Updated: May 15
After chemo and radiation is over, you usually have a chemo drug on the horizon to take for the next 5-10 years. I have to admit I was not looking forward to taking a medication for the duration of my 40s but the friends I spoke to that did not have medication prescribed well that scared me more. Treatment sucks for cancer but there is a safety net in it. There is a strange sense of security knowing that what you are doing these surgeries and treatments that they are killing cancer cells. Reoccurrence is one of the most scary things in the cancer journey. It tends to be all you hear about from the moment you are diagnosed...your rate of reoccurrence. Taking a pill seemed like the next logical step- at least for me and seemed like a safety net for the next 10 years.
I remember ringing the chemo bell and then 25 rounds of radiation later I was ringing the radiation bell as well. The follow up appointment a few days later brought the news we all long for...I was told that I am a survivor and to "go live my life." These words seemed to be long awaited for but in the middle of fighting the battle for my life I somehow forgot to focus on these words being the outcome I was battling for. When my oncologist said those words to me that day they seemed scary and foreign to me. I talked about this day in a separate post so I wont go back into detail. As I walked out the door I was handed a prescription for a chemo drug that I would need to take for the next 10 years. Most people I knew took Tamoxifen however through my research, I realized that the drug prescribed for me and my type of breast cancer could be one of many they use now and usually depended on several factors like your age at diagnosis and type of breast cancer. I was prescribed Letrozole. If you follow cancer research and drugs post chemo you will figure out quickly that the drugs prescribed seem to be an educated guessing game as to the years you need to take them and which one you may be prescribed based on how well you tolerate it. The prescriptions used to be written for 5 years and now most people take these drugs for 10 years. The rumor is it will now go back to somewhere between 7-8 years as a new test has been developed to see if women really are benefiting from taking these drugs for so long. I was told there were side effects with the Aromatase Inhibitors (which is what Letrozole is) but to please let them know if what I was experiencing and we will go from there with the potential of switching to a different drug.
The night I was prescribed letrozole I did extensive research - usually at 2AM when I could not sleep and all I could think about was fear of reoccurrence. The stories I heard about this drug were terrifying. Women who could not get out of bed because their joints hurt so bad. Women who were in so much pain they took themselves off the AI pill because the side effects were debilitating and they did not want to live life like this. I could not imagine being in this much pain after having been through chemo and a double mastectomy but I was willing to take anything to lessen the chances of a reoccurrence but I was bracing for the worst. I knew that I had to go every three months back to my oncologist for him to see how I was doing on Letrozole and this alone was enough to tell me this would not be a walk in the park.
The first visit back I was happy to report that my joints seemed stiff and they ached a bit but nothing that ibuprofen could not handle. He was thrilled to hear it and said I was doing so well and to check back in 3 months. As the weeks went by I started to notice the bottom of my feet hurt especially in the morning and when I would get out of bed after sleeping all night I walked like a woman 40 years older than I am. In my mind I knew that there was nothing I could do and being off of this medication was not an option for me and my peace of mind so life would just be like this now. The bright side is there was a light at the end of the tunnel it was just a really long tunnel (10 years). Isn't it funny that we tend to just accept things...things like hospitals we are diagnosed in, doctors we are told we will use and side effects with no hope for lessening the symptoms? Why are we not finding ways to THRIVE ladies??
Fast forward many months of being on Letrozole and many mornings of hobbling to the bathroom and I had the Mrs. South Carolina pageant to prepare for. It was at this time I decided to begin to work out with my trainer, Frank Kozub. My goal was to gain strength and stamina to stand in 5" heels again and to build back some muscle that I had lost during all of my treatment. My goals were primarily pageant focused and this new focus helped to shift my mind away from reoccurrence rates and more on thriving in life. I had no idea that I was actually embarking on so much more and that working out would change my life in so many ways.
Within one week of starting to work out and change my diet I was starting to feel stronger. I could tell how weak my body had become because of cancer and months of treatments. I was shocked at how little weight I could lift and how depleted my body was. I started to workout 3 times per week to prepare for this pageant and it did not take long for my body to start shifting...drastically. My balance was so much better, my stamina greatly improved, I was sleeping better, I had more energy and I started to become stronger both physically and mentally. It felt so good after having been down for a year with back to back surgeries and toxins in my body from chemo and radiation to be focused on somethin bigger and to see the difference in the mirror. The left side of my body where the lymph nodes had been removed started to become just as strong as my right side which was something I never thought would occur. The tightening under my arm in that same place and the cording I suffered from began to loosen completely and I once again had complete range of motion- something I did not have when I was working with a physical therapist. Then it became more then all these side effects going away and it was the pain that I did not notice anymore! The pain I had suffered with because of Letrozole was gone....not lessened...GONE! I was able to get up in the morning and walk like I used to and it felt incredible. I could go to Disney World and keep up with my kids all day at a park. I had no pain in my joints and no pain in my feet. Working out has made all the difference in my life. I truly believe it is working out with a trainer who studied Kinesiology and understands the joints and muscles that makes all the difference in this part of my journey. When I take a week off for vacations I notice the pain coming back and I cant wait to get back to the gym.
Perhaps working out with a trainer is not in your budget. I get that but there are things you can do! Here are a few things to do on a budget:
Walk daily in your neighborhood. Start with down the street and then move to around the block. In no time you will be walking a mile. If it is hot or chilly- walk in the mall!
Order 5-15 pound weights from amazon and do bicep curls and tricep kickbacks.
If you have access to a pool...swim! This is great for your joints!
Look online for some free workouts to do- they are free and you can do them at home. All you need is 30 minutes!
The more your stamina builds the stronger you will feel. Do not let Letrozole take you down or make you feel like your life is all about pain now!! You got this doll!!!