Side Effects

The wonderful world of side effects

12/13/20233 min read

I don’t use the word “lucky” often when I talk about my diagnosis of secondary breast cancer: the reasons for which I presume are fairly obvious. However, I do feel quite fortunate that I don’t currently have any cancer symptoms. Obviously, I have a lump in my breast (which I can barely feel now) but I don’t have any symptoms from the metastases on my spine or pelvis. Most people find out that their cancer has metastasised (spread) when they get pain or symptoms that don’t disappear. Bone mets are supposed to be incredibly painful so I am making the most of the fact that mine are currently small and painless.

Woo hoo, you may think! No symptoms, no surgery or IV chemo yet - so why am I so blinking tired all the time? Why do I wake up in the morning unable to walk down the stairs like a normal person, putting one foot in front of the other and bending each knee as I go? Side effects: currently the cruelest and most confusing part of my diagnosis. I have a horrible diagnosis, yet it wasn’t until I started having treatment for this stupid cancer that I started feeling unwell. “Unwell” is probably not the right word as I do feel well but I have a lot of pain and random side effects, all caused by the cocktail of medications that I take. Over half the medications I now take on a daily basis are actually to help combat the side effects caused by the cancer medication.

Up till now, the side effects that I struggle with are:

The Menopause. Ugh. The Zoladex injections I have every month shut down my ovaries so I am in a state of constant, medically induced menopause. The hot flushes were unbelievably debilitating and my team quickly prescribed a drug called Oxybutynin to help with these obviously HRT is out of the question as my cancer loves to feed off hormones… hence why I now have none. I am so grumpy and brain fog is real. Last night I tried to put an egg in the dishwasher instead of a dishwasher tablet. I have started forgetting occasional words so sit there looking like an absolute idiot whilst I try to remember the names of things or people. Menopause is brutal and I now understand why my MacMillan nurse told me that it would probably be the most difficult side effect.

Joint pain. Oh my! My hands, fingers, ankles, knees, hips, feet and toes hurt. Not all of the time and moving tends to help a lot - I have been going to the gym since April and whilst there are some things I just don’t seem to be able to make my body do (lunges being one of them but who needs to lunge in real life anyway?) the classes really help with pain and mobility. I wake up in the night to find my fingers, hands and wrists are numb and this causes some pain in the mornings, however I try to move my fingers a lot (typing and piano playing) and hope this will help. I have some nerve damage in my feet and think I may have some in my hands too as my fingertips feel weird but we will see. Apparently the Letrozole (hormone blocker) causes the joint pain but the Ribociclib (chemo drug) is potentially causing the nerve pain. Hurrah!

Tiredness: This comes and goes. At the beginning I was exhausted but I think I have got used to it as I try not to have a nap most days. I’m neither a 90 year old woman nor a toddler and I therefore refuse to schedule a nap into my day. Sometimes though the tiredness hits, as if from nowhere, and I really have to sleep. We went to Algeria over the Christmas holidays and I kept falling asleep every time we went in a car. I just have to work around this though and it really isn’t a problem too much of the time.

Other, less debilitating, side effects include randomly losing all the hair on my arms and legs one month (it then grew back a few months later), very shiny skin on the palms of my hands, a weakened immune system (however having three kids and working in a class of 40 germ riddled children probably helps keep it stronger), taking longer to heal (cuts seem to take a bit longer and my multitude of new ear piercings seem to take a while to settle) and I’m sure there are others however due to the menopause induced brain fog I cannot remember them.

I try not to moan too much about feeling crap (pretty sure Mr B would disagree but he doesn’t count) and I think it’s easy to forget that there’s anything wrong with me. I don’t want sympathy or to be treated differently 95% of the time but every now and then I feel like screaming at people about how shit I feel and how unfair it all is. It’s a really strange one but I guess there’s no handbook telling me how I should feel or behave so for now I will carry on doing it my way.