The holidays are here. I love this time of year. It always goes so fast.
I spent the Thanksgiving weekend not feeling very thankful. Instead, I spent much of my time wallowing in self-pity. As I told you in my last email, I signed up for a half-ironman triathlon.
It’s something I have thought about for a while and now is the time. However, my fitness appears to be losing ground despite working out with the same routine and frequency that produced good results in the past.
I am frustrated.
So I spent the weekend that included our national day of giving thanks feeling sorry for myself that I cannot perform athletically as well as I have in the past. I know- ridiculous.
I blame the anti-hormone medication I have to take. Maybe it’s a side effect of the medication, or more likely it’s the desired medication effect which is a complete and total lack of estrogen.
The medication prevents my body from making any estrogen which is a good thing when it comes to preventing cancer recurrence but may not be such a good thing when it comes to general aging and athletic performance in particular.
I started thinking maybe the effects of this medicine are too much for me. Perhaps I should go back to taking tamoxifen.
I know I should take some anti-hormone medicine. I want to prevent a recurrence. I want to prevent metastatic disease. I don’t want to die from this disease.
One of the main reasons hormone-sensitive cancers are less deadly is because anti-hormone medication exists to treat them.
Like the stuff, I am taking.
I had resolved to call my oncologist to stop it when I figured I might as well consult Dr. Google. I looked up the data on aromatase inhibitors (AI), the class of medicine I am taking. I read some studies. The benefits are pretty dramatic. Women taking AIs had 30% fewer recurrences compared with women on tamoxifen and breast cancer mortality was reduced by 15%, according to this meta-analysis published in the Lancet.
That’s a lot.
I then searched for potential side effects which led me to a forum where other women described their experience. Many women said they just couldn’t take an AI because of debilitating side effects, primarily muscle aches and fatigue, although they were often tortured by the decision to stop.
I haven’t had any of those symptoms. I realized I have it so easy. I don’t have any significant side effects. I do have hot flashes/night sweats, but they’re tolerable, and that’s about it.
Of course, I’m fatigued at times (who isn’t), but it seems expected based on the situation not due to medication side effects.
I then realized how lucky I am to be able to take this medication. It helps me prevent recurrence, metastasis and ultimately live longer. It may be accelerating some aspects of aging, like decreasing my VO2 Max, but I should be able to minimize that by training.
How lucky am I that I can even consider training for a long distance triathlon. I can swim, bike and run — all things I enjoy doing.
I am thankful I do not have to make that agonizing decision to continue or stop taking a medicine that severely affects my quality of life but may also prolong said life.
Quality of life is essential and should be included when making healthcare decisions. I often think the impact on quality of life is usually not considered enough.
My quality of life is at most minimally affected by this medicine.
For a while, I tried to convince myself that it was significant, but after reading the stories of women who are genuinely impacted, I am so not. So instead of feeling sorry for myself and decidedly unthankful, I am now fully appreciative of my good fortune oh so grateful.
Winston Churchill said, “When tragedy strikes, we never think that it might be saving us from something worse.”
Of course, I wish I didn’t have to go on my breast cancer journey. Recently, I wanted to have a healthy breast instead of an implant. I wanted my shoulder and armpit to feel normal instead scarred, tight and weak from surgery and radiation. But then I remind myself, it saved me from something worse- a life of misery at a job I hated.
I wish I didn’t have to go through my cervical cancer experience too. But that experience is where learned I need to be brave. I thought I learned everything there was to know about living well, appreciating what I have and making the most of every day from my breast cancer experience.
Now I know that I was retreating to my couch of comfort and to truly live well I need to include purpose in my life. Often that requires stepping out of my comfort zone and being brave.
And now as the holiday season is upon us and we have just spent at least a day giving thanks for the things we have, I’m thinking of these tragedies that I am thankful for. Maybe because as I believe they saved me from something worse. Or maybe because as in this piece, I want not just to accept but embrace the crappy stuff life throws at you.
Here is more on the importance of purpose and how it relates to increased energy. As I discovered, one of the things that improve not only energy but also happiness is having meaning or purpose in your life and work.
I recently saw a facebook post from a woman newly diagnosed with breast cancer lamenting the health effects of alcohol. She agonized over whether to continue her nightly glass of wine which brings her great pleasure. Unfortunately, the data is clear- alcohol does increase your risk of breast cancer although data has been mixed as to whether it increases your risk of breast cancer recurrence. Cancer took so many other things she wanted to keep this enjoyable habit but was troubled by the potential risk. It’s a tough choice. Here is what I wrote about this difficult choice and why even with the potential risks I continue to drink some alcohol.
What tragedies are you thankful for?