(picture by Marie Louise Flindt Herløvsen)
In a little over three months it’s been three years since the mastectomy and therefore three years since I’ve been declared free of cancer (or no evidence of disease as its called). Which is so Yay! But cancer is not your everyday disease, if it spreads the consequences are dire. So in addition to surgery, I was treated to chemotherapy for four months, herceptin for a year and then antihormones that was planned for 5 or 10 years. A little less Yay for all of these. On the other hand all of this was paid for by the Danish society for which I’m eternally grateful. All the Yays!
For all the treatment I received I’ve never questioned if it was necessary or if it would do me harm. The main objective was always to be here for my children for as long as possible. Everything that would increase the odds of the cancer not returning, however small, I’d take it. I like to make choices less complicated; by saying I had to do everything I could to fight cancer, it would automatically entail that all side effects would be acceptable. I did not allow myself to think about it or feel sorry for myself, I did what I had to do.
At the second yearly check up in March I mentioned all of the side effects I experienced from taking the antihormones. When I started talking about it, I was myself a little surprised of how much there actually was. Waking up every day I would feel like I was 90 years old. Starting every day with a heavy body and mind. I constantly experienced a mild diarrhea and my mood was far from the carefree me I knew from before the cancer. And even though I was taking local hormones vaginally I was suffering from constant infections and imbalance. Saying it out loud made it more tangible, but in no way did I think it wasn’t acceptable to bear.
To make sure that the symptoms I was experiencing wasn’t due to something else, something more serious altogether, my oncologist and I agreed that I could have a pause from the antihormones for three months. This would not add any risk for me in the overall picture. In this period I really experienced how much better life could be, all of the side effects disappeared. On the other hand this coincided with spring and vacation, and since I didn’t think that I was going to quit the antihormones altogether I didn’t let myself get too excited about it. I told myself that feeling better didn’t have to do with quitting the medication. Autumn came and I started on the antihormones again. The symptoms reappeared and once again every morning felt like a drag.
Three months after I got back on the antihormones I got a new appointment with the oncologist. Talking about the side effects I realized how tough it was on me and in the end the oncologist looked at my file and concluded:
You have already completed two years of antihormones plus herceptin and chemotherapy. With your risk profile and the fact that your cancer was detected and removed so early I would consider this a very good treatment. You have way too much suffering at the moment and it’s not proportional to the positive effects of the treatment at this point.
When he said these words I completely collapsed and I couldn’t keep my tears back. I had not considered this option at any point, keeping my focus on what I had to do. It felt like being brutally forced out of my orbit. Like a blow to my stomach, like I was quitting. I was not doing all I could. This was a selfish decision putting myself before others. I asked several times if this would not put me at any greater risk. He assured me that there absolutely wouldn’t be any added risk of size. And that it was in no way proportional to the side effects I was suffering from. I had already completed a very good treatment he reassured me. We made a compromise that I would quit for three more months and then I’d make up my mind. I postponed the final decision for a little longer.
I cried all the way home on my bike. Biking by the lakes under the chestnut trees that has become synonymous with time passing and that life goes on no matter what. I felt immense relief. The next days I processed the new information that I had received. I was done with the treatment. A week passed and my mood skyrocketed, I started to see the old me, the one that I knew before I was diagnosed with cancer, ecstatic for being alive. Now I’ve been off the antihormones for a little over a month and I can not see myself starting again. It feels so incredible to be out of menopause and I’m so grateful that treatment is finally over for me.
I’m at a place in my life where everything is good, I have tons of energy and I wake up with ease. Looking back the last three years have been so tough, but there was no other way. All I can do is to be thankful for what is now. Things just are, for no reason at all. You can’t control what life has in store for you, but you decide how you approach these challenges. And remember to be grateful when the challenges are over. You never know for how long it will last anyway, so go grab while you can.