80’S CANCER JAM OF THE DAY:
Go ahead. Take a couple weeks before you give us your decision. It can wait until after the holidays. Now keep in mind that 2 out of 10 women actually survive being shot, while the whole cliff thing is really sketchy…not much good going on there. But…and this is a big but…being shot can lead to all sorts of complications, depending on where you choose to take the bullet. So you may just wish you were dead.
This is something like the conversation I had last week with my oncologist, slightly paraphrased of course. Yes, I’ve finished radiation and been issued my platinum invitation to board the Tamoxifen train. Toot! Toot! He actually turned to me at one point and said “Have you done any research about Tamoxifen?” I just looked at him with wide eyes and replied “Really?”. He quickly realized what a foolish question that was and chuckled softly. “Oh yes, what was I thinking? Go ahead, tell me what you found.”
Of course I had been feverishly burning up the internet for days trying to tease out minute details about survival and recurrence statistics from mountains of muddled data. And let me tell you, they make it next to impossible to find “the bottom line”, which in my book is the absolute survival advantage in those who take this drug. I don’t care about relative risk or any other statistical shenanigans that pass for science. I was finally able to get a 10-year absolute survival difference of 10.9%, meaning that of 100 women, 11 more will be alive in 10 years if they take Tamoxifen than if they don’t.
I told the oncologist about this, and he agreed, saying that the odds might be slightly better for someone my age with my cancer, perhaps 12-15% greater survival. I’m not sure where he gets those numbers, as I was unable to find them. However, I also told him that I had serious concerns about the potential side effects of the drug versus the benefit. Common side effects include: hot flashes and night sweats, mood swings, depression, joint aches, cognitive difficulties (such as forgetting words), weight gain and headaches. Rarer side effects include blood clots, stroke, and uterine cancer.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I am just not dying to get on this train. First of all, I am deeply mistrustful of drug studies. I’ve taken enough research courses to know that data can be manipulated to say just about anything. I also know that the FDA does not require these companies to submit data showing adverse outcomes or data which doesn’t support the benefit of the drug. You only have to look at the long list of drugs which have been approved and later pulled from the market due to serious, often fatal events, or lack of efficacy to realize that you can’t always count on the “peer-reviewed research”.
Those concerns aside, I am feeling healthy for the first time in a year. I ran 8 miles last week. My color is good, and my hair now looks like a cute, short style instead of a chemo-ravaged patchwork quilt. I don’t want to be sad and have achy joints. I don’t want to be fat and wringing wet every morning. It feels very unnatural to take a body that is on the mend and feed it a drug that wreaks such havoc. The doctor said we will deal with whatever side effects come up, meaning he can give me different pills to add to the first pill.
I think the photo below shows a much better idea of what can be done with Tamoxifen bottles and a little creativity. I have to give credit to “The Sarcastic Boob” at http://thesarcasticboob.com/2012/08/16/ten-things-to-do-with-tamoxifen/ for this hilarious post.
All kidding aside, I truly believe in the ability of the body to heal if given the chance. I’m not against medical intervention when necessary, but I don’t think it’s natural to have zero estrogen, which will be the effect of the Tamoxifen. I understand that my tumor was fed by estrogen, but I’m not sure if it was that simple. Cancer is a very complicated, multifactorial disease. My fear is that the cancer will outsmart all of these outside interventions and come back more ruthless than ever. I expressed this to the oncologist, and he had to agree that if we use Tamoxifen and the cancer metastasizes anyway, it will likely be very aggressive and difficult to treat.
So…here I am again, at the edge of the cliff with a 9 millimeter in one hand. I think I may just lay the gun down and back away slowly. You’ll be the first to know.