Barbara Tako is a breast cancer survivor (2010), melanoma survivor (2014) and author of Cancer Survivorship Coping Tools—We'll Get You Through This. She is a cancer coping advocate, speaker and published writer for television, radio and other venues across the country. She lives, survives, and thrives in Minnesota with her husband, children and dog. See more at www.cancersurvivorshipcopingtools.com,or www.clutterclearingchoices.com.
A five-year breast cancer survivor expresses uncertainty about discontinuing her hormone-suppressing medication.
Recently, I put the bottle of anastrazole down by the household batteries and other things that need to go to the recycling center. I am disposing of a safety net in a situation that doesn’t offer a guarantee that it will be OK. My chemotherapy was also a safety net that didn’t offer a guarantee. Cancer creates a lifetime of uncertainty.
A couple days ago, I got rid of the small just-in-case-I-forget bottle I kept in my purse, for when I might be out and suddenly realize I forgot to take my estrogen suppressant. I remember now that there is another small bottle up at the cabin to safely dispose of too. The decision is made. No sense hanging on to old medicine, but yet ...
My doctor and I made the choice to stop my anastrazole after five years on it. I pray we made the right decision, knowing we are in a situation where there is no certainty. We discussed the pros and cons of continuing it in my specific case — the side effects anastrazole can cause weighed against the likelihood of my cancer returning. In truth, the research isn’t in yet for my particular situation (and I am a melanoma survivor too). In reality, everyone has a unique situation.
There were pros and cons with my chemotherapy, too. I was willing to undergo chemotherapy to improve my odds and now I cope with chemo brain and other side effects. No guarantees. Often there are trade-offs for medical decisions.
Am I totally comfortable with my choice to stop anastrozole? No. Can I sleep at night? Yes (well, mostly). Two diagnoses of cancer have guaranteed that there are no guarantees in life. I have spent years (and will spend, if I am lucky) trying to get more comfortable with that uncertainty. I try to remind myself that control is kind of an illusion anyway. I am not in charge, but I sure like to think that I am.I ponder the other words I associate with the uncertainty: fear, stress and worry. I will look those emotions in the face. Yes, I am afraid of the cancer returning. Yes, I am stressed that I might not be vigilant enough in monitoring my body or that my chemo brain mind might forget an important doctor's appointment. Yes, there is worry so that whenever I see or hear something about cancer, or step on the bathroom scale, or experience something that might be a symptom, worry is triggered. That is the life of a cancer survivor and life goes on.
I was diligent about taking my anastrazole for five years — I even took a pill one day after my five-year prescription began. To be safe? We all know there is no certainty and it's unlikely that one day matters either way. I catch myself with my irrational thinking, and yet one extra day was required for my emotions. So be it. I did that for me.
It hasn’t been long. How long does it take? Weeks? Months? I try to be optimistic. I was hoping for some relief from the hot flashes, fatigue, joint pain and maybe even some of the stuff I attribute to my chemo brain. So far, if there have been improvements, they have been subtle. I will observe, wait and remain vigilant. I will wait for medical research to catch up. What else? What will/did you decide when the time comes? How did/will you cope with your decision?