I’ve spent the last month taking hormones that the oncologist hopes will keep the cancer cowering at a low level for a very long period of time. I have an appointment later this month so they can check on how well this is working. And in the meantime, I’ve been re-introduced to hormonal side-effects.
Back when I was taking Hormone Replacement Therapy, I became so attuned to my physical condition that when something went a little wonky, I could tell whether it was the HRT or the antidepressants that needed adjusting. Eventually I tapered off the HRT and never gave it another thought. I’d been off HRT for seven years when I was diagnosed with my first bout of uterine cancer in 2013.
So when the oncologist told me they were going to try hormone therapy in the hope that I’m one of the women for whom this treatment will successfully prevent further growth of cancer cells, I simply added the prescription to my nightly pill regimen, figuring that way I could sleep through most of the side effects.
Nobody sleeps through night sweats, not even me. But night sweats are just weird, not serious like deep vein thrombosis, and it wasn’t long before they tapered off. There was the occasional unexpected nausea but my anti-nausea meds took care of it. (The anti-nausea medications for chemo patients these days are prima. For those who have told me they are about to start chemo and they’re a little nervous: when it comes to nausea, they’ve got you covered.)
Once or twice I had a little trouble getting to sleep but that didn’t last. No blood clots, no stroke, no heart-attack, not for Super-Duper-Recumbent-Bike-Riding Woman and her above-average circulatory system! I figured I had everything under control.
And then one afternoon a couple of weeks ago, after I had been working for a little while, I felt something I had not felt in at least five years: a mood swing, down. (When I have mood swings, they only go in one direction: down, down, down.) The first time it happened, I thought it was either low blood sugar or low potassium; I ate a piece of fruit and it went away. But then it kept happening. Not every day but too often to be random.
Now, I’m on a very quirky cocktail of antidepressants; even my psychiatrist says she has never had a patient on this combination. But it has been working for at least five years with no tweaking. I feel so normal on it that sometimes when I’ve been giving a medical history, I’ve almost forgotten to add the meds I take for clicnical depression. So the sudden dip was both disheartening and worrying. The last thing I need right now is for my anti-depressants to crap out on me. Except this didn’t really feel like an anti-depressant problem.
Then I remembered I was taking hormones. I had a look at the package insert and yes, there it was on the list of side effects: depression. And when I thought about it some more, I realised that I didn’t have dips on those days when I went to the gym.
So here’s a tip for my fellow travellers in Cancerland who may also be taking hormones––or, hell, maybe for anyone who experiences hormonal fluctuations great enough to get them all bent out of shape: exercise.
I know, I know: when you hear that word, or read that word, you immediately get this picture in your head of hard-bodied young women doing push-ups outdoors at some get-a-bikini-body boot-camp––and smiling. Yeah, I hate those shiny-happy bitches, too and I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t have to be that way. The recumbent bike––my cardio of choice––allows you to sit up straight, with the added benefit that you don’t need padded bike shorts because you won’t get saddle-sore. On the other hand, some people like a regular bike, one that they can ride around outside. If that’s you, you don’t have to ride it like you’re in the Tour de France––you can just take a nice, leusurely ride, enjoy the weather or the flowers or whatever.
Or you can try a rowing machine, which will work all your parts. Once again, you don’t have to thrash away like you’re in the final qualifying round for the Olympics––you just have to move for a while. Or maybe you like lifting weights instead.
Or maybe you aren’t cursed with a back like mine and you can take a walk. Take a walk with a friend. Take a wlk with your sweetheart and hold hands. Go shopping––that’s walking, too.
You can even pull down all the shades, put on MTV, and try twerking. Just trying it, even if you can’t get it right, is probably some seriously good cardio.
I know, I’m repeating a lot of what I’ve already said about exercise and maybe simply reading it is making you feel exxhausted. But it’s important just to move. I like the social feeling of going to a gym and I have never once been fat-shamed or made to feel like I should be hiding at home. Other people prefer privacy; still others would rather be outdoors. There is no one true way to take care of yourself. You only have to find the way that works for you.