Written April 22, 2016
My husband’s chatter interrupts the silence on the drive to Juravinski Cancer Centre. He’s trying to draw me out. I’m ruminating, looping through memories. The usual build up to my annual appointment with the oncologist. April twentieth has been tucked away in my sub-conscious, like china hidden in an antique hutch. Today a change in medication may finally be possible. Three years post menopausal. It’s what I’ve been waiting for. Now I may be eligible to try a different class of drugs. A blood test will determine whether I have hit that necessary milestone or if it’s the Tamoxifen merely masking menopause.
What if I have to stay on Tamoxifen? That tiny white pill that I take each morning. A constant reminder, that chemistry is keeping cancer from settling back into familiar territory, growing tumors fueled by the estrogen in my body. I’m incredulous fighting back tears. What is wrong with me? I should be happy. Another annual is here. I am alive. I have my life, my family. But I’m screaming in my head, unable to respond to my husband’s chitchat. I’m too young to be in the throes of this shit. Hot flashes all bloody day –relentless at night. I don’t remember what it feels like to have uninterrupted sleep. To drift into blissful slumber, wrapped in a feather duvet. Instead night after night nausea grips, pores open, perspiration dampens every inch of my body. Suffocating waves of internal heat dominate everything, my thoughts my emotions. I need to escape. Then it abates. I have lost control of my body.
I feel the layer of flesh squishing out the top of my jeans hidden under my shirt. I refuse to stop wearing these tight pants. Pure defiance. I want to be reminded that I once fit in them. Is this masochistic? The rise of my jeans digs into me I imagine dimpling my stomach flesh. Every stitch and seam is imprinted in my swollen body. I could remove the pants leaving an invisible outline complete with a round button on the square of my belly. Tamoxifen bloats my body the same way pregnancy did.
Willowy memories of the old me tease and taunt. Long flowing hair, limber muscles, young and vibrant. I was immortal. The endless energy I once possessed now exhausts me. I miss her. I’m not ready to accept this aged version of me.
Uncomfortable memories take hold. Poison coursing through my veins, hairless, terrified of not having the future I assumed I would. Finding the beauty in silence and stillness, savouring mortality in the ‘in between moments.’ The moments I once dismissed, irritated they didn’t bring productivity or purpose. Wallowing over my femininity – vanity -menopause swallowing me up. Feeling like I’m breathing underwater I push treatment and menopause out of the memory loop. I don’t want to dwell here any longer.
Is Tamoxifen my protector or arch enemy? Millions of women take it. Efficacious. Safe. Why can’t it be easy? It blocks estrogen from forming tumors. It’s brilliant. It’s a wonder drug. I should be content. I think of the three tumors that were cut from my breast leaving me unbalanced, and changed.
I turn my head when the nurse draws blood from my vein. I feel melancholy in every atom of my body. The loop keeps streaming but faster. I am a patient. I am sick. I am weak. I am vulnerable. Afraid. Tears fill my eyes. I know logically I am fine. This is a routine check. My hair is growing out. Energy is returning. I am fighting the aches and pains, working out five times a week trying to kick-start my slowing metabolism.
The oncologist inspects me. I already know what she’s going to say. I read it in her face –empathy, she asks if I’m tolerating Tamoxifen. I cringe knowing what will follow. She shares that a recent paper has been published and for younger patients like me there is more risk switching to another class of drugs at three years than staying on Tamoxifen.
Utterly defeated. I stop listening and begin countdown to December 2018 when I will go through this exact loop once again.