Sometimes a person can be many years out from active cancer treatment and something triggers you to realize the cancer has changed you forever. The changes may be obvious, like your hair, but some changes become a part of your life. Integrated into who you are, and then an event or progression brings reality into focus.
The Back Story:
At the time of this writing I am six years of no evidence of disease from stage 3 breast cancer. I have had a double mastectomy, chemo and radiation. That itself is a lot. I have also been on post-treatment medications for five years, and while the medications’ side effects have not been major, they have been notable.
A couple of months ago I started having pain in my fingers and my first thought – as it likely is with any breast cancer patient – was that it could be the cancer returning. When there is a recurrence of breast cancer, it often metastasizes to the brain, bones, or lungs. Once I found my logical footing, I thought about the fact that there is arthritis in my family and I’m in my early 50’s now. But, being the diligent patient that I am, I mentioned my pain to my oncologist at a check up. He told me if it continued, to see a Rheumatologist. One of my medications had caused a trigger thumb a few years ago, so I was already established with a Rheumatologist thankfully, and leading up to the appointment I made notes of where the pain was and how often.
Having had premature twins, I have been immersed in the medical community for over 20 years and I feel like I understand quite a bit, but I struggle with reciting the information to others. Science, and relaying specific scientific information is just not my strength! So, in explaining what the doctor told me about my hand pain, bear in mind it’s my interpretation in layman’s terms.
The Good News:
I have arthritis. Why is this good? Because it’s not cancer, of course, but also the explanation the doctor gave me reminded me to give myself grace. You see, I’m a hard worker with both my business and the family members that I care for, as a sandwich generation person. I’m tired, often, and my body just plain feels old. My Rheumatologist reminded me that the medications I have been on for five years can cause joint and bone pain. Then came the scientific stuff that made sense, but I can’t recite in medical-ease. The doctor said when the hormones are blocked it may affect the joints and nerves. He explained that the arthritis may have been there anyway, but by being on these medications that block hormones, my body is changed. In other words, those receiving hormone blockers may be more likely to develop arthritis and the pain may be more noticeable.
More Good News:
I almost cancelled the appointment with the Rheumatologist because my pain had improved, but I’m really glad I went because of three reasons.
- I realized I had been eating clean the past few weeks, with mostly plant foods and few processed items, and it has made a difference in my joint pain!
- I walked away with some ideas of what makes sense for me to do when the pain does occur.
- I was reminded that I had cancer, that I’m still on meds for it, and it still impacts me. The side effects have been integrated into my life, so I don’t think about them daily. This realization sucks to an extent, but it also allows me to give myself some grace on a hard day.
“It’s not easy to know, I’m not anything like I used to be.” Sara Bareilles, She Used To Be Mine
What Grace Looks Like – For Me:
For some time I have been working on creating consistent routines that nourish me holistically, including exercise, breathing techniques, journaling, and nutrient dense foods. I need to remind myself that it’s okay to rest when any side effects intensify. Caring for myself in these ways, by taking action and also having compassion for myself when I can’t do it all, that is grace in my mind. These reminders that cancer will always have an impact on my life also makes me think about the ones who have passed from this disease. I know the best way that I can honor them is to live with purpose, joy, love, and grace for myself.