I thought I was done with side effects since I finished chemotherapy, but I am learning that anything that is strong enough to wallop cancer will likely also cause side effects. I am now waiting for surgery because of the side effects from the pill that I was prescribed to keep me from having a recurrence of cancer.
The pill is called Femara or Letrozole. This tiny little pill is a nonsterooidal aromatase inhibitor (AI) and it is used to treat advanced breast cancer. It fights breast cancer by inactivating an enzyme called aromatase and in turn this prevents the enzyme from supplying estrogen to the cancers that are dependant on estrogen to grow and survive.
At first I didn’t have any side effects from the pill but within three months of starting the treatment I developed bumps around my wrists and then it progressed to pain. Three fingers in my left hand became numb and this numbness did not go away after waking in the morning. I was referred to a nerve specialist and her tests showed that I had nerve damage in my fingers from carpal tunnel syndrome. The nerves are already starting to die off so she recommends immediate surgery. My doctor also said that I had tendonitis in both my wrists and this is causing radiating pain up my arms. All of this is a known side effect of Femara. The nerve specialist has warned me that if I don’t have surgery soon, my thumb muscle could atrophy I could have permanent nerve damage in my hand. Lovely.
I have been given the option to go off Femara and onto another drug called Tamoxifen, but I am very hesitant to change drugs as Tamoxifen does not have as good a track record as Femara has with inhibiting the growth of cancer. Also my last bone scan showed that Femara is working very well to shrink the cancer that had moved into my spine. It doesn’t seem wise to mess with what is working. As a researcher I have been working hard to find out how to manage the side effects. I have found several things that have been working very well for me.
What IS helping
I started taking Glucosamine/Chondroitin Sulfate liquid and it eased the pain from the very first day! The doctor says that it helps bring down the swelling. I have been taking it for a week now and every day my wrists are feeling better. I am also taking Advil as it is also an anti-inflammatory drug.
What is also recommended to help
I have also researched how to manage tendonitis long term. There are two vitamins that appear to have value in bone and tendon management. The recommendation is to take vitamin D3 4,000 mg a day to boost the absorption of Calcium. Also 1-50 mg pill of B6 a day over a period of months will help the tendonitis. I can’t do much about the options I have been given to stop the growth of cancer, but I can take an active role in managing the side effects. My doctor said that I should be on Femera for the rest of my life, so I am going to have lots of opportunity to manage side effects. It doesn’t have to be a choice between Femara or no Femara. There can be a natural way to gain strength and healing, even though the path can look pretty dark at times.
I can do all things
This past week I was re-reading Paul’s words in Colossians 4:13. He said:
Philippians 4:13 (NASB)
I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.
This is a verse that I memorized as a kid, but I was meditating on what Paul meant by saying that he can do “all things”. Did Paul mean that he could sing a solo or outrun a train, if he wasn’t particularly gifted at singing or able to run as fast as a train? Can he really do ALL things? Here is what I found from the context:
Philippians 4:12 (NASB) I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.
Paul is saying that he has learned the secret of how to live with humble means, to live in prosperity, and in any CIRCUMSTANCE that he finds himself in, from being hungry, to be filled with food, to have abundance and to live with suffering need. In verse 14, the verse right after the “I can do all things” verse, Paul wrote that the Philippians had done well to share with him in his AFFLICTION. The context is to be content and joyful in every circumstance, including suffering.
So….I am learning that I CAN do ALL things so that in EVERY CIRCUMSTANCE, I can live successfully with abundance or with suffering so that I can live contented in CHRIST. It seems to me that this is the way to LIVE in Him or to DIE in Him for He will enable us to be a victor in everything that we will ever experience. I am confident that He will give me the strength to go through whatever path I need to travel for He has already walked the path ahead of me.