Welcome to Giddy's series for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Each week, we will take a deep dive into an aspect of the breast cancer experience. For this final week of October, we'll hear one woman's triumphant story of surviving breast cancer—and the impact the disease will forever have on her life.
I'm sure it's from my 4-year-old, who still insists on being carried up the stairs to bed, or my 1-year-old, who's been fighting a steady stream of daycare colds and won't even let me put him down so I can go to the bathroom.
I don't think there's a mother of young kids who doesn't have similar hip, back or knee complaints from the constant bending and squatting demanded by their infants and toddlers. But for me, every little body pain triggers some level of anxiety.
Three years ago, when my oldest son was 9½ months old, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. After my double mastectomy, my doctors felt confident they had caught the cancer before it had spread to my lymph nodes and surrounding organs.
Further testing determined I was able to forgo chemotherapy and radiation. My team assured me I was one of the lucky ones. The best course of action for my estrogen-positive breast cancer was to inject me monthly with shots that would put me into early menopause (I was 41), coupled with taking a daily anti-estrogen pill—a treatment plan I'd continue for the next five to 10 years.
"So how do we know if all these medications are working?" I asked my oncologist at our initial appointment.
My doctor replied by telling me we'd check my hormone levels monthly to confirm I was remaining in menopause. They also told me to pay attention to my body. If I noticed any new aches or pains, I was to inform my doctors so they could run scans and check for underlying issues.
Breast cancer is a tricky little beast, and if it comes back, it likes to metastasize to the bones, lungs, liver and brain. If it does return, it can be treated, but it will be considered terminal, as there is currently no cure for metastatic breast cancer (MBC).
I sit in my car trying to remember when the pain first started, ignoring the statistic that up to 30 percent of early-stage breast cancer goes on to become metastatic. Has the pain been getting worse?
I've been driving a lot these past few weeks—that's probably why I'm noticing it more now, right? I mentioned the pain later that day to my breast surgeon, who examines me twice a year to confirm there isn't a local recurrence, detectable by an enlarged lymph node or palpable lump around the scar tissue of the breasts.
He busies himself with taking notes and casually responds to my concern, "Just keep an eye on it and if it gets worse, mention it to your oncologist. I wouldn't worry too much."
"So you wouldn't recommend running a test or anything now?" I asked.
"No, not at this time. Just keep an eye on the pain and touch base with me or your oncologist if you notice it getting more painful. Then maybe we can talk about running a bone scan."
So, essentially, we wait until we are more certain there could be a problem to run a test to determine definitively what the issue is, at which point it could be too late to cure the problem? These are the moments I really miss alcohol. I settle instead for a matcha latte at the Starbucks across the street from the hospital.
And then I remember the pain in my hip intensified right after my boys insisted I hold them both, one on each hip, as we walked up the steep set of stairs from the basement. Come to think of it, my neck and upper back didn't feel too great after that little jaunt either. I'm sure that's what it was. I just needed a massage and a hot bath.
I have to remember, too, that the common side effects of the medications I take are increased muscle and bone pain. There's a reason why women's bodies go through an adjustment period as they approach menopause. I feel pleased with the evidence linking my kids and my medications to the pain.
I take another sip of my latte and head back into the hospital for my next appointment at the bone density clinic—another side effect of the medications has been bone loss, and I'm now pre-osteoporotic and require regular follow-ups to assess.
I consume 4,000 units of vitamin D a day to help with bone strength and 10 mg of melatonin for insomnia—also caused by the drugs. As I wait for my name to be called, I text my friend, a fellow survivor, to see if her oncology appointment next week lines up with mine.
Her company always makes sitting in the waiting room much more tolerable. We make plans to meet before, and I notice my hip is feeling much better. I take a deep breath and scroll through emails on my phone, feeling grateful to be alive today, watching my kids grow up.
Of course, with breast cancer, you never truly know what the future holds, but at this moment, listening to my country music playlist, I believe I'm going to be okay. How I'll feel tomorrow, or even an hour from now, I have no idea.