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Sunday, October 21, 2012

I think I hate Pinktober

I think I hate Pinktober and I feel kind of guilty about it. As a breast cancer survivor, shouldn't I be waving the pink flag and walking and running my feet off? Shouldn't I celebrate the fact that there's a whole month dedicated to breast cancer awareness? Instead, all month long I am filled with conflicting emotions. I'm grateful for every penny that is raised for research for a cure - but I'm so "aware" that it drives me a little crazy. Every single time I go to the grocery store during October, the checkout clerk asks me if I want to donate to breast cancer.  That's what they say, too. Not, "Do you want to donate to help find a cure?" Or, "Do you want to donate for breast cancer research funding?" NO - they say, "Do you want to donate to breast cancer?" And it takes all of my willpower to keep from saying, "No thanks, already donated a breast."

Don't get me wrong - thank goodness for the millions of dollars raised by pink-wearing NFL players, yogurt cups with pink ribbons and companies that give generously during Pinktober. It's just that I have a very strong emotional response to the flood of pink out there. I wish we could keep the message simple. Let's put those resources toward developing vaccines and treatments that don't make you feel and look worse than the disease itself.  Let's donate to fund research for a cure - because someday I'd really like October to go back to its original colors of red, gold and orange for Fall.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Risky Business

Remember when life was simple? Sure, maybe you were exhausted from taking care of the kids, or from working. Maybe your biggest worry was how to get rid of those extra 15 pounds that just wouldn't budge. Ahh, those were the days. Now we have to worry about weighing the risk factors of almost everything. Do I dare buy those non-organic berries even though the organic ones are 3x as expensive? How many supplements should I be taking to prevent a recurrence, and..... the mother of ALL worries - how do I determine whether the side effects of the medication are worse than the risk of not taking it?

Now I'm not talking about chemotherapy, because at this moment in time, the benefits far outweigh the side effects in the long run.  Those are the real statistics, folks. I'm talking about the other medications that so many of us are taking as follow-up prevention. Whether it's Tamoxifen, Tykerb (that's mine), Herceptin, Arimidex, Zometa (also mine) and a whole bunch more that I don't even know the names of, they ALL have side effects. By now you know that I'm the queen of talking about side effects.  Sure, my hair has completely grown back  - Hallelujah! - but all these drugs are powerful and they ALL have side effects.  Some of them slam you right from the start, some of them creep up on you over time, but read your package inserts people! They don't make that stuff up. It all comes from somebody somewhere reporting those symptoms.

So what do you do when your doctor says she thinks maybe you should stop taking DIHBIHM (DrugIHateButIsHelpingMe)? Perhaps it's time to consider the risks.  I hate considering risks. First of all, I don't have a good history with them. I had extremely low risk factors for having breast cancer, and we all know how that turned out.  Risk factors are statistics and I hate statistics. My husband loves them. He takes comfort in them and understands them.  Personally, I just see the small numbers and assume they have my name on them. What's a little heart trouble compared to going through chemo again? What's a little bladder spasm or horrific muscle pain among friends?

The good news is that you and your doctor really can make informed decisions that weigh the real risks of your side effects versus potential benefits. The information is out there and your oncologist knows the numbers and can help you navigate your choices.


1. Discuss exactly how debilitating your side effects are with your doctor. Don't sugarcoat it because you're afraid to stop taking the drug. Be honest.

2. Talk with your doctor about the real risks associated with stopping. Make sure you are comfortable that you've been given ALL the information.  Perhaps schedule a separate appointment where you can focus just on this so you're not feeling rushed.

3. Discuss your fears openly with your doctor.

4. Ask about alternative drugs. Sometimes there's an effective, but perhaps more expensive, alternative to what you're currently taking.

5. Don't assume that if you stop taking the drug, the cancer will come back.  You may be able to stop for a while and then go back on it, or maybe you've taken enough to get the majority of the benefits already. Once you've made the decision, don't be afraid to change your mind and revisit the question later. You're a woman - it's your prerogative to change your mind.