Thursday, February 02, 2006
Adjuvent Therapy and Physical Therapy, but no Psycho Therapy
Why is it that the prospect of a couple of lab tests and a visit with a very nice and supportive doctor can make me want to run and hide? For some reason being roughly one year away from treatment seemed like a perfect opportunity for hidden cells to emerge and grow. Perhaps a seed of doubt had been planted in the back of my mind at the previous appointment when my tumor markers were slightly elevated, even though they were still within the normal range. Perhaps it is just normal at this point in the process to be apprehensive about lab results. Apprehensive? Who am I kidding? I had to reschedule my appointment because I chose to avoid the lab. For some reason it spooked me this time, but the scolding I received from the doctor's office pushed me into the lab. Unfortunately, or in this case fortunately, guilt will always work with me.

All that worry was for naught. My most recent three-month check-up brought good news. Everything is stable and there remains no sign of cancer. A couple of new issues emerged. First of all, my hormones rebounded and I am not postmenopausal. This is a good sign for me, except it means in starting my adjuvant therapy, the drug of choice is tamoxifen.

Tamoxifen has been proven to reduce the chance of recurrence in women with estrogen sensitive breast cancer. This medication is recommended for five years (no benefit has been shown in women who have taken the drug for longer periods). The side effects are fabulous, often mimicking menopausal symptoms (how lucky am I that I will likely experience menopause three times in my life?), as well as headaches, insomnia, and a whole host of issues involving the lady parts. In addition, there is a slightly increased risk of blood clots and uterine cancer. On the bright side, it may reduce my cholesterol and provide general cardio benefits. I am experimenting with taking it at night right now, hoping that most of the side effects will pass while I (don’t) sleep. So far, we are getting along okay. Or perhaps I can’t really remember, since I am so drowsy from lack of sleep.

I am also experiencing mild lymphedema in my arm so I will also be off to physical therapy and then fitted for a compression sleeve to be used when flying. It doesn’t seem too bad at this point, but since I will need to fly to meetings in northern California on a regular basis, we decided to get the sleeve and use it as a preventative measure. Better to be safe than sorry, right? I hate the image of landing in Sacramento and driving to the State Capitol with my arm bulging through my blouse or jacket akin to the Incredible Hulk. Oh wait, it won’t turn green too, will it? Yikes!

I realize with these issues I really don’t have anything to complain about. While sitting in the waiting room, I overheard conversations between patients anticipating chemo appointments. One gentleman, a triathlete, was talking about his treatment causing the skin on his feet and hands to dry and crack so badly that all he can do is use superglue to seal the cracks. His fingers are so numb he can no longer use them. His pain seemed tremendous. I watched a young woman similar to my age come into the office for what appeared to be the first time. As she heard the same conversation, she visibly appeared to shrink back further and further into the corner. I wanted to reach out and hug her. I wanted to tell her that she would get through it and she didn't need to be so afraid. But I could not do it. While it would be nice to say that, it really is a crapshoot in the long run, isn't it? Who am I to know what her outcome may be? I made eye contact and smiled knowingly, hoping she understood my silent support.

It was as if it were my first appointment all over again when fear entered me as soon as I entered the office. I kept looking around and listening to people and feeling that I didn't fit in any longer. It seems so far away in the past and not truly a part of my present. But then this lies in direct conflict to the swirl of cancer reminders and feelings in my head every moment of every day. Perhaps emotionally, as well as physically, I am at some sort of crossroad. A place where the future is no longer considered in weeks and measured by time between doctor visits. Rather, a place where the future is stretching out before me and measured by aspirations, even though cancer is still clearly within sight.
Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
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Name: Jeannette
Location: Southern California, USA

This is my story about being diagnosed with breast cancer at age 39. I thought I was out of the woods, but four years late it came back. This is my quest to be a two-time survivor.

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    "Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer." Romans 12:12