To celebrate completing 10 years on tamoxifen, Ros Mitchell challenged herself to a four-day hike. She tells us more about why this celebration was needed.
Ros Mitchell (61) lives in Bryanston, Gauteng with her husband of 38 years. They have two adult sons, one grandson and another grandchild on the way.
I recently completed a pretty tough four-day hike on the Eastern Cape mountains with a special group of ladies. I challenged myself to do this as a celebration of completing 10 years on tamoxifen, and a celebration of 13 years since my first breast cancer diagnosis. It was also a celebration of life, health, of turning 60 and of becoming a granny; all things I wasn’t sure I would live to achieve. I also did this hike in honour of all the beautiful women I met along my cancer journey that are no longer with us.
Two primary breast cancers
I was 47 when I was first diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer. I had a lumpectomy, chemotherapy and radiation. My hair fell out for the first time on my 48th birthday.
As I was just getting over all of that and celebrating turning 50, wham! another lump was found in my other breast. This was an oestrogen positive breast cancer. I had no doubt second time around that I wanted a bilateral mastectomy, which was followed by more chemotherapy and a couple of very successful reconstruction surgeries.
The long stretch of tamoxifen
I then started what was initially meant to be five years of tamoxifen, which was later increased to 10 years as new research came out. It felt like such a long time to be on medication. During the first couple of years I experienced lower back pain as well as fatigue. These are both common side effects but thankfully both settled after about two years.
I also had a mild allergy to tamoxifen which would give me a fine rash from time to time that moved around mainly on my back and stomach. And as for one of the main side effects people complain about: weight gain. I was at a very low weight after all my treatment, but I put on 1kg for every year I was on tamoxifen, despite always exercising and trying to eat carefully. I’m hoping that I will manage to lose weight a little more easily now and I’m trying very hard to keep active.
As a medical person (I’m a pharmacist), I knew that tamoxifen gave me the best possible protection against any further breast cancer or metastases, so I diligently completed my 10 years of treatment, and always went for my check-ups and did any tests that were required by my oncologist. I get very angry when I hear of people deciding to go the natural route or deciding to stop their oestrogen blocker treatment. I know it’s their choice but I know too many who are no longer with us after going that route. My advice would be, push through and take your tamoxifen, if I can get through 10 years, so can you.
Thank you to all of the amazing medical people that got me through this journey. A huge thanks to my very special family and friends who have been with me every step of the way and who continue to celebrate my health milestones with me. I look forward to many more healthy years and adventures ahead of me, and yes, there definitely is life after tamoxifen.