Let me introduce you to my new best friend. It is a small piece of plastic that weighs less than an ounce. In fact it's .03 ounces to be precise. The main feature is a propeller that measures 3 1/2 inches long. It plugs into my cell phone. It is indispensable. We are inseparable.
Our friendship began after I was diagnosed and treated with Stage II breast cancer last year. Right now I am declared NED (No Evidence of Disease). Naturally I want to stay that way. So I take Tamoxifen every day. For those of you knowledgeable about these drugs (and there are far too many of you), you know that Tamoxifen is usually prescribed for women who have not gone through menopause. Women who are postmenopausal generally take Anastrozole (or some variation of that).
Because cancer cells can be fueled by your body’s hormones, both drugs work to either stop the production of estrogen (Anastrozole) or block it (Tamoxifen).
I should be taking Anastrozole, but after nine months of checking off most of the drug’s laundry list of lousy side effects, I threw in the towel. My quality of life was in the toilet. As with many drugs, you have to take the good with the bad. But this was just over-the-top bad.
My oncologist agreed. So I switched to Tamoxifen. Two months later, many of the truly awful side affects disappeared. The only one that really impacts my quality of life are the hot flashes.
Now when I say hot flashes, I don’t mean a general feeling of warmth that lasts a minute or so. I mean an overwhelmingly feeling of sickness while my body flames to a nearly unbearable boiling point. Minutes later my skin explodes in sweat and soaks my clothes. The entire episode lasts for approximately four to five minutes.
It is worth the trade off. I tolerate these episodes, which occur about every thirty minutes, because the drug causing them fights off potential cancer cells from forming. I could end it all now if I stopped taking it.
My choice. I want to give myself the best odds of survival. So I’ve embraced my inner ice queen. I step outside in zero degree weather and celebrate the instant relief. I drive down snow covered roads with the windows wide open (sunroof included).
Last December, I really freaked out some hotel guests when we were staying in Madison for a night. I joined a group of folks at the outdoor fire pit on an icy evening with frigid winds blowing across the lake. I was dressed in only jeans and a t-shirt. They were huddled around the flames in parkas and gloves. I had never felt better.
Of course now that the temperatures are warming up, my cooling down is being affected. I want to flee north. But that’s not going to happen. So my new coping strategies involve fans. Lots of them. I have a fan in the bathroom, bedroom, and kitchen on standby.
The best one though cost me five dollars, and is worth its weight in gold. This tiny fan attaches to my cell phone. For such a small gadget, it puts out a pretty robust breeze.
It’s allowed me stay put instead of rushing out of meetings, band concerts, and theaters. When I feel an episode coming on, I plug it in and hold it practically to my nose. It’s not as effective as stepping outside during a cold winter’s night, but it provides enough relief that I don’t feel the urge to stampede out the door.
Naturally I get some weird looks. Sometimes I feel compelled to explain. Other times I just let it go.
There are some triggers to these “episodes.” Coffee, alcohol, hot baths will all bring one on in a heartbeat. I am now an open book. Stress or heightened feelings trigger an immediate hot flash. So I have no “poker” face…which is okay as I am a lousy card player.
New research now recommends that I take hormone therapy (Tamoxifen or its cousin Anastrozole) for ten years. It was previously thought five years was long enough, but researchers are seeing better results with the ten year time frame.
So I now have nine years to go.
I will probably develop some better coping strategies. Necessity is the mother of all invention. But for now, my answer is literally blowing in the wind.