Side Effects are Contagious

<SPOILER ALERT- if you are planning to watch the movie Creed and don’t want your experience spoiled, do NOT read any further until after you’ve seen the movie.>

image

When you have cancer, you aren’t the only one who suffers from the side effects. I think the hardest thing my family had to go through was the feeling of helplessness as they watched me going through such sickness and pain. My husband said it just about killed him to know that there was absolutely nothing he could do to take away my misery.

Of course, the good thing about it was that it gave me a reason to not wallow in my misery.  Some days, it was all I could do to just exist through it as I waited for time to pass. But for the most part, I tried my hardest not to let my kids see how bad it was for me. At least I thought I hid it from them. I did my best to try to stay as normal as I could, even though I spent a lot of time on the couch or sleeping.

A few weekends ago, my daughter came home from college to visit and we were talking while she made herself a cup of coffee. She asked if I’d seen the movie “Creed” yet. She and her roommate had gone recently to see it and they both loved it – she had texted me right after they saw it to tell me it reminded her of me. I figured that was because she knew I was a huge Rocky fan as a teenager (in the 70’s who wasn’t a Rocky fan?).

This was the poster I had on my wall right up until I left for college and my step-mom cleaned my room out :0

This was the poster I had on my wall right up until I left for college

When I told her I probably wouldn’t go see it, she asked if it was okay if she told me about the plot.

<This is where you should stop reading if you don’t want the movie spoiled for you.>

So, apparently, Apollo Creed’s illegitimate son is a boxer and ends up meeting Rocky and convincing him to be his trainer. Then Rocky finds out he has cancer and chooses at first not to do chemo, because it had made Adrian so sick and she died anyway. When Creed finds out, he tells Rocky – if I’m gonna fight, so are you. So as Rocky starts chemo, he begins to lose his hair and is in a lot of pain, having a hard time walking. As Chally was telling me this, she burst into tears. She said – “Mommy it was so hard to watch because it reminded me of how much you went through last summer when you were going through your chemo treatments.” Tears were streaming down her face as she told me about how Rocky struggled weakly to climb the stairs at the Philapdelpha Museum of Art, which he’d run up in his training during the original Rocky movie. “I thought about you, Mom, and how hard it was for you when you were so sick and in so much pain.”

See, when you have cancer, everyone who cares about you- your family, your friends – have cancer along with you. When you suffer, they suffer. When you worry, they worry. I did my best this past year to be strong for my kids, to not let them see quite how bad it was for me, but obviously I failed to completely protect them from it. Maybe that’s okay. Parents aren’t infallible or invulnerable. I think it’s okay for my kids to see that. The reality of cancer is something that unless you have to go through it, many people would prefer not to deal with. I don’t blame them. It’s an ugly disease. Luckily, I was blessed to have a cancer that can have a fairly high rate of survival compared to many other cancers.

rocky-IV

But regardless of the type of cancer you have, chemo doesn’t distinguish between them. It makes most everyone sick -although some lucky few are not as sickened by it, and of course it depends on the type of chemo drugs you are given. I never realized before I had cancer that there are so many different chemo drugs available, and that each one has a different efficacy on the various cancer types. One of the drugs given to breast cancer patients is extremely nauseating (Cytoxan). To this day, I still can’t see an IV drip bag without getting nauseous, even though that particular drug is given in a shot into your IV tube, rather than through a drip bag. It’s also, ironically, pink in color, so I can’t see pink or red kool-aid without also feeling ill. Just writing about it right now is starting to make my stomach turn. 😦

While I went through the treatments, I had every hope that I would be cured. I can’t imagine going through the chemo and getting that sick while knowing that it is only likely to extend your life. I hope I never have to experience that. I’m grateful that my cancer responded extremely well to the treatments and I am blessedly cancer-free now.

image

Flying high now…

I ended up purchasing the Creed movie on DVD and watched it yesterday. It was, as many critics say, as good as the first Rocky (unlike most of the other sequels). I had tears at times as I saw Rocky getting sick,  and wearing the symbolic chemo hat. I cried as he walked up the stairs to the museum and had to stop, doubled-over to catch his breath. Not because I was remembering how I felt the exact same way for so many months, but because I saw it through the eyes of my daughter for the first time – the horror of watching someone you love basically fall apart in the fight for their life, and then begin to piece themselves back together.

I think my family is reaching the point where we can kind of look back on my cancer treatment with relief that it’s over. We can joke some about things that I went through during this past year.  But, the wound is still raw enough for us – the pain and sickness, the worry that the treatments wouldn’t work, the worry that the cancer could come back, the long healing process and permanent scar on my chest- that we still feel it strongly. We had cancer. I am cancer-free now, but it has irrevocably changed my life and the lives of my family and friends. And I suppose once that bad thing, which you were certain would never happen to you, happens to you or your family, you are never worry-free again. :/

Advertisements

Side effects #1,428 – 1,431… but who’s counting?

IMG_1797

I started running a mile a day the Monday after I finished radiation treatments (Feb 1)- like I promised myself I would. After four days I ran just under a 13 minute mile which for me is within my “normal” range when I’m in really bad shape. Hard to believe that a week before I was still doing cancer treatments. But when I’m running it’s very noticeable to me because of the side effects.

    • my armpit got extremely tender and sore (They warned me about this ahead of time. The radiation, as you would expect, causes extremely bad sunburn. It damages your skin. Of course the benefits of reducing cancer recurrence outweighs the risks of it causing skin issues, including melanoma. They had told me not to do anything that would require me to swing my arm against my chest and armpit on that side during radiation. So I promised myself I would start running as soon as radiation was over. Then at my last appointment they told me to wait another 2 weeks, but I decided not to wait. I’d already waited so long- since last April when I was first diagnosed with cancer. Now, I get it. I dried myself slightly non-gently after my shower that first week and it inflamed my armpit scar so badly that it still hurt nearly a week later. Each day that I ran (with my arm dragging against my armpit and chest area with each step), it got more sore. My husband was horrified when he saw what it looked like.) 😮
    • my bra and running shirt no longer fit correctly (After a lap or two, I found my bra slid over towards the “still have a breast side” and caused my strap to keep sliding down. It also caused my shirt to spin on my body. For someone who has extreme sensitivity issues to anything that is slightly out of place, it can seem like torture. I am slowly adjusting.) :/
    • I feel, sit, stand, walk, run lopsided. This goes along with what’s listed above. Things don’t seem to fit correctly anymore (which is understandable), and I find my self looking down to see if I am standing twisted (sometimes I am…). I am working on my posture to be certain I am not hunching.
    • I am tired. I am tired. I am tired.

While I’m running around the track, all of the above things go through my mind. I think I’ve decided I will never wear a prosthetic. I wonder how many other people out there are hiding the fact that they had breast cancer and survived. I want people to know when they see me that you can survive this too. Of course when I’m running here at Jenison it’s full of young ROTC kids who wouldn’t notice the chest of a 49 year old gray-haired woman who’s running around the track with them, but of course it’s on my mind the entire time- I feel the pain, the discomfort, the lopsidedness. I felt self-conscious at first, but then I reminded myself not to care what others think. They don’t know my story and if they judge without knowing it, well that’s on them. I’m a warrior, I tell myself.

Yesterday, as I was running my last lap, one of the ROTC captains told me “You’ve got this! Keep it up!” as I ran past him. It reminded me that I have more people supporting me than I even realize. Wow.

As I run, I also think about all I’ve been through in the past year and wonder where I’ll be a year from now. My life was irrevocably changed that day last April when I first found the lump. For the better maybe. I mean I’m much more aware of what is important in life and I am learning how to live better, I think.

That first week I ran one mile a day. I tried not to time myself, but instead to focus on not stopping until I’d run one mile. The first day, I had some chest tightness. I sort of expected that. I’d been fairly sedentary for many months, and I knew that the chemo can affect your heart and the surgery had affected my chest wall for sure. But I did it. The first week I ran 5 miles. Last week, I added a lap. So I ran one mile plus one lap each day, except Friday (which I took off of work to help my husband prepare for our weekend trip so that he and my 10 year old son could take their Tang Soo Do black belt test, also known as Cho Dan test- but that’s a story for another time). This week, I’ve run one mile and two laps each day. I’m not fast, I’m not pretty, but I’m running without stopping. Good enough for me for now.

I almost didn’t run that 2nd Monday, thinking I needed to let my armpit heal over a long weekend. But I’m glad I went, because that was the day I met Paul.

Paul says he is 68 and he is built like my husband – very tall and fit. I had seen him at Jenison each day before we officially met. He runs for a while then does sets of chin ups on a bar near the track. My first contact with him was simply a smile. That camaraderie type of – hey, we’re both here trying our hardest to get/stay fit. The day we first officially met, he was sitting at the first aid table where he usually rests between sets of chin ups. He was wearing what appeared to be work clothes. You know, the “maintenance worker” type work clothes. It made me think he might be an employee of the Athletic Department or Physical Plant and that he came in here to exercise each day before he started work.

And that day, in my opinion, he was looking a bit forlorn. As I started to stretch out before my run, he told me his problem. “I got all the way here and realized I forgot my workout bag that has my clothes in it!” Then he went on to explain that if he went all the way home to get them, he wouldn’t have time to get his workout in. I thought maybe he had to get to work, but then he told me he was retired.

His time crunch? He wanted to get home in time to see his daughter off to work like he does every morning. He explained that she was an adult who was living with him after having graduated college. Every morning, he drives into Jenison to get his workout in and then he always makes sure he gets home before she leaves for work to tell her good bye.  And in case you’re wondering, she does not travel long distance for work or go overnight somewhere where he might miss her. He simply finds it important to tell her good bye each morning before she goes off to work for the day. He finds value in being there with the people he loves, even if it’s just for the small simple moments, like wishing someone a good day before they head out of the house.

It was very interesting to hear his story. He’d gone to school somewhere in the East (New York maybe? My stupid chemo brain doesn’t allow me to remember details for very long unfortunately.) 😦 He said he had a Master’s degree and had lived here in East Lansing for years, finally retiring. He said he had spent a lot of time here working out with his son, who had now long since graduated and gone on to his adult life. He was telling me about his back issues. That it frustrated him to have been so fit for so many years and then to struggle now sometimes with back pain to where these last few weeks he had to really push himself to just run a few laps. I explained how my husband had also struggled with back issues and that a trip to a physical therapist had done wonders for him. I also told him about the transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) machine that my husband uses to control pain when he does have an issue. The machine basically stimulates the nerve that is causing your pain and according to my husband it works to block your brain from feeling the pain.

NMES-Machine-Neuromuscular-Electrical-Stimulator

And I encouraged him to see his doctor to get a referral to a back specialist, rather than continuing to suffer and get more physically degraded each day he couldn’t do his full workout. He asked about me and I explained that I had just started back to running after fighting off breast cancer. He called me “one tough lady” which sounded so incredibly like my husband that I had to smile. 🙂

Though Paul and I share nothing more than a “good morning” and a smile, or “run a half mile for me today, Gina” or  “did you see your doctor yet, Paul?”, it’s the fact that we connected – that we take the little bit of time each morning to share encouragement, that makes his friendship valuable to me. Again, he finds value in being there for someone even if it’s just a small simple moment. I’m learning from people like him how to value my life better. How to see the beauty and pleasure in the small things. It’s always there, I just don’t always remember to look. I’m working on that.

So far, in 2016, I’ve run over 13 miles. It doesn’t sound like much, but I am proud of that accomplishment. There were times when I didn’t know for sure if I’d see 2016. I am 13 miles into 2016. And 13 miles into the rest of my life.

The good things about having cancer

Although cancer really sucks (cancerisajerk.org), there are some good things that come from it.

1) For example, social media is a lot kinder to you when you have cancer.

cancer_1

2) Even small accomplishments are made big when you are fighting off the effects of chemo.

cancer_2

3) I haven’t had to shave my legs or armpits in a month. This can last forever as far as I’m concerned.

4) The peach fuzz on my head doesn’t take much care. I literally used a drop of shampoo yesterday. It was too much. I’ve calculated that at this rate, a bottle of shampoo will last me 8,872 days (give or take a day or so…).

image

That’s a little over 24 years for a 15 oz. bottle. I hope I like the scent I picked out…

5) You save a lot of money on haircuts. As a matter of fact, I cut my own hair the other day.

image

It was just one hair that had gone wild in my sideburn area. Only took a second to clip that baby off 🙂 and now I’m back to my clean cut look again 😀

6) You automatically surpass just about anyone’s “bad day” post on Facebook, and can answer their  whiny “my boss looked at me funny” posts with an honest “You think you have it bad? I have cancer!!” That usually shuts down the post right away 😀

7) Really the best thing about having cancer is that you suddenly see that certain things around you are very important, like snuggling on the couch with your kids while they tell you all about their hopes and dreams (“Mommy if I was yellow, I would shine all over everything like the sun and make the world happy!”). And certain things aren’t, like worrying whether you look frumpy in the clothes you have on. (I’m bald and tired, but I’m alive – who cares what I look like!)

DSC02033

Bye-Bye Booby

I met with my surgeon Tuesday for my post-chemo pre-surgery check. He confirmed that he still believes (based on a variety of things, like original size and location of the lump, proximity to skin surface and nipple, etc) that a total mastectomy is the best option for me rather than a simple lumpectomy. I prefer to have the best chance of long term survival and the least chance of recurrence, so I am okay with this.

Please note- a total mastectomy (full removal of one breast) is not to be confused with a bilateral or double mastectomy (full removal of both breasts). Total mastectomy means they will remove all breast tissue down to the chest wall and it will include removal of the nipple and enough skin to make the incision a flat line on a flat surface. Here (warning – clicking this link will take you to photos of breasts) are some representative photos of what it could possibly look like afterward (I’d like to think the photo in there of the woman who has in-shape, nicely formed abdominal muscles – but alas, I’ll look more like the pleasantly plump, saggy ones :/ ).

I do not intend to do reconstructive surgery. I am not really vain enough to care, as you may have already read about in my earlier posts about hair loss and the photo of me on my “About Gina” page. In addition, reconstruction involves taking skin and fat tissue from other parts of your body to place there and then reconstruction of a “nipple” – it takes several surgeries over a long period of time and leaves scars on other parts of your body. No thank you very much! 😉

20150930 Cuddling with two of my little ones

The worst part will be getting used to being lopsided. When I was at Mackinac, a woman came up to me and said she apologized but it was obvious I had cancer and she was curious about what kind. When I told her it was breast cancer she got a big smile and said, “Me too!” She told me she’d had both breasts removed (a bilateral mastectomy- see how my medical vocab lesson came in useful here? 😉 ) and as she pointed to her chest, she said “I can be any size I want! Today I’m an A, but some days I like to be a C!” We both laughed and we shared good luck wishes and a “we are survivors” look. Only someone who’s been through this can understand the solidarity that brings. I am not alone. And there are so many others around me that have survived this.

I have to wait at least one month after chemo to have the surgery so that my body can recover fully from the chemo. Otherwise I may not heal properly (platelets are needed for the blood to clot) and could have a much higher chance of infection if my white blood cell counts (especially neutrophils) have not rebounded to high enough levels.

Seriously, I’m okay with this. I want whatever gives me the greatest chance that cancer will be gone from my body. Them there thangs have always been in my way anyway. Bye-bye booby! 😀

Geocaching Mackinac Island

DSC02809

We had an awesome 3 days on the Island. We stopped on the drive up at one of Lisa’s caches that needed maintenance. It was a good first cache to introduce Tammy to the sport, since she was a Muggle. We normally stop at a few on the drive north, but since we were going all the way to the Island this trip and we still needed to catch a Ferry, we only stopped at the one. Still it took us until afternoon to get there.image

We biked to our bed and breakfast which was next door to St Anne’s Catholic Church (very convenient for Sunday morning mass 🙂 ) to check in then immediately took off for a bike ride around the perimeter of the Island. There was going to be a race the next day on this route and we didn’t want to get caught up in that, so our plan was to bike around it our first night. We found only 8 geocaches on that trip although there are many more along the route, because it was taking so long to stop and find each one, we started to realize we were going to run out of daylight if we didn’t do more biking and less geocaching.

DSC02672   DSC02637

And there aren’t a lot of surprises when you do “park and grabs”. They were either in the small bit of trees to the left of the road, or hidden in the rocky shoreline on the other side of the road – not a lot of places to hide them along this path. We are used to hiking through the woods to geocache, but we were in such a beautiful place it was fun anyway. It was windy and a little cold on the eastern side of the Island but as soon as we turned the corner at the northern tip, the wind eased up and it was more bearable.

DSC02675  DSC02611

We were definitely ready for dinner when we got done. It was 8.5 miles around the Island. I felt surprisingly strong and energized.

On Saturday, we biked up into the interior of the Island to avoid the crowds at the race. We went up the path alongside the Fort – had to walk the bikes up that slope of course. I had been a little worried that I would have leg cramps and issues since being so physically inactive during chemo, but I again felt surprisingly good. 🙂 We found a total of 15 geocaches, and had one “did not find” (DNF).

DSC02733 DSC02734

Lisa had some cool t-shirts made for us – we are officially now the ‘DNF Squad’ 🙂 If you’ve never been to Mackinac, Fall is a beautiful time to go. Not too hot, and not usually as crowded as during the dead of summer. This was the first time I had taken a bike, since we usually go with kids and at least one of them was always too young to go biking around. It was fun to be able to get to places we can’t normally go.

DSC02703 DSC02640 DSC02704DSC02716

On one trail we met a very nice lady, along with her son and daughter-in-law, who was fascinated with what we were doing. So we invited her to hike along with us to our next geocache, and they all came with us. She thought it was awesome, and we explained that they were no longer Muggles. Since they weren’t from Michigan, we showed her on the geocache map  that there were even caches in her hometown, very close to where she lived. She said she was going to get the free geocaching app and check it out when she got home. Yay – we love to get others started in the sport 😀

After heading back to town to eat, we rode back around the Island counter-clockwise to investigate “the murder site” (for those of you who don’t have a Facebook account, you can read about it here and see photos here and here). Creepy.

DSC02844

Saturday night was a bar crawl 🙂 I normally don’t drink much anyway, but as readers of my blog already know, alcohol increases the risk of cancer, and since chemo dehydrates the hell out of you, I drank water instead (except for a sip of Tammy’s blue drink at one place and a sip of apple pucker {one of our go-to’s for geocaching weekends} at another). Luckily, with my head wear, the bartenders were awesome about signing my shirt anyway 🙂 And we watched MSU beat Oregon on various bar TVs throughout the island.

barcrawl-mackinac_20150912

Sunday after mass, we decided to head up into the interior of the Island again. We didn’t have a lot of time since we needed to get back in time for the Ferry to get back to the mainland, but we tried to find what we could. We ended up getting a few more DNF’s and only found 2 geocaches. We gave up and headed back down to town for a late lunch and some quick shopping before the Ferry headed out. All in all, it was an awesome weekend. The first time in months that (other than my bald head) I felt relatively normal 🙂

 

11930979_10207211416795464_3335933473691220272_o DSC02666 DSC02711DSC02863

I am definitely looking forward to recovering from this last chemo and feeling that way again.

DSC02832  mackinac

The smiley faces are the ones we logged. Still so many to find. Next time!

 

 

It’s like the last snowstorm in March

0207141629-crop

Having your last chemo treatment is like the last snowstorm in March. Since you know winter is almost over, it seems more manageable, even if it’s a messy, hard storm. I had my last treatment on Monday. It was surreal when the nurses hugged me and I told them “no offense,  but I hope to never see you guys again!” They responded that they’d be glad to see me in the future only if we weren’t at the Cancer Center. 😀

The first couple of days, I had the usual mild nausea that accompanies the slowing of my digestive system from the Taxol. The good news was no Neulasta shot the day after chemo! That saved me from the flu-like feeling and the sore, stiff neck, shoulders and back that I usually get from the shot. I woke Wednesday morning with numb fingers and thumbs- from the tips down to about halfway to the first interphalangeal joint of each digit. The knee and leg pain began that day as well. It’s been interesting how the side effects have been a little different with each treatment.

So, unlike what the doctor believed, the Neulasta injection was not the cause of my severe joint and bone pain. I realize I am a sample size of 1 (n=1) which means in a statistical test, the degrees of freedom = 0 (df = n-1), so this is not a statistically valid research sample. However, I believe I can state with at least some amount of certainty that the Taxol alone was the cause of my severe joint and bone pain – it was not the Neulasta, nor an interaction between the Taxol and Neulasta. It was simply the Taxol.

The pain is nearly gone now- still some random shooting pains in my leg bones- 6 days after the treatment. And I am still suffering from a bit of numbness- it has changed from numbness to more of the tingling and pain – the best I can explain it is that if you’ve ever played a guitar enough to get callouses on the tips of your fingers- it felt like that at first, but it included my thumbs and went further up my digits than that. The bottoms of my feet also went slightly numb. After a couple days the feeling started to slowly come back a little- but they are painful and tingling – shooting pains in my finger bones and toes. It’s jarring and very irritating and annoying.  The tingling can sometimes feel like how it feels when someone scrapes their fingernails on a chalkboard – it’s very uncomfortable.

A friend at work told me how she still suffered a little from it five years after her treatment ended. I had been feeling grateful that each time I’ve had slightly different effects, so that it didn’t seem to want to stick in any one place. I had thought maybe that would mean that mine wouldn’t be permanent. Now I’m thinking that since it’s my last treatment- this could be the side effect that sticks around and I certainly don’t want this numbness in my fingers and feet for the rest of my life. I feel off. I am a little wobbly when I walk, and my fingers are so bothersome that it is hard to do normal things, like type on a computer, sew, wash dishes, etc. (not that I stopped doing those things, but I am extremely irritated and clumsy when doing them). I am still hopeful though that, like with the other treatments, this side effect will also go away.

What I have found though, as with other treatments, that when the bone pain starts- it is helpful to keep moving. The more I sit still to rest, the worse the pain seems to be. So Tim and I took a bike ride one night and it hurt like hell to get going, but once we were riding for a bit, it eased up and really helped relieve the pain for a little while. And it felt good to be active and moving.

By Thursday though, I was in such pain that I decided to work from home on Friday (I had been going into the office all week since a lot of our management team was out for training and I wanted to be there in case there were any issues). It helped a lot to not have the commute and to not have to walk around the office. The pain has been easing up since then and I am walking almost normally now.

As I drove the kids into karate Friday night though, I cried a little. Self pity. My fingertips are just so bothersome, and I was tired and was feeling some tummy issues again. 😦 At the end of winter- sometimes you are just so worn out and ground down that even the last snowstorm of the season is too much to bear with a smile. We spent the evening with some dear friends while the kids had movie night at karate, and that cheered me up tremendously. No time to feel sorry for myself- that surgery thing that I’ve been avoiding thinking about will be coming up next. I’ve gotta get prepared for that.

Tonight, I took a 2 mile bike ride with Chris and Rea. I may be slow, but it felt good to be moving in the beautiful Fall weather.

IMG_1203

There is no magic reason

There is no magic reason why some people get cancer and some don’t. Why did I get cancer? People ask all kinds of things – do you smoke, drink, did you breastfeed, did you take hormone pills? They are looking for why I got it, so they can set their own mind at ease. I know, because I used to be that way too. That person got an aneurism because they have a stressful job and don’t eat carrots. Shew, it probably won’t happen to me then.

image

My fortune cookie from a few weeks ago. Best one I’ve ever gotten!

Sure, there are contributing factors – based on various research, they think the following things contribute to the chance you’ll get breast cancer:

  • not having children, or  having them later in life (after 30), or having fewer children
  • not breastfeeding (this is only a slight risk)
  • using birth control or hormone replacement (there is actually more to this one, I’ll explain in a minute)
  • genetic predisposition (gene mutations – there are specific genetic markers they can test for)
  • family history of breast or other cancers (in close blood relatives)
  • as you get older your risk increases (as if getting old doesn’t suck enough!)
  • starting your period at an early age or going through late menopause (like before 12 and later than 55)
  • having breast tissue that is dense or has other benign (noncancerous) changes to it (fibroadenomas, cysts, etc.)
  • drinking alcohol
  • being overweight (especially after menopause) (being overweight at any age is actually a risk for many cancers, not just breast)

(Note there are many other things that have been studied that have been shown NOT to be a risk of breast cancer. You’ve probably heard many of them – bras, breast implants {except for one rare lymphoma type}, chemicals (plastics, pesticides, anti-perspirants, makeup, etc), abortions. None of these are risk factors.)

So for me – how do my risk factors add up?

  • NO – I had my first child at 29 and have 5 children total
  • mostly NO – I breastfed most of my kids at least for a while
  • YES – I used hormonal pills
  • NO – I was tested and do not have either BRCA1 or BRCA2
  • ONE – one aunt had breast cancer years ago, and has been cancer-free for about 30 years
  • NO –  they told me (regardless of how I feel 🙂 ) that at 48 I am NOT old yet. Risk starts at >50 and becomes more significant as you age beyond that.
  • NO
  • NO
  • RARELY
  • Well, YEAH, but I’m not past menopause yet (or at least I wasn’t before Chemo- now I am likely having Chemo-induced menopause)

So, for those of you counting- I have very few of the risk factors. So, sorry to say – it might happen to you. And it might not. Again, there is no magic reason why I got it and you didn’t.

So, back to the risk factors. A little explanation of why the above things are listed. They have studied these factors enough to suspect that the linkage between number of pregnancies, breastfeeding, age of menarche (start of menstruation) or age of menopause (stopping of menstruation), and hormonal birth control or replacement meds – and breast cancer – all seem to come down to how long your body is exposed to female hormones.

Early menarche or late menopause lengthens the amount of time you’re exposed. A greater number of pregnancies, the earlier you start having babies, and the longer you breastfeed – reduces the number of periods you will have, thus decreasing the amount of female hormones your body will be exposed to. In addition, surprising to many people, both drinking alcohol and being overweight increases the amount of estrogen in your body (fat can produce estrogen, thus why overweight children tend to start menstruation at a younger age).

If you think about it, they are all really linked to female hormones and it makes sense. What “they” (that anonymous “they” again 🙂 ) don’t know is why estrogen/progesterone (the female hormones I am talking about) might cause cancer. What’s funny (odd, not haha) is that using hormonal birth control actually reduces your risk of getting ovarian cancer, but prolonged use is a risk for breast cancer. What is good is that if you stop using the hormone pills (either birth control or replacement therapy), your risk eventually (after about 3 years) decreases back to that of someone who never took them. What they do believe is that estrogen alone actually decreases the risk of cancer, but estrogen with progesterone increases it. {And here my scientific self asks – then why does alcohol and being overweight not decrease the risk of cancer, if they only increase the estrogen level in the body? Maybe they also have a concurrent effect on progesterone levels? Who knows!)

“They” also say that although they haven’t fully proven that breast cancer is caused (remember correlation is not cause and effect – your little stats lesson for the day 😉 ) by estrogen and progesterone, if you have breast cancer that is estrogen receptor or progesterone receptor positive (denoted as ER+ or PR+), it DEFINITELY helps your cancer grow much faster by binding to the receptors on the cancer cells and “feeding” them.

But enough of the science…

Back to the magic reasons why I got cancer and you didn’t. There are none. It’s the same for why some people have their cancer recur after it was “cured” the first time and some don’t.  Why when it recurs sometimes it’s “curable” again and sometimes it is Stage IV. There is no way to know why.

One thing I can tell you for sure – people like me who are fighting cancer do not want to hear about your cousin’s neighbor who found out they had cancer and then died three months later. I also don’t want to hear about your co-worker’s sister who went through all the chemo and surgery and radiation only to have the cancer come back within a year and is now having to fight it all over again. I don’t want to hear anymore of those stories.

I want to hear about your grandma who lived to be 98 after surviving breast cancer for 40 years – tell me those stories, please! I believe there is great power in positivity.

image