Breast cancer, Cancer, Fertility, Health, Oestrogen, Tamoxifen, Women's Health

Project Tamoxifen 2017/2022

Tomorrow I will take my first dose of Tamoxifen – the drug that suppresses oestrogen production to keep the cancer from coming back. I have to take Tamoxifen every day for the next five years, so that’s 1,825 tablets, and if all goes to plan, I’ll take my last one around the 18th December 2017, when I’m 35 years old. A lot can happen in five years! That said, a recent article suggested that doctors could change the recommendation to 10 years of Tamoxifen to increase survival rates, so if that happens, I’ll be taking it until 2022, year of the long-awaited Qatar World Cup! (Perhaps I’ll get tickets and go along to celebrate).

The most common side effects of Tamoxifen are:

– Weight gain

– Increased risk of blood clots

– Hot flushes

So if I’m chubby, rosy-cheeked and wearing rather tight socks next time you see me, you’ll know why!

As I said, Tamoxifen is taken to reduce oestrogen in patients with oestrogen-sensitive breast cancer, like myself. It’s a funny thing, oestrogen. Right before I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I had been taking an oestrogen-only contraceptive pill. I am told the pill isn’t likely to have caused my breast cancer – it’s more likely to be genetic – but if I had known about the risks associated with oestrogen, coupled with my grandmother’s breast cancer, I may have thought twice about an oestrogen-only pill, not to mention the pill in general.

Among the more devastating things I’ve been told by oncologists since my diagnosis is that if I’d had children already, I probably wouldn’t have got breast cancer. This is because getting pregnant reduces your oestrogen production, and the more pregnancies, the less oestrogen. So if I’d had kids in my early 20s instead of doing all that travelling and working, perhaps I wouldn’t be in this situation. And now there’s a chance I won’t be able to have kids at all. Kind of ironic…! Still, I’m not complaining – I’ve had an incredible time since finishing school and if I’d had kids in my early 20s, I probably wouldn’t have seen or done as much as I have. So, no regrets…

Breast cancer, Cancer, Fertility, Uncategorized

To Freeze or Not to Freeze

I have steered clear of all fertility talk thus far because initially it was simply too upsetting. But it is the hardest part of having cancer for me, so if I continued this blog without mentioning it, it would be rather like lying, presenting a big rosy picture and missing out the most important part. And now I’ve had some time to become at peace with it, and it might not be so bad, so here goes.

I was offered a last-minute appointment with a fertility specialist in Manchester today, so off I went, to discuss the possible effects of chemotherapy on my fertility and the preservation methods available. If I have understood correctly, chemotherapy targets cells that are multiplying, and thus it can confuse cancer cells with eggs, damaging some women’s fertility. However, since I will be only 30 years old when I have the chemo, I stand a very good chance of coming out of the treatment fully fertile with all my eggs in tact.

In addition to the chemo, my type of cancer is oestrogen-receptor positive, which means I have to take drugs for 5 years to lower my oestrogen levels to reduce the chances of the cancer coming back. This doesn’t make me in any way infertile, and the advantage is that if I wanted to have a baby after 2 years, I could stop the treatment, have a baby, and then continue the treatment for another 3 years. So the main concern is the chemo.

My only option to protect myself against the unlikely event of becoming infertile after the chemo is to freeze my eggs. However, freezing my eggs would mean stimulating my oestrogen production for 3 weeks, which is exactly the opposite of what we want to do and could increase the likelihood of my cancer coming back at a later stage. Egg freezing is also expensive at £5,000 (uninsurable) and also has an extremely low success rate of about 10%. Having the treatment would also mean going to Manchester most days for 2-3 weeks and having a couple of injections per day, followed by a general anaesthetic and a short procedure (but not surgery).

So, to freeze or not to freeze?

There is every chance I will come out of the chemotherapy still very fertile, and never need to use the frozen eggs. However, if there is a small chance the chemo will make me infertile, is it worth creating a low risk to my own health in order to gain a 10% chance at having my own biological children in future? Oh how I wish I knew.

On the upside, when I got back in the car after visiting the hospital, the first thing I heard on the radio was a woman talking about how she had accidentally fallen pregnant at 47, so there is plenty of hope.

Please don’t feel any need to comment on this one – I have published it in the interests of sharing and being honest about my whole experience, but I’m not looking for any words of sympathy. I won’t be having babies for a good few years yet either way, so I have plenty of time to keep enjoying life and working on the Things to do before I’m 40 list. Oh, and thanks to those of you who’ve so far offered me your surrogate children, your sperm and even hair transplants – hopefully I won’t be needing them! 😉

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