PREVENTION TREATMENT AND MOVING ON WITH LIFE~Part III
A couple of weeks after my post-surgery follow up, I met my new oncologist. At my appointment, I underwent a breast exam and a full review of my biopsies and my health history. From there, the oncologist reviewed with me the averages of breast cancer occurrence in the general population and the likelihood that I would have breast cancer within five years and within twenty years. His calculations, based on my health, my family history and the types of cells found in my biopsies, indicate I am more than twice as likely as other women to develop breast cancer in the next five to twenty years.
But the news need not be so troubling today. The oncologist informed me of various medications that are being used to reduce the development of breast cancer in women who have experienced a pre-cancer or early cancer situation. And I am a candidate for just such treatment. Furthermore, my information will be used as part of a study to rate how effective these medications are for women in the future.
My doctor selected Raloxifene treatment for me. Raloxifene is used for menopausal women who may also be at risk for osteoporosis or other brittle bone issues. The drug comes in pill form and is taken once a day. Yes, there are numerous side effects, many of which sound a lot like pre-menopausal and menopausal symptoms, such as headaches, blurred vision, hot flashes and difficulty sleeping, among dozens of others. After a week of treatment, I have had no indication of any side effects so I am grateful for my apparent tolerance of the drug. Treatment with Raloxifene is for five years and requires six-month visits with the oncologist. At these visits, I will have a breast exam and review my six-month mammograms and undergo a complete check-up that includes a review of where I stand in terms of any reduction in my likelihood of developing breast cancer.
In addition to my Raloxifene treatment, I am continuing with my pescatarian diet and daily exercise routine. Surprisingly, while my surgeon is adamant I remain living a pescatarian/vegetarian lifestyle as part of my fight against breast cancer, my oncologist doubts the studies relating diet to breast cancer occurrence in the general population. That does not mean he gave me the green light to eat and drink anything I want however. He does advocate both diet an exercise as a means of significantly reducing the risk of heart attack and other heart disease and stroke, as well as other types of cancers. So, I’m not off the hook! Furthermore, I was notified that I should never again use any form of hormone therapy including over-the-counter menopausal supplements that contain natural hormone producing ingredients. This also means strictly limiting my soy product intake, as soy is after all, a form of estrogen. And I shouldn’t have to bring up the issue of smoking or over-indulging in alcohol: just don’t do it.
The post-surgery oncology preventative treatment is by far the easiest part of this journey. Yes, it means taking a medication daily for the next five years and undergoing twice yearly tests and reviews with my oncologist. But if oncology prevention can reduce my risk of breast cancer by as much as half, putting me back into the range of the average woman in society, then I’ll gladly do it. And if my information somehow helps with breast cancer treatment for other women in the future, that is just another blessing for my community.
One in eight women in the general population will get breast cancer. These aren’t the best odds for any of us, and for those of us with higher risk factors, our chances can seem overwhelmingly dire. But we can all do things to reduce our risk and increase our chances of survival if we find ourselves to be one of the unlucky gals diagnosed. Knowing how to do self-breast exams at home should be second nature, and an annual breast health exam and mammogram are a must for every woman over the age of 40 and for those in high risk categories. Don’t put off your own breast health. I am one of the lucky few who was found to have an issue BEFORE it turned to full blown cancer requiring more than post-surgery, preventative oncology. Do yourself and your family a favor: have ALL your medical preventative check-ups and tests, on time, on the schedule your doctors map out for you.
Live a long, healthy and beautiful life!