tamoxifen; anastrozole; bone pain; joint pain; edenland; woogsworld; kiki and tea; breast cancer; breast cancer awareness month;

Breaking Up is Hard to Do

On October 10, my oncologist broke up with me after five years. It wasn’t him, it wasn’t me, it was NED. Thank God for NED – full name Nil Evidence of Disease – for coming between us. As nice as my oncologist is, that relationship was going nowhere.

While I’d been sitting waiting for my appointment to see the good doctor, I’d come across the Queensland Writers Centre #8WordStory competition on Twitter. As the hashtag would suggest, the challenge was to tell a story via Twitter using only eight words. The best entries – as judged by writers such as Nick Earls and Benjamin Law – would be published on electronic billboards on major roads in Brisbane and the Gold Coast.

After my doctor told me about NED, I knew immediately what my story would be. I sat in my car in the cancer unit car park and tapped out my entry, and four weeks later I got a message telling me that from over 6,000 entries, mine had been picked for publication! Here’s my story in its electronic glory on the Inner City Bypass at Bowen Hills in Brisbane:


Coinciding with my final oncologist appointment, was his decision to take me off the dreaded Anastrozole. This drug provides a 25% increase in survival in the first 5 years post-diagnosis, but it has the most hideous side-effects, the key one for me in the end being osteoporosis which caused my arm to be smashed into tiny pieces after a minor fall in April this year, resulting in major surgery to turn my limb into Frankenarm.

I had hated Anastrozole with a passion for nigh-on five years, but the moment my oncologist told me I could stop taking it, I was worried. Since the day of my mastectomy in 2012, I have been having some sort of treatment for cancer. Was Anastrozole the only thing keeping it at bay? Wouldn’t it be better to keep taking it just in case? Surely I could just wear my bubble-wrap outfit forever to keep my bones in one piece.

bubble wrap

And you thought I was joking about having a bubble-wrap outfit.

But as part of his final pep talk, my oncologist told me that Anastrozole had done its job, and could do no more. ‘You do not need a security blanket, Julie.’ where his exact words. And like he had been about so many things – ‘Yes, we are giving you enough chemotherapy, not everyone gets the vomits’ – he was right. I don’t need a security blanket. I need to move on, carefully gather my fragile bones, and get the fuck on with life completely outside the hideous but reassuring grip of cancer treatment.

That doesn’t mean I will (or could) forget about cancer. Thanks to those of you who donated online, plus my ever-generous work colleagues, we raised over $800 for the National Breast Cancer Foundation, who will put this money directly into research. With donations like ours, a cure will one day be found and this blog and its tales of cancer will become like the Egyptian pyramid texts – so completely other-wordly that they will need a specialist to decipher them. Especially the sweary bits.

The Gift That Keeps on Giving

Last week will be filed away under S for shithouse. Firstly, our dishwasher went on strike and we are now up to day seven of waiting for a part to see if it can be fixed. I know no-one likes washing up but I have a thing about water with stuff floating in it (gag) so every evening I loudly lament the loss of Mr Dishlex as my husband stoically does the dishes.

Then I had to have my beloved old cat euthanised. At the time, cremation was offered as an option but I decided I wanted him buried in our garden. Aforementioned stoic husband then had to dig the grave, which flared up a disc injury in his back and he was rendered unable to do much except lie on the floor in agony for the next 48 hours. I have also come to regret the decision to bury Cosmo, as every time I look out into the back garden and see the little patch of bare earth, I think about awful things like decomposition. I have also several times thought I’ve heard him meowing, only to realise it’s a bird or something on tv or my walking dead cat who’s clawed his way out of the earth and wants to know why one of the dogs is now using his heated bed.


The worst of the week is probably going to be the worst of many weeks to come. When the completion of my menopause was confirmed, my hormone therapy drug was changed. Because my sort of breast cancer was hormonally-driven, I need to take a drug which helps prevent further hormonally-based tumours developing in my body. Before and during menopause, the drug I was given was called Tamoxifen, which my body dealt with pretty well. It made me nauseous, but I could avoid that by taking it just before bed, so my year on Tamoxifen was pretty much a breeze. Five weeks ago I was switched to the drug of choice for post-menopausal dried up old bats such as my good self. The proper name for my new drug is Anastrozole, but I like to call it A Complete Fucking Nightmare.

The main side effect of Anastrozole is joint and bone pain. I am a bit of an old hand with it, as it was my main side effect from chemo. I had 16 weeks of pain that got so bad that it couldn’t be controlled by any of the many anti-inflammatories and painkillers the doctors tried, and by the end I would just lie in bed and cry. I dealt with the pain knowing that as soon as I stopped chemo, it would go away, which it did. Five weeks in on Anastrozole and the joint pain is severe, especially at night. During the last week, every night I’ve had a bit of a quiet cry at bedtime because the pain in my knees, hands and wrists is just constant. The kicker in all of this is that I know the pain will stop when I stop taking the Anastrozole. And when is that, I hear you ask? July, 2019.

Yep, I have to take Anastrozole for five years, and I’m at the five week mark right now and wondering how the hell I’m going to do it. I know the next question you have, because it was my next question – can I stop taking it? Well of course I can, no-one is making me take it. I can choose not to take it and go back to nice gentle Tamoxifen instead, but recent research shows that taking Anastrozole instead of Tamoxifen almost halves the likelihood of the breast cancer returning anywhere in the body and increases the chances of survival by nearly a third. When discussed in theory, these numbers pretty impressive. Let me tell you that when you are reading it and applying it to yourself and your chances of survival, of being alive and seeing your husband graduate from university and your kid lose his first tooth, it becomes all you need to know. Prescription and five years worth of repeats, thank you very much doctor.

Because cancer is apparently the gift that just keeps on giving, the bone pain is actually a good thing. A 2008 British study suggests that patients who experience joint pain while taking Anastrozole were less likely to have the breast cancer recur. So basically I choose to take Anastrozole because it may help me stay alive, but it gives me severe bone pain which will affect my quality of life, but the bone pain indicates a reduced risk of the cancer coming so in fact the pain may motivate me to keep taking it? Holy mindfuck Batman! I’m now investigating ways of controlling and minimising the bone pain, including acupuncture, massage, epsom salt baths, krill oil, green lip mussel extract, turmeric and crack cocaine. Not necessarily in that order.

But, in spite of the shit sandwich served with a side of dead cat, good things have also happened, so I might have to cross-reference this week under A for all right. First, this blog was mentioned twice by the fabulous Mrs Woog on the Woogsworld blog and Facebook page. I discovered – and literally yelled holy shit! when I did – that the incomparably talented Eden Riley has included my blog on her blogroll at Edenland, and then I got a lovely mention over at KiKi and Tea. Those mentions combined meant that there were more than 2,000 individual visits to this blog last week. Two thousand people from 12 countries. Seriously! Then, I got asked, on the basis of what I’ve written on this blog, to be the guest speaker at the major breast cancer fundraiser in my city during Breast Cancer Awareness month in October. On Monday 8 October 2012 I was told I had breast cancer, and on Wednesday, 8 October 2014 I will speak to a function room full of people about breast cancer. Holy mindfuck ON A STICK Batman!

Finally,  my favourite moment of the week has nothing to do with cancer or blogs or speaking gigs, and came from my boy (as it often does). Behold, what I believe to be the world’s best ever slogan for Book Week:

hugh book week

Look out Don Draper, there’s a new kid in town.