My Difficult Decision to Stop Hormone Therapy After Breast Cancer


I hated the way that hormone drugs made me feel, so I spoke with my loved ones and oncology team and made the difficult decision to stop.

cartoon image of blogger and breast cancer survivor, Patti McGee

Cancer is a word that strikes fear into the hearts of many. It's a life-changing diagnosis that brings with it a host of difficult decisions and emotional turmoil. One of those decisions, for me, was whether or not to continue taking hormone-therapy drugs after completing cancer treatment.

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 39, I was overwhelmed by fear and uncertainty. My doctors recommended that I undergo a partial mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation, which I did. I then began taking hormone therapy drugs shortly after treatment finished, which are designed to reduce the risk of cancer recurrence. It was recommended I take tamoxifen for five to 10 years.

At first, the drugs seemed like a small price to pay for my health so I could see my 9-year-old son grow up. But as time went on, I began to feel the toll they were taking on my body and mind. I became emotional, anxious and depressed. I experienced hot flashes, night sweats and weight gain. Worst of all, I began to have suicidal thoughts.

The one instanceI remember was when I first started the tamoxifen, I found myself sitting in front of my refrigerator eating a box of Hostess Ho-hos. I was uncontrollably crying and couldn’t get myself together. I called my nurse practitioner and she asked me if I was suicidal. I said “no, I just can’t stop crying.” She told me to get off the tamoxifen until my next oncology appointment because it was a side effect of the drug.

It was a hard decision to make, but after much soul-searching and consultation with my doctors, I decided to stop taking the hormone-therapy drugs. It wasn't an easy decision to make. I knew that stopping the drugs increased the risk of cancer recurrence, but I also knew that I couldn't continue living with the emotional and physical toll they were taking on me. We tried three different hormone-therapy drugs over a year and a half and each one had its own set of side effects.

It's been 20 years since I stopped taking hormone-therapy drugs, and I can honestly say that I feel much better. I'm more present in my life, more able to enjoy the little things that make life worth living. I must say that when I asked my oncologist what my chances of recurrence were she told me 3 to 5%. I said “I will take my chances.” It was a decision that required courage, strength and a willingness to face the unknown. It was a decision that I had to make for myself, based on my own values and priorities.

If you're facing a similar decision, my advice to you is to take the time you need to make the decision that feels right for you. Talk to your doctors, your loved ones and anyone else who can offer you support and guidance. Remember that ultimately, the decision is yours and yours alone, and that there is no one "right" answer. Trust yourself and your instincts, and know that whatever decision you make, you are not alone.

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