One Cocktail Too Many

One Cocktail Too Many
A Lump in the Road column The good news is that I feel like I just had a cocktail. The bad news is that I always feel like I just had a cocktail. My head spins, my balance is off, and I’m light-headed. For the second time, I’m weaning myself off a medication my oncologist prescribed after I finished chemo. It’s an antidepressant, but it also promises to help with the side effects from my chemo-induced menopause. Weak from nearly a year of treatment, my body was exhausted when I met with my oncologist six months after my lumpectomy. Chemo, radiation, and surgery were all in the past, but intense heat consumed my body at the weirdest moments, waking me up sometimes in the middle of the night. “You’re covered in sweat,” my husband would mumble. Both of us found this phenomenon equal parts repugnant and fascinating. It was like I was watching a documentary about someone else’s odd life, except that I wasn’t. The stubble-headed, bloated, sweaty mess of a life was mine. Brain fog, presumably from the chemo but maybe from the menopause, also made it hard for me to find words I used to have at my command. I like words, and I missed them. At my check up, my husband insisted I describe these symptoms to my doctor. “It’s just menopause,” I said in the car as we made our way to UCSF’s Breast Care Center. “Eventually, every woman goes through it.” I assumed my discomfort would pass, that my inconveniences weren’t important enough to mention. After all, I never heard my mom talk a
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  1. Geraldine says:

    Thank you so much for writing this. Everything you described I feel but I thought it was nothing and I should not moan about it. I am going to have a different conversation with my doctor just to see what other options there might be for the way I feel. Your words have been so
    helpful. Thank u 😊

    • Nancy Brier says:

      It feels weird to share these intimacies about my life publicly – sometimes, I cringe when I hit that “send” button, but my hope is that by putting it out there, I can help other people going through the same thing. Thank you for letting me know that sharing my experience might help you with yours. God bless your journey.

  2. Connie Selby says:

    I had endured hot flashes that made sweat drip off my nose during the day and dampened my pillow at night for 10 years before breast cancer and tamoxifen came into my life . Of course that included being awakened every 45 minutes for hot flashes during sleep. Tamoxifen ramped it up at least double. So like you I reluctantly brought it up to my gynecologist who prescribed Effexor. And like you, during travel, I had forgotten to take my pills and learned what it felt like to go cold turkey. Very disturbing. When I too decided it was time to wean myself off of it , I did it gradually. Low libido and loss of ability to orgasm eventually, over years, went away. I did not, fortunately, experience the one too many cocktail effect. After a recurrence six years after the original diagnosis, I am now on an aromatase inhibitor, and I’m back to hot flashes and sleepless nights. The interruption in my quality-of-life, the lowered ability to function at my best, and the knowledge that I am doing this to myself every time I take a pill, seems so unfair.

    Thank you for bringing up a topic that, when we discuss it among outsiders, may make us look as though we’re ungrateful for having survived whatever our stage of cancer was. Thank you for talking about your experience so that we know we’re not alone in this struggle to accept the new normal. Thanks for giving us a place to complain about it to people who understand.

    • Nancy Brier says:

      Wow, sweat dripping off your nose! That’s an image that will stay with me and help me get through whatever’s in store for me next. It also validates that these symptoms aren’t “all in our heads” or that they should go untreated. Best wishes to you on your journey.

    • Nancy Brier says:

      Great question, Shawn. Although the meds relieved my depression, they came with side effects. For me, the worst were the bad dreams. Most nights, shortly after I fell asleep, I was the star of my own horror movie and woke up terrified, too afraid to go back to sleep. But the relief I felt during the day from unrelenting sadness and lethargy made the nightmares worth it – sort of. The other concern I had was that the effect would eventually wear off and I’d have to up my dosage continually or switch to a new med. Now, I work out hard three times a week as part of a group, and often we run outside. I’ve had periods in my life when I’ve worked out intensely, but for some reason, this particular routine has really helped combat depression. A therapist friend did tell me that outdoor exercise with other people is very powerful, and he was right. If you or someone you love is suffering now, please accept my best wishes. Thanks for the comment – it’s really a treat to hear from a reader. Nancy

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