You’ve made it through chemo, surgery, and radiation. Your oncologist tells you there’s no sign of disease. You’ve finished your breast cancer treatments.
Or so you think. But now your oncologist says you’ll need to take a hormone blocker or an aromatase inhibitor for the next several years.
You pick up your prescription and read the list of possible side effects. You procrastinate taking the first pill. Meanwhile, your breast cancer friends start telling you about their worst experiences taking a hormone blocker. And before long, that one little prescription bottle sitting on top of your dresser scares you more than all your previous breast cancer treatments combined.
You’re tired of hurting, fed up with treatments, and you just want your life to get back to normal.
And you don’t want to take hormone treatments for breast cancer for the next five years or longer.
Things to Consider Before Rejecting Hormone Therapy Treatments for Breast Cancer Survivors
As a Metastatic Breast Cancer Survivor who has taken Anastrozole for six years, I remember those feelings. I understand the fear and dread of taking an aromatase inhibitor or other hormone therapy. And I know how tempting it is to refuse to take the prescription.
But before you make that decision, here’s what you need to know and consider:
What Hormone Blockers are and how they work.
The reason your oncologist is prescribing a hormone blocker or aromatase inhibitor.
The choices, options, and alternatives available to you.
What you can do to reduce, cope with, or eliminate the side effects of hormone treatment medicines.
Why Take Hormone Therapy?
According to BreastCancer.org, “Some types of breast cancer are affected by hormones, like estrogen and progesterone. The breast cancer cells have receptors (proteins) that attach to estrogen and progesterone, which helps them grow. Treatments that stop these hormones from attaching to these receptors are called hormone or endocrine therapy.”
I take hormone therapy because by taking my medicine, I’m helping to prevent future cancer cells from growing.
According to Mayo Clinic, “Hormone therapy following surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy has been shown to reduce the risk of breast cancer recurrence in people with early-stage hormone-sensitive breast cancers. It also can effectively reduce the risk of metastatic breast cancer growth and progression in people with hormone-sensitive cancers.”
I continue to take my aromatase inhibitor because I don’t want to have any cancer cells return. I don’t want to go back through chemotherapy, surgeries, or worse.
And, because my oncologist insists that, in my situation, it’s a necessity.
Ask Your Oncologist Why You Need Hormone Blockers or Aromatase Inhibitors
But what about you? Have you asked your oncologist why you need to take them? Have you wondered what your chance of recurrence is with and without hormone therapy? The answers to these questions can give you the confidence you need to make the right decision for you.
Because the choice is yours to make, you don’t have to take hormone therapy. But know why your doctor wants you to take them and what your chance of cancer reoccurrence is if you don’t.
Don’t Listen to the Naysayers!
If you ask people about their pregnancy experiences, you’ll hear many different stories. And most of them are terrifying. If I had asked my friends what they had experienced before I became pregnant, I would have never had children. I would’ve been too afraid to.
And while pregnancy and hormone blockers for breast cancer are very different subjects, one thing is the same. You’ll hear negative stories most often. It’s human nature.
Don’t let others’ experiences with hormone blockers and Aromatase inhibitors determine your decision. Everyone is different. The prescription they are on may be different than what you receive. Their body is different, and how they respond to the medications varies. The side effects they experience will be different than yours.
Take control of your situation. Listen to what your oncologist says, read what reputable organizations (breastcancer.org, Living Beyond Breast Cancer, etc.) have to say about hormone therapy, and make your own decision.
The One Thing That Shouldn’t Stop You from Taking Hormone Therapy.
The one thing that shouldn’t be a deciding factor in your decision is fear. Don’t forgo taking an aromatase inhibitor because you are afraid of how you will feel. Being afraid is not a good enough reason to risk your life.
After all, you don’t even know if you’ll have side effects!
While I know looking at the list of possible side effects of hormone blockers is scary, it’s only a list of possible side effects. You may experience a few of them, but it’s unlikely you’ll experience all or even most of them.
Remember, many side effects lessen dramatically or disappear within the first two to three months. Commit yourself to sticking with your medicine for at least that long.
And, if one medicine has too many side effects or isn’t right for your body, there may be another aromatase inhibitor or hormone therapy your oncologist can prescribe for you.
But you won’t know until you try them. So, at least give them a try.
I recently heard from a woman who, after treatment for stage one breast cancer, refused aromatase inhibitors because she didn’t want to deal with the side effects. Three years later, she was diagnosed with stage 4. “Would taking hormone therapy have made a difference?” She said, “Would I still be stage 4 if I had taken them? I don’t know. But I regret not trying.”
What about Natural Alternatives to Hormone Therapy Treatment for Breast Cancer?
I occasionally hear women say they rejected taking prescription treatment and instead decided to manage their hormones through natural, homeopathic remedies and diet.
While taking vitamins and supplements along with diet and exercise are beneficial for a breast cancer patient, you need to discuss it first with your oncologist.
And remember, most naturopathic and homeopathic doctors are not cancer specialists. You have trusted your oncologist so far through your treatment. I urge you to trust them and medical science regarding hormone treatment.
Seeking Wisdom in Making Your Decision about Hormone Blockers
As a Christian, seeking God’s wisdom is essential to my decision-making process, and I encourage you to do the same. James 1:5 says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.”
Pray to the Lord and tell Him your fears and concerns. Then, ask Him for guidance and wisdom in making your decision.
It’s amazing how He answers my prayers when making difficult decisions. It might come from something I read, a conversation with someone, or various other ways. But when it happens, I have confidence and peace in my decision. I pray you will have the same experience as you make your tough decision.
Some ideas to help you deal with side effects from hormone blockers.
If you decide to take Hormone Therapy Treatments, here are some tips to help you deal with the new medicine and any side effects you might have.
Pray about it. Ask the Lord to help you through this new treatment phase and minimize the side effects.
Second, have a positive attitude. Change your mindset from fearing the worst to “This isn’t going to be so bad; I’ve got this!”
Live as healthy a lifestyle as you can. Eating healthy foods, avoiding unnecessary stress, and daily exercise will help you minimize or alleviate many side effects you might encounter.
Keep a journal or record of how you are feeling and what you are experiencing.
Finally, discuss any side effects you have with your oncologist. Your doctor probably has some solutions for you. Follow all the advice your doctor gives you.
The Choice is Yours.
Choosing whether or not to take a hormone blocker or an aromatase inhibitor is a personal decision that only you can make. Knowing how hormone therapy treatment works, why you need it, and the chances of cancer recurrence can help you make your decision. Following the suggestions in this post will hopefully give you the confidence to decide your best option.