After having treatment for primary breast cancer in 2015, Rosie started taking letrozole. Here's how she manages the side effects.
I worried about telling my family
I was diagnosed with breast cancer in June 2015.
I was initially told it was grade 1 cancer. Of all the bad news I could’ve got, this was actually the best. I even went away feeling quite positive.
I would say my husband took it worse than I did. I’m a ‘just deal with it’ sort of person. The thing I was worried about most was telling my family.
However, following a lumpectomy, I was told I had grade 3 breast cancer. It was a very stressful time. My husband had just had a heart attack the week before – I got my diagnosis on the day he was discharged from hospital.
Treatment was difficult
I found out that I would now need chemo, but not a mastectomy, which I was grateful for. I told myself it wasn’t as difficult as some people had to deal with.
I had some problems with my treatment plan. My oncologist told me that I needed chemotherapy initially, then later said that I didn’t. He didn’t give me any reasoning for this – no facts or figures – which left me feeling quite vulnerable.
I went for a second opinion following a discussion with my breast surgeon and nurse. They were both very supportive, as was my GP. I ended up going to another hospital, where, upon them seeing my biopsy results, it was decided I did need chemotherapy after all.
The support from the breast care team was excellent. My chemotherapy wasn’t pleasant, but I had anticipated it would be worse.
I had three lots of EC chemotherapy, the second dose of which leaked into my vein. It was so difficult. For the remaining nine sessions, I had paclitaxel and they fitted a Hickman line. I also had 23 sessions of radiotherapy and finished active treatment in April 2016.
Letrozole’s side effects have been tricky
I started letrozole the following month. I was told it would be the ‘kindest’ treatment for me, as I have osteoarthritis and fibromyalgia, which already affect my joints. I was told I’d need to be on it for five to 10 years.
I have noticed some side effects. My hair thinning has been particularly difficult. Even though I shaved off all my hair for chemo, this feels different. Before, I had some control over what was happening – it didn’t bother me, but now it’s unexpected, and it’s quite upsetting.
My joints, too, have been affected. I don’t know how much that has to do with my existing conditions, but I have had to have both my knees replaced in the last 12 months. Sometimes it takes a lot of effort to move. I suspect that letrozole has hastened the problems, but I can't be sure.
I have a positive outlook
I’m still here. I can still see and hear and walk and talk. I can still enjoy things. I have so many things to be grateful for, and it’s all thanks to the research and care from people like Breast Cancer Now.
It was through the Breast Cancer Now Forum that I found solidarity with a group of women who were going through chemotherapy at the same time as me. We still support each other even now. We have a special connection.
Services like these are a real lifeline for people, which is why I volunteer for Someone Like Me. I am happy to talk to other people who have cancer and who may also be taking letrozole.
Keep moving forward
See the medication as a way forward, even with the side effects.
One practical tip I can give is to take the medication at night. I also tell people to check forums for more information about any existing conditions you have and how letrozole may affect them.
Ultimately, what I will tell people is to keep track of the positives. Write them down, because it’s easy to forget them. Just think: what have you achieved? What can you do now that you couldn’t do last week?
You just have to value the small steps.
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