet intake room for a couple of minutes while I watched the clock. The minutes ticked away. Oh, God, I didn’t want to miss my cancer checkup. My palms broke out in a sweat as I clung to the strap of my purse.
She returned with a look of concern on her face. “Sorry, but we can’t accept this.”
I looked at the clock. 9:03. My appointment was at 9:15. If I was late, they’d have to work me in. Worse, I may have to reschedule. That might mean being on that horrible pill longer than the six months!
“Call my vet!”
She dialed and got the answering service, then hung up and shrugged.
For God’s sake woman!
“Ask the after-hours receptionist for his cell number!” He’s a country doctor who works from 6:00 until 9:00 AM. If I’d been there at 8:45 like I’d planned, he would still be in his office. I clenched my jaw.
She dialed again and walked into the other room.
My heart pounded and I soaked my cute outfit for California. What if I missed my flight?
A jumble of thoughts raced through my head.
My appointment was only a couple miles away. I could make it, but what if the kennel didn’t accept the note? I would have to cancel my doctor’s appointment. Then I would take Roxy home and still try to make my flight. First, I’d have to get a hold of my daughter to see if she could pick up Roxy after work to take care of her for the weekend.
The young woman came back into the room with a big smile on her face. “You’re all set!”
My body collapsed with relief. “Thank you so much!” I said and sprinted out the door.
I raced to my car and tried to drive the speed limit to my appointment. I didn’t want to get a ticket. As soon as I sat down in the waiting room, my name was called.
After giving a couple of quarts of blood, the nurse took my blood pressure.
“I bet it’s through the roof,” I said.
“It’s 129 over 86,” she said with a smile.
I laughed. “I’m usually under 100 over 76.”
The doctor came in and did his routine exam. While examining my left fake boob, he took a little more time.
My heart began to pound with alarm. “Is everything okay?” Dear, God. I didn’t want any bad news after four and a half years!
“Yes, I’m just being thorough.” He smiled and sat down at his computer to check some of my blood test results.
“How are my results?” I wondered when my heart would stop hammering in my chest.
“Very good. Well within the normal range.”
I let out a held breath. “How long do I have to stay on the Anastrozole. I hate that drug. It flatlines my personality.”
He peered at the computer and said, “Looks like I prescribed it on June 6th in 2013.”
I remembered the old bottle I found at home. It said I filled it in July. “I don’t think I started taking it then.”
“You can stop taking it in June. In fact, take your last pill on May 31st.”
My heart soared! The thought of not having to take it until August thrilled me. But what about my last six-month appointment?
“When should I come in again?”
“A year from now. You’re doing really well!”
I hopped off the table and gave him big hug not thinking about how the gown opens in the front. “Thank you,” I said as tears ran down my cheeks.
Knowing I’ll still have cancer checks once a year for another five was a huge relief. If anything goes south, he’ll catch it. Once I’m off Anastrozole, which annihilates estrogen, I’ll be even more anti-soy, (it raises estrogen levels) and will continue not to drink alcohol. These two lifestyle changes keep me from worrying about cancer recurrence.
Life is for living large not wasted on worrying!
After five years, Stage 1 breast cancer patients have almost a 100% survival rate. That’s a statistic I can get behind!!! I teared up just now while reviewing that research.
I made my flight to California and celebrated. Ninety more days!
Me, Leksy, my son, Kelly, and their roommate, Nick.
If you’re on Tamoxifen or Anastrozole and you feel blue, meditation helps a ton! It really keeps the low-grade depression in check. Remembering that it’s caused by the drug helps too. It’s been proven to stop cancer recurrence so it was worth the side-effects. Some patients don’t get the “feels,’ the aches, or the pains .
For more of my breast cancer journey in Boob Reports, click here.
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