I have been off chemo for a month now. My latest scans show my cancer is holding steady; nothing is growing or spreading, but nothing is shrinking either. My doctor gave me the choice of a) continuing to flog away at the cancer using chemotherapy or b) take a break from chemo and try hormone therapy as a means of maintaining my current cancer status or possibly improving it.
My husband burst through the door that Thursday after my last scan to tell me the news in the most neutral manner possible. The PA who returned his many emails and phone messages to the hospital was very pleased to report that the cancer was stable, but Casey knew I would be less than thrilled to get the news. I was given the chance to take a break from chemo at the start of the summer but I chose to be a heroine and keep going. My most acute side effects (bloody noses, mouth sores, neuropathy) had resolved and I was only left with mounting fatigue to grapple. Only fatigue. Ha.
When my boys were at camp, I worked or cleaned my house until I fell asleep. After picking them up, I'd scan the Chicago Park District pool schedules for the soonest open swims we could enjoy together, laughing and bobbing like corks in the water. I wanted to have a fun, carefree time with them and I wanted them to have fun with me. Last summer, before I knew about the dark, parasitic masses growing inside me, I spent afternoons at Montrose Beach with them full of anxiety for no apparent reason. I would beg Casey to let me nap on weekends. Last July, I drove to an ovarian cancer screening barely able to hold the steering wheel. When the doctor asked me how I was doing, I told him I was so tired that I felt disoriented. "Have you seen your oncologist recently?" he asked. I drove back up Lake Shore Drive sobbing to my helpless husband about how exhausted I was. The tumors were growing so fast and leeching the life from me. My brain was sounding alarm bells but I was hitting snooze snd rolling over.
At the start of this summer, we spent wonderful days riding bikes to California Pool and doing laps around the conjoined paths that ring Horner Park. The next day, I'd pay for it by spending the next morning slack-jawed and lead-limbed on the couch in the darkened living room; hovering between sleep and wakefulness; torn between caring for my house, my job, my sons and myself. The boys would be whisked away by a neighbor, a relative, or a nanny. I'd eat to try and energize myself and then, paradoxically, never have the energy to burn it off. All the responsibility-juggling eventually took its toll and I was fat, tired, and harried. I sobbed upon hearing that the three summer cycles of chemo didn't pay off with another huge reduction in tumor size, but once the dust cleared, I told my oncologist I was ready to try hormone therapy. Since estrogen has been found to fuel my tumors, the hormone therapy drugs use a variety of means to intercept that function, hopefully starving the tumors of what they need to thrive.
After assessing my current hormone levels via blood test, it was determined that I was not actually in menopause even after four months of adjuvant therapy, more than three years of tamoxifen and another nine months of chemo. We Kintonis girls are FERTILE. I am being given an injectable implant once a month called Zoladex which will shut my ovaries down. Each month, my hormone levels will be checked and once it looks like my ovaries have tapped out, I'll receive another type of hormone-suppressing injection called Faslodex. That one is a huge needle in the ass which delivers the goods slowly. Sounds vaguely porny. If I had any sex drive left, I'd care! Anyway, until I am declared menopausal, it's a thick yet painless shot in my belly fat. I guess it's good for something, right?
Until my next visit with my doc, I'm tossing around the idea of just having my ovaries removed. Since I have the BRCA2 mutation and am more susceptible to ovarian cancer, I should probably just yank 'em out and bypass the whole Zoladex thing. It's like I'm playing some sick game of chess with body parts, making risky moves and sacrificing pawns to beat this formidable opponent. For now, I'm enjoying increased energy, growing hair and the start of the school year!