Yo. Hello y’all. It’s been a while since I last blogged, a few weeks after my breast balancing op. Loads has happened in the meantime: DH and I hosted ‘Polish Easter’ for the first time, which was rather special; we took the kids to London on DH’s birthday, including brunch at the Wolseley, the Hockney exhibition, and the London Eye; work flooded in; I submitted the first 5,000 words of my novel to a Good Housekeeping competition; we found out that DS will be joining DD at her school (of which more another time); and after some stiff negotiation by my amazing DH, a group of neighbours yesterday finally all signed up with a small developer to sell the bottoms of our gardens.
All of which has happened under clouds real (sodding rain) and metaphorical. It’s the tamoxifen, you see. A rather unpleasant side effect has crept up on me over the past couple of months. Not hot flushes and night sweats, as I had the first time I tried the drug a year ago, but a severe and at times fairly debilitating state of permanent PMT, combined with waves of deep fatigue. Mood swings, to the max.
Well, it is a rather powerful hormone-fiddling drug, designed to stop my particular sort of pesky cancer cells taking hold in either breast again. Apparently this is common: about six months after starting the meds, a raft of side effects tend to kick in, hang around for about six months, and then settle down for the rest of the five years it is prescribed for.
I am so up and down it’s not funny, for anyone, least of all DH and my precious kiddies, who are constantly on tenterhooks to see what mood I’ll be in. They scan my face anxiously: are there signs of softness, affection, a smile, playfulness, understanding, patience? Or are they about to feel the Wrath of Mummy for the smallest misdemeanour? I notice there is often a silent pause after a spillage or similar, as the children hold their breath, frozen, waiting to see whether the eye of the hurricane will pass by and come to nothing, or they are going to get caught up in its distressing and noisy disturbance.
No-one in this house knows whether, on the spilling of a drink (which happens daily with a 3yo and a 5yo) I am going to say ‘never mind’ and just wipe it up, or whether I’m going to go completely ballistic and shouty and throwy, and turn a small accident into a major ‘state of the family’ incident.
And that includes me. Because it genuinely feels like I am not fully in control, most of the time. Not an excuse, I know. But I am as surprised as everyone else about the speed and force of my disproportionate anger. It’s usually confined to those I live with (don’t we always hurt the ones we love the most?), but there have been a few occasions where I have flown into a rage at other family members and friends, and they have been shocked, not recognising the roaring harpie who has replaced me. After an angry episode, I feel drained, and sad, and terribly guilty, and wish I could turn back time and react differently.
Other times I feel so exhausted and low that I just want to go to bed, in the middle of the day, and I can’t seem to get my thoughts straight. I cry silent, prolonged tears about nothing in particular. My brain won’t work properly. I find making plans difficult, and I stutter and mix words up when I read stories out loud. Sometimes I resort to absolute crap for the kids’ tea because I cannot muster up the energy to make anything healthy, and have the inevitable battle of wills about what they will and won’t eat.
I have little tolerance for excessive noise. I am irritable, unresponsive, and disengaged, some of the time. My joints ache. My hands and feet tingle and fizz. Life is un-fun. DS tells me every night he doesn’t like me when I shout, but he knows I still love him even when he’s naughty. This breaks my heart.
I am also starting to realise that tamoxifen and alcohol are not best mates. A couple of glasses of red are fine, but put white wine, and especially fizz, into the mix and I get drunk teenagerly quickly. While everyone else at the party might have a slight fuzzy head the day after, I am panicking because I have a huge gap in my memory of the evening and have to check with everyone whether I need to apologise for anything. Blackouts are not conducive to mental equilibrium. So I don’t really look forward to going out any more, because I can’t relax and enjoy myself like I used to.
And then other times I am completely fine and feeling like the best of myself: calm, cheerful, full of energy, funny, creative, clever, organised, and capable. This happens most when I am at work, writing and editing silently at my desk overlooking our monkey puzzle tree, focused and in a flow that takes me very much out of my own body and far away from the torturous maelstrom. Then I have peace, and clarity. The sunshine helps enormously, and goodness knows we haven’t had much of that lately.
In some ways, this is tougher than going through chemo. It’s doubly hard because as far as I, and everyone else, is concerned, the whole caaancer thing is over, and I’m well. Quite rightly, everyone moves on with their lives. But I am reminded frequently that it is not over, not by a long way, and sometimes it feels a bit of a lonely struggle after so much love and support for so long.
I have another four and a half years on tamoxifen. I am hoping things will settle down at some point soon. The only solution my consultant mooted, last summer when I took a break from my first attempt at taking the drug, was to also take anti-depressants – SSRIs – to even me out. I’ve been on anti-depressants a couple of times in the past and although they work beautifully, I’m just not keen on taking medication to combat the side effects of medication. It seems like the start of a vicious circle. And you do rather lose yourself on SSRIs. Comfortably numb. Don’t want to go there again, really.
The other options are to investigate the complementary routes: kinesiology to try and reduce my reactions to the drug and keep my energy balances; herbs and supplements to take the edge of the extremeness of the mood swings. Plus fresh air, deep breathing, exercise, healthy foods, soothing teas, reading, meditation, laughter: anything that increases my background sense of wellbeing.
So. I have blogged this one out. Time to get back to client deadlines while keeping an eye out for any blue sky peeking through the clouds and the drizzle. And wait to see what mood I will be in when my babies get home from school and pre-school today. I hope I will smile at them and make them feel safe and loved, rather than fearful and confused. But I just don’t know.