Breast Cancer, Cancer, Post-cancer drugs


The bedsheet works its way to the end of the mattress. I am left in a pool of sweat deep enough to host Olympic swimmers. The cold from the open window now chills the skin that just moments ago felt like lava. Endless turns to the left; then to the right. Now I lie in a supine position, the now soaked linens escape to the floor.

Sleep is merely a concept. It is a need the body demands, yet won’t allow. Some nights, sleep comes quickly, easily, lasts but an hour. The brain, suddenly aroused from slumber, stays active for hours on end. Podcasts, white noise, gentle music, sleep stories all try to lull me back to sleep. Sometimes it works. Other times a sleep aid is washed down with whatever liquid happens to be nearby.

Sleep disturbance is just one side effect the post breast-cancer drugs dole out. 

Hot-flashes*night-sweats*headache*insomnia*dizziness*upset-stomach*nausea*diarrhea*constipation*loss of appetite*fatigue* low white blood cell count (neutropenia)*abdominal pain*infections*joint pain*muscle pain

Most post-cancer drugs are not good-time drugzzz. Won’t make you feel carefree, relaxed, high-as-balls, won’t trip you out. No warm and fuzzy feeling or floating on a cloud. They won’t ramp you up, get you jacked or give you a million ideas to solve the world’s problems. There is no sudden feeling of genius or give you temporary confidence followed by a nap.

“I’m fresh out of treatment and have only been taking Tamoxifen for about 2 weeks, so I’m just starting to feel side effects, but so far I have noticed an increase in hot flashes (chemo sent me into menopause so I had already started having them before starting the med), also joint pain in my knees, and bone pain throughout my neck, back and arms. Fatigue too. But I’ve been fatigued since my diagnosis 8 months ago, so who knows exactly what is causing that anymore”

Invasive mammary carcinoma, er/pr positive, HER2 negative

Like any magic spell on a TV show you have ever seen, there is always a consequence. A warning that there is a Yin and Yang. The concept of dualism. It’s the same for meds. They may save your life, but you get to feel like shit while it happens.

I remember learning the Laws of Ecology in 8th grade science class. Dreamy Mr. Robertson taught us this classic: There is no such thing as a free lunch. As a 13 year old, I took that literally. LIke, ‘Duh, Mr. Robertson…I have to pay for that nasty-ass lunch every day in the cafeteria”. Of course it wasn’t until later I realized the meaning. 

As ‘The Bobs’ from “Office Space” might ask post-cancer drugs: What would you say…you DO here??

Spoiler alert: they tell breast-cancer to fuck-off. 

Let’s start with Anastrozole (brand name Arimidex). This tiny white pill is a hormone based chemotherapy. It’s in a class of meds called ‘non-steroidal aromatase inhibitors’. Basically it decreases the amount of estrogen the body makes, so any potential breast-cancer cells can GTFO. But, since as we know there’s a catch, the side-effects suck. I take this one every. single. morning. 

A similar drug you may have heard of is called Tamoxifen (brand name Soltamox). It is also a hormone therapy, and tells estrogen to take a hike. 

You know when you go to the doc, and they ask, “Do you feel tired or fatigued?” Yeah. Most cancer and post-cancer patients always have the same answer: “No shit, Sherlock. I am ALWAYS tired, or fatigued”.

“I am in year five initially taking Tamoxifen and then Anastrozole. I have one more year to go. The bio genetics test showed I will have no further benefit if I continued to take the medication for another five years so I will be able to stop early. I also take Venlafaxine for my hot flashes as a result of the hysterectomy. And I take Alendronate for my pre-osteoporosis from the meds. I have constant dry mouth as one side effect. I do not sleep well at all. Constipation is another issue. Other than that I’m just irritable all the time and I don’t know if that’s life or the meds”

Invasive Lobular Carcinoma

Next up: Abemaciclib (brand name Verzenio) my other post breast-cancer pill de jour. You may have seen the beautifully lit commercials with happy women painting, dancing, or whatever else marketing companies decide we do with breast-cancer. This particular drug is usually for metastatic breast-cancer, but my Oncologist wanted to make sure my Invasive Lobular Carcinoma with lymph node involvement DIED IN A FIRE TO NEVER RETURN. I appreciate that. I do, but gottdam, this drug sucks balls. Included in the long-ass list of side-effucks (as my favorite cancer Twitter account @ThanksCancer calls it), is diarrhea. ‘Nuff said on that one. Let’s not forget the stomach pain, decreased appetite, headaches, nausea, joint pain.

More good times come from a drug called Exemestane (brand name Aromasin). Typically this aromatase inhibitor is given to post-menopausal cancer survivors, again designed to keep cancer from returning by limiting how much estrogen the body makes (remember, hormone based cancers snack on estrogen like Cheetos after an all night bender).

“First hormone therapy drug tried was Letrazole. Went into mock menopause (since already went through menopause years earlier) and felt very emotional and teary. Legs became extremely swollen and joints ached. Change of appetite and weight gain. Took 6 week break and now trying Exemestane. So far a little fatigue but much less emotional and achy. Some difficulty sleeping, but sticking with this. And if it doesn’t work need to remember, these pills won’t keep me alive but will help prevent cancer’s return”

Ductal carcinoma-DCIS

I feel confident speaking for any person who has had to deal with side-effects from these drugs when I say IT SUCKS. It’s about as fun as getting an IRS audit while prepping for a colonoscopy. However, I am more than grateful for the science that brought these drugs to me and every cancer survivor who has benefitted from them.

If I could personally thank each and every researcher, doctor and scientist who work round the clock to save lives, I would do it in a heartbeat. Meanwhile, I have sweaty sheets to wash.