“7However, we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the power beyond what is normal may be God’s and not that out of ourselves. 8We are pressed in every way, but not cramped beyond movement; we are perplexed, but not absolutely with no way out; 9we are persecuted, but not left in the lurch; we are thrown down, but not destroyed. ” (2 Cor 4:7-9)
I have had a headache for several days now. And it is nerve-wracking.
I don’t get the kind of headaches that you can take a Tylenol or Motrin, or a cup of coffee or whatever, and just wait for it to go away. Mine require pharmaceuticals and a good three day nap. Oh, and my insurance company decided that the only migraine medicine that works for these headaches, Zomig, is no longer covered, and it costs $220 for 4 pills — enough for one headache.
I always had headaches when I was a young person, until I had my first baby. Something about pregnancy, nursing and young motherhood invigorates your body — my lifelong allergies went away, my skin became lovely, and the migraines ceased, for a good 20 years.
I had my last child about 14 years after my next-to-the-last child. It’s amazing how your body remembers — I had an easier pregnancy and childbirth with him, working through my pregnancy as a 3rd grade teacher, even teaching summer school the summer before Little Man was born. He was the biggest of all of them, nearly a 9-pounder, and the delight of our (old) hearts. The headaches continued to be in remission for a long time.
The little buggers returned several years ago, when (I guess) my body realized that there would be no more “mother” hormones to keep them at bay. I just learned to make do most days. Not fun.
When you go through chemotherapy, a lot of things happen to your body, besides the killing of stray cancer cells. One of the things that happens to most women is that you go through a chemically-induced menopause — very quick, very acute, and, usually, very final, especially for someone like myself who was getting close to that time, anyway. One of the wonderful things that happened because of this (besides the miracle of never having to spend a zillion dollars on feminine items again) is that the headaches went away. Oh, yay! I thought…
Then came tamoxifen and Arimidex.
Most women who are not yet throught menopause receive five years of adjuvant treatment with tamoxifen after their chemo and radiation treatment for breast cancer is over. Tamoxifen tricks your body into thinking it has produced estrogen — in the body, it looks like estrogen, and sticks to the same places that estrogen does, preventing estrogen from doing so. But, not really being estrogen, it doesn’t feed b.c. cells that have estrogen receptors [NOTE: doctors test the tumor cells, and can sometimes determine the kinds of hormones that appear to make the cells grow — this helps them find the right chemo treatment for you. The tumor that was removed from me grew in response to estrogen and progesterone]. So any stray cancer cells are cut off from any “food” because the tamoxifen gets there first. It’s kind of like eating cotton balls — your stomach feels full, but it’s full of something it can’t use for food. I started tamoxifen in April of 2010, the month after my last radiation treatment.
Unfortunately, tamoxifen has a lot of not-so-nice side effects. I felt old — achy joints, weight gain, hot flashes, and regular gall bladder attacks, tamoxifen liking to mess with your liver. If I even looked at a McDonald’s french fry or a piece of chicken, I ended up in the ER. Great. Oh, and, of course, tamoxifen causes headaches. The doctor prescribed me baby doses of Elavil (normally used as an anti-depressant at much higher doses) for the hot flashes, but it made me grind and clench my teeth, and feel stupid — no, no, no. I’ll muscle through the hot flashes, thank you very much. No tardive dyskinesia for this baby girl.
When it was clear, in 2011, that my ovaries had had enough, and I was no longer producing any estrogen, and would not ever, my doctor switched me to the “kinder, gentler” Arimidex: I would finish out my five-year adjuvant sentence with Arimidex instead of tamoxifen.
Arimidex works by reducing any trace amount of estrogen produced in the body. It tends to have fewer side effects that tamoxifen, but can only be used in women who are post-menopausal: in a younger woman who is still in child-bearing mode, there is just too much estrogen for Arimidex to do the job. Since I was now among the ranks of post-menopausal women (no, we don’t all look like old ladies!), I switched to Arimidex.
Did I tell you that headaches are a side effect of Arimidex, too?
A few months ago, I decided to start exercising more, and eating less, to try to get off the weight that the tamoxifen and Arimidex put on me. I’d like to lose 10 pounds. So I started slowly, and have lost 3.5 lbs over the last 3 wks (See my recent “3 in 30” posts for updates on this!).
What I didn’t realize is that fat stores estrogen. So, as I shed pounds, I also shed stored estrogen into my bloodstream. This tricks my body into thinking my cycles are beginning again, although, this time, my now-dead ovaries have nothing to do with it. Double great. I’m trying to do something healthy for myself, and it’s like a chain of dominos. I feel like staying in my jammies and eating donuts in bed. Why bother? It’s like fighting an uphill battle. Or like David throwing a rock at the giant Philistine and hoping to hit him just right.
God is wonderful. Sometimes, I go to Him with one matter, and He steers me toward the one that I really need to attend to.
Yesterday, I was writing a blog post about “Running Away,” based on the story of David and Goliath. It was nicely written, built well, well-cited, and otherwise acceptable for a blog post, but I spent the whole day on it, and didn’t want to post it. I don’t know why. It just didn’t seem like the right post. Does that make sense? (I may post it someday — but not today)
During the writing, I had searched for the scripture at the top of this post, from 2 Corinthians. The tab was still open on my laptop when I got up this morning. (My middle son, now age 22, said my laptop will blow up if I open any more tabs. Right now, there are 11 open. That’s how I roll.). So, as I got ready with my cup of coffee before anyone else got up, I closed down and saved my stuff from yesterday (I know, I know… not good electronic hygiene, but … ). I could close down all the extra stuff, but, for some reason, I simply cannot get the tab labeled, “The Power Beyond…” to close.
I was contemplating taking my headache back to bed and calling out of work today. But now I’m wondering… When we ask God to direct our feet, he’ll do it at work, at the grocery store, in our house, everywhere we go. So I guess He’s telling me to buck up and He’ll push me along as I need it today. If breast cancer didn’t get the best of me, then neither a migraine nor wacky female hormones will, either.
Be well, and be blessed!
- What Happens After Menopause? (everydayhealth.com)
- Scientists unravel structure of key breast cancer target enzyme aromatase (pharmastrategyblog.com)
- Breast-cancer fallout includes facing up to infertility (miamiherald.com)
- Side Effects of Tamoxifen? (everydayhealth.com)
- Tamoxifen, endometrium and hysterectomy. (cancertreatments.typepad.com)
- Tamoxifen debated as breast cancer prevention drug (wjla.com)
- Are There Alternatives to Chemo? (everydayhealth.com)
- Muscles That Cause Headaches Series – 1 of 4 (meidahofalls.wordpress.com)
- Understanding the Different Types of Headaches (everydayhealth.com)
- When a Headache Won’t Go Away (everydayhealth.com)