Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Loop theory

(Challenge: see if you can pick the cunningly concealed, very exciting piece of news in this post.)


I did not have a happy menopause.

Think night sweats so diabolical that I had to leap right out of bed and run outside in the middle of winter. Think mood swings so intense that I completely failed to conceal from my then partner that I was head over heels in love with someone else (whoops). Think complete failure to maintain a straight line in either thought or behaviour.

I was a right old mess, I was. And it lasted for over six years.

Well, here we go again. This evening I took my first hormone therapy tablet. Arimidex is designed for women who've already endured the 'change of life', but that doesn't stop it throwing you straight back into the bull pen.

Pity my poor Bear. This is his third round of breast cancer, but I do believe it'll be round four of Living With a Menopausal Maniac. And I'll be responsible for two of those.


Along with the joy of menopausal loop theory- send no money, we will bill you!- comes the delight of rattling like a maraca in the hands of a Parkinson's sufferer for the next five years. Yes, I don't just get to take the Arimidex; I also win a concurrent five years of glucosamine and krill oil to counteract the joint pain, plus ditto of calcium and Vitamin D to counteract the reduction in bone density.

I did not enjoy returning the granny-style pill organiser to the dining table tonight. It's bad enough wearing granny bras.

Ah, cancer. How you piss me off.


So why, you might ask, am I being subjected to this latest indignity?

The idea of the Arimidex is to starve any remaining fragments of hungry Freeloader of yummy, delicious oestrogen by binding to the enzyme needed to produce it. That puts a chemical spanner in the works of the oestrogen production line and the whole thing comes to a crashing halt. (At least, that's what I gather from the page upon page of information provided with my script. I'm not a doctor, I'm a wild-eyed woman with chemo brain. Look it up before you quote me.)

Mumbles reckons that this drug, on top of the treatment I've already received, improves my chances of avoiding a recurrence by about 60%. That sounds pretty radical to me- I may have misunderstood him- but the message I get is that I'd be a fool not to try it. So try it I will, side effects and all.

If my hair starts to fall out again, mind you, There Will Be Trouble. I like my Megwig, I do, but There Are Limits. I've only just got to the point where I can pinch the regrowth between my finger and thumb. Sure, having passed through the Monkey incarnation my head now resembles a silver-arsed wombat in retreat, but small steps. Small steps.


The Bear decided not to come in with me at today's appointment with Talk To The Knee. When we walked into the consulting rooms a neat three minutes before my designated appointment time of 11am, only to be told that Mumbles was running over an hour late AND there were four people waiting before me AND he hadn't even arrived from the hospital yet where he was doing rounds, the Bear silently turned on his heel and walked out.

Not a good sign. Even with my back turned to him I could feel the steam rising above the dreadlocks.

In the end, we went downtown and layered Bunnings Rage on top of Medical Waiting Room Rage for a while. May as well be hung for a sheep as a goat, and all that.

"No, we don't carry that paint in 2 litre pots." 

"Oh really? I bought two 2 litre pots here two weeks ago, you clown."

Oh alright, I didn't actually call the (non-)assistant a clown to his face, but if he'd had another neurone to match the lonely one banging around in his skull he might have been able to translate my tone of voice.

And wonder of wonders, one little phone call to Management and ... here comes another red-apronned fool carrying- yes- a 2-litre pot of my paint!

(Head. Desk.)

Painting, you ask? Yes, we've been sealing the wood on the treehouse where this
whole story started. One of these posts is the reason I found the damn lump in the
first place, so I guess I owe this building my life. Nice to be able to get back to it.


So by the time we were summoned back to Mumbles' rooms by the shrill of my mobile, which irritatingly interrupted our excellent coffees at Cafe Cappello, the Bear was in no state to take the Mellow-Mumbles gamble. He dropped me at the door and scarpered for a while with my full consent.

I grabbed the initiative at once; by now I was in no mood for mucking around either.

"Had a bit of a busy morning?" I parried, grinning as I looked him in the eye.

Back in the filing cabinet, Mumbles. Paging Dr Mellow!

"I love starting my day two hours behind the eight ball," was his wry riposte. Turns out the other oncologist was missing in action today, so someone had had double ward rounds.

Fair enough.


Writing the script for the Arimidex, he started to find a little twinkle as we manipulated our merry way to a Medicare-refundable bone density test. Hallelujah for my somewhat early menopause; apparently having bugger-all hormones left at age 42, according to a blood test way back then, might just swing me a baseline test that doesn't cost me my house. Or something.

Checking out my nuked chest, he agreed cheerfully that it was a remarkably mild reaction. Hardly burnt at all, really. I asked if the Lyrica I'm taking for the stabbing nerve pain (radiotherapy- another gift that keeps on giving) was compatible with Arimidex, and got the nod (hallelujah again).

Less worthy of hallelujahs was the list of possible side effects he reeled off, but at least the suggested fixes weren't all produced in a test tube. I was glad I'd taken a notepad, as there's no way my chemo brain would have remembered the shopping list by the time I got to the chemist. Also not gaining any happy-clappy praise was the news that my continuing peripheral neuropathy would go away when it damn well felt like it, not when it suited me.


I have no idea how we ended up talking about my cholesterol levels, but it's just as well we did. Turns out that those cholesterol-lowering margarines I've been using, to counteract the unwelcome effect of the chemo on my cholesterol levels, are full of phyto-oestrogens.

Not the greatest idea for someone who's had an oestrogen-positive tumour.

He pulled up my most recent blood test then- what did doctors do before the internet, I wonder?- and smiled.

"Your cholesterol's gone right back to normal anyway," he informed me. "So you can stop worrying about that."

(Done. Yay for me.)

He reiterated that my exercise regimen was a fabulous idea, as it would help with just about every side effect I was likely to experience. I have to admit to preening a little there. I've not missed a day since the beginning of radiotherapy, and as an added bonus I'm actually starting to drop a little bit of weight.

Nothing like a life-threatening illness for increasing one's willpower, eh? It would be ironic if it was cancer that finally got me down to my ideal weight in a sensible way. I've always been either 'quite a lot' to 'way, way' over... or, once, way, way under. My weight charts when I was young made a yoyo look sluggish, given my foolish attempts to diet my way to social acceptance by starving myself in between binges.

It would be nice to think that this cattle-car journey had given me something more, in the long term, than a lopsided chest and anaesthetised extremities.


And then, the crucial question. How often do I go under the machines to check for recurrences?

And the answer is... I don't.


"There's no evidence that constant tests improve outcomes," Mellow reassured me. "In fact all those x-rays are counter-productive. If you ring me up complaining of constant back pain, we'll put you under the scanner again, but otherwise there's really no point. It puts you more at risk from all the radiation, and it makes you unreasonably anxious while you wait for the results."

And that made me a very happy little camper. Even if I do have to loop-the-loop back into crazyville for the next five years.


How did you go with the challenge?


Smack yourself heartily on the back if you spotted the fact that I enjoyed my first cup of coffee since DECEMBER. Yep, three months out from my last chemo I can finally enjoy the smell again. And that is a bit of loop theory that I'm very happy to entertain.

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