My day started out as normal: I should say “the new normal.” My breast cancer was estrogen-driven and the estrogen-blocking medication I was taking had me riding an emotional roller coaster hour by hour, day by day. One morning, while my husband and I were having breakfast, I felt the warmth of tears running down my cheeks. He asked me, “Why are you crying?” I had absolutely no idea; all I could think to say was, “I guess I’m crying because I’m crying!”
Along with emotional instability, I had some of the classic side effects from the estrogen blocker: pain in my joints, night sweats, and insomnia, but the mood swings were the worst demon I was to encounter. Eliminating a woman’s estrogen production is asking for emotional trouble, not to mention the hair-thinning, havoc on my fingernails, and loss of libido.
I understand and appreciate the role of cancer medications, and I’m so grateful I have options. Many breast cancer survivors don’t have the option of adding aromatase inhibitors to their recovery. The challenge was to find the right medication my body would tolerate.
Back to the day I was crying, it was just another day in my life as a cancer survivor—all is good, no stress, no pressure, and no rush! I decided to drive to our Big Box store (Costco) to purchase a roasted chicken. Arriving as usual, it was necessary to park quite a distance away from the entrance, which was fine: I needed the exercise anyway.
While walking through the parking lot, with plenty of time to think about my plan, I decided to purchase only a roasted chicken; I couldn’t think of anything else I needed. With that thought, I marched right past the shopping carts, because all I was going to carry out of the store was my chicken of choice. No cart for me; I was on a “chicken mission”!
In I proceed, zigzagging through the masses of folks with shopping carts. I was heading straight to the rear of the store, no stops, and no distractions. Finally, I’ve reached the far back wall of the store, made my way through the shoppers around me, to the warming case, where the chickens are arranged, nice and warm, waiting to be taken to the checkout counter.
But wait! What was I seeing? No it can’t be. I’m greeted with a large red sign that said, “NO CHICKENS TODAY—OUR OVENS ARE DOWN.” The “unmedicated” person would have thought, “Oh, darn. I will go to the cooler and buy an uncooked chicken, and cook my own.”
But not the person using aromatase inhibitors. What did I do instead? I started to cry—and not just tear, but a real cry, as if I had just cut off a finger. People are turning to look at me as if to say, “Lady, are you out of your mind?” Luckily, no one approached me. If I verbalized my trauma, I surely would have been carted away by security! So I collected myself, turned, and exited the store, without a single roasted chicken in hand.
On the way back to my car and all the way home I kept telling myself, “Ginger get a grip….It’s only a ‘fricken chicken’!” I had experienced enough mood swings to know it was the medication, but this made me feel as if I was truly losing my mind.
The chicken incident put me over the top; luckily, the next day I had a prescheduled appointment with my radiologist. When she asked how I was doing, once again I started to tear. I told her about my adventure with the chicken, and she offered me a medication to help with the mood swings. I am happy to say, things are much better now.
My message to you is 2-fold:
- No, you are not losing your mind. Cancer surgeries, treatments, and medications all cause changes to our bodies—mentally and physically. It is a process, and we just have to work through our issues to get to a new normal
- Don’t give up: keep asking questions, asking for help, until you find what works for you. My journey required changing my medication 4 times, and actually doing away with the aromatase inhibitors and transferring to tamoxifen. Now, on a scale of 1 to 10, I’m emotionally levelheaded about 9 of 10 times when events catch me off guard. I’m not 100% all the time—but who is?