There is a little white pill that is prescribed to millions of women for the prevention of breast cancer. But this is not Mick Jagger’s “Mother’s Little Helper” – it’s Tamoxifen– and I do not believe I was given sufficient warning about the side effects from the pill. I know Tamoxifen does so much good, and I continue to take it, but I wanted to tell my story so that others are aware.
A few years ago, I discovered a calcification in my right breast from a routine mammogram (repeated many times). A biopsy followed, which revealed that it was pre-cancerous. I loved the “pre” prefix on that one. My surgeon, not being an alarmist, stated calmly that my “breasts were just dying to have cancer,” but he told me not to worry, saying, it was “very treatable.”
“OK,” I thought, “I won’t worry. I’m not vulnerable. I’ll just have the micro amount of tissue removed and I’ll be fine!”
And that’s what I did–I had that pre-cancerous tissue removed. It was done as an outpatient procedure, it was not painful, I had no scars, and no worries…life was going to go on!
But then the catch. Post-surgery, it was expected that I meet with a radiologist, so I met with the big Doc, the head of the department at the hospital. I was fine with that–after all, I knew I didn’t have cancer, so I figured, “what could he tell me that I didn’t already know?”
I waited and waited for him to arrive, my anxiety increasing by the second, even though I didn’t think I had anything to worry about. He finally entered, a nice, white-haired gentleman in a white coat. He proceeded to tell me about all my options, and all I could think of was, “Options for what? I don’t have cancer!”
He told me there were basically three options, and started with Option One: Radiation. He told me that this measure could only be done once in a lifetime in the area affected. So if the cancer cells returned, it limited my options for next time. Ugh!
Then he switched gears, and told me about Option Two–the big one; Double Mastectomy! What? I couldn’t help myself. I blurted out, “why are you telling me this – I don’t really have cancer! Am I in denial?” He explained that some women with a genetic history, or who held their mothers in their arms as they died from breast cancer, might just want to make that decision. Another Ugh!
He explained Option Three, supposedly the last best preventable treatment: supposedly very safe, reliable, with limited symptoms and easy to administer. Tamoxifen! Recommended by the radiologist, oncologist and surgeon. And so, that was the option I went with.
For five years, I took Tamoxifen daily, as so many (can it be in the millions?) women do.
Slowly but surely, I came to realize what was happening to me. Tamoxifen is a hormone blocker– it blocks those little nasty cancer cells from developing in breast tissue, and that’s all good. Very good. But what I didn’t think about was that as women, we need hormones! We love hormones! Hormones turn physical love into pleasure!
So what happened to me? Slowly but surely, like an old peach set out in the sun for too long, I dried up too! Just like that…
I am sure they told me that this was a side effect. And I wonder..did I not listen or did I just not hear it? And if I heard it, what choice did I have? I don’t remember exactly, but I was told there are vaginal rings and there are creams to help the situation. But nothing will truly ever will take the place of libido. Oh, the days of HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy), where have you gone?
Then I think and thank God. I’m in my 60s and this change in my body has occurred now. I have a wise therapist who told me to use my memory, meaning at least I have many years behind me of an active sexual life to rely on, and the love of a long-term relationship. I think often of the young women diagnosed everyday with breast cancer. Breast cancer doesn’t discriminate if you’re single, a young married or a new mom. These women have many more years ahead of them wanting and hoping for satisfying physical love and sexual intimacy, while sustaining long-term relationships. But do they have enough memory to deal with the difficult challenges ahead? I know I am lucky! But I hope the future will bring new treatments and better drugs that will not challenge women in the bedroom. It’s the difficult choices we must bare…