This one’s for the walking wounded…

I’ve written this blog post a thousand times in my mind.

When it comes to putting it on paper, it never makes it. Something about putting all these feelings into words and onto paper makes me feel like a whiner, a complainer. Nobody wants to hear a bunch of negative stuff. We breast cancer “survivors” (and I really don’t like that word) are supposed to put a happy pink smile on it and keep going. For the most part I keep things to myself, but sometimes I just want to really say what I think and feel.

So I’m going to attempt to put these feelings into words, not just to whine and complain about the things I struggle with, but also because I think there are a lot of women out there like me who also mourn their life before cancer. Maybe they think they have to put a happy pink smile on it, too. It’s hard to do that all the time. So I’m going to give myself permission to be a whiner for a few minutes, and perhaps other women out there who feel similarly will know they’re not alone. They will know it’s okay not to put on the happy pink smile all the time. It’s okay to cry and mourn what used to be.

I admit that I am struggling with my post cancer life. I am struggling with side effects of treatment. I am struggling with how to handle my feelings about all of it.

I’m pretty angry about the fact that I am not the old Terri. Far from it. I feel pretty well from a health and medical standpoint, but I definitely can’t do what I used to be able to do from an athletic and physical condition standpoint. You all know how active I am, so that, for me, is a big deal. This downslide all started with chemotherapy, and now the tamoxifen I’m taking is wreaking havoc on my body. During exercise I get a feeling of being almost short of breath, and it makes me have to take frequent breaks. I feel like I’m on a constant stop-and-go. It’s pretty irritating. I have stopped running with others for the most part because I feel like I can only do my own pace, so if someone wants to run with me they have to do what I’m doing. I don’t ask people to do that. So I run alone mostly. I also firmly believe the tamoxifen is causing atrophy in my musculoskeletal system so that I feel as if no matter how much weight training I try to do I still get weaker. It doesn’t matter how much I run, I still feel weaker and get slower.

I believe the tamoxifen has also caused me to have severe anxiety. I used to take it in the morning, and I started taking it at night to try to combat some of the anxiety I felt it was causing. Taking it at night seems to help.

I also have terrible vaginal atrophy. If you don’t know what that is, you’re not alone. I can’t believe I made it to 50+ years old and never knew that many menopausal women suffer from this condition. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I was not in menopause at all. Tamoxifen blocks all the estrogen action in my body, and it made my body go into this drug-induced menopause, like cold turkey. No gradual decrease in hormones, just bam, no hormone action. The vaginal atrophy has been one of the most devastating effects of the cancer treatment that I’ve had to endure. And my doctors have been pretty insensitive to the problem, to the point where I left one doctor’s office in tears because she just didn’t get it. At all.

It’s an embarrassing problem to talk about. And I sincerely believe there are many women out there suffering with this problem who are either going through normal menopause or have had breast cancer treatment like me who are suffering in silence. We don’t want to talk about it. And if the experience of others is anything like my experience, our doctors aren’t too sympathetic. So if our doctors don’t even take us seriously, how can we talk about this problem openly?

Makes me mad as hell that we can have Viagra commercials on prime-time TV, but we women are suffering in silence with our own problems with sexual dysfunction.

So I’ve admitted to this problem to do my part to bring it out of the closet and perhaps encourage other women to do the same and seek help. I have found 2 local doctors here in Fort Mill who are helping me with this problem with a new treatment. These 2 doctors have been wonderful for me because they get it. They understand. They don’t minimize the problem. And I’ve had pretty good results with the treatment. Please send me a private message if you want to know more as I would love to share with other women that there is help available.

I’m grateful to be alive. I remind myself when I get discouraged about these things that I’m healthy for the time being. I’m only in the oncologist’s office every 6 months right now, which is pretty darn good. I need to enjoy this time because this might be as good as it gets. If my cancer comes back, I could be back in the oncologist’s office tomorrow and back on the intensive treatment cycle again. If that happens, I’m going to wish I was back to where I am today.

This is the life of a cancer “survivor.” Trying to be thankful for making it as far as we have but also dealing with the feelings and side effects of everything. It’s a daily challenge. It’s tough.

So I give you permission to take the happy pink smile off sometimes.

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