New normal, day 51. It’s hard to believe that I’m almost two months past radiation, and already marking my first month of the aromatase inhibitor (AI). Today I had my one-month check-in with the oncology nurse practitioner and it seems as if I’m tolerating the AI pretty well so far. Truth be told, I was quite afraid of this part of the journey, having heard many horror stories from others and in online forums about side effects — pain, fatigue, heart issues, hair loss, just to name a few. I learned today that about 75% of patients tolerate the meds pretty well, and for the other 25%, it’s a bit of trial and error to find the right medication and to manage the side effects. Looks like so far, I’m in the 75%. Yay! Nothing awful so far, nothing I can’t tolerate long-term, and what I am doing — exercising, eating well — will only make the symptoms more manageable. I didn’t love hearing that the AIs, because they suppress estrogen, actually speed up the aging process, thus the impact on bone density, cholesterol, heart health. But they also reduce the recurrence of breast cancer by 50%, so I’ll take a little premature aging to get that benefit. As with many things, it’s a trade off.
My appointment today was in the medical oncology suite where I came for all of my chemo treatments and follow-up and I was struck by how far I’ve come since that point in time. I’m no longer exhausted and worn out by chemo, my surgical sites have healed, and I’m through radiation and its after effects. As I looked around the waiting room, I saw people in various stages of this journey and felt quite grateful to be on this end of things. Sure, I’m not where I want to be energy wise, and I had a nice wake-up call about my immunity and general level of resistance with a bout of strep in the past few days, but that was easily treated with antibiotics, and I’m feeling much more like myself, whatever “myself” actually is these days.
I’m starting to understand that I can no longer compare “myself” to who I was before cancer. Too much has changed, too much has happened, and I’m no longer that person and I may never be again. What I can do is look for markers of progress — swimming 32 lengths in the pool vs. 26 two weeks ago; getting through one month on the new medication with no major issues; hair that could almost be called a style; beginning to travel again, even if it’s short distances; being on the other side of the worst of treatment. As cancer goes, it’s a good day.