Cancer Gave Me Superpowers — How Breast Cancer Saved My Life! The Superpower of Self-Care Part II
Apparently, the study of excess male hormones in woman and how they relate to breast cancer is newish. My cancer doctors were all intrigued by the research findings I shared with them but had little advice for me. My oncologist, Dr. Wong, brainstormed with me for over an hour going through the material. “What about removing my ovaries” I quipped. “I know surgery is considered an extreme way to suppress hormones in premenopausal woman, but if it would help me I’ll do it.” With a sympathetic tone she answered, “we don’t know if the issue is even coming from your ovaries, it could also be from your adrenal glands”. She continued, “make an appointment with an endocrinologist, lets see where this is coming from.”
The psychological evaluation section of the endocrinologists summary report of my office visit stated that my mood was anxious and it’s affect consistent with anxious. That was interesting, because I noted in my summary report after the office visit that the endocrinologists mood was bitchy and its affect on me was consistent with talking to a very unpleasant person.
Like I had done with all the doctors I saw before her, I gave her printed copies of the most concerning research studies. To make it easy to digest quickly, I highlighted the key points that stated excess male hormones increase the risk of breast cancer or a recurrence in women who have already had it. After glancing down at the papers she exclaimed “These studies mean nothing, they are too new!” All the damning data was right there in her hands: how could she dismiss it so quickly?
The author of one of the studies, a Harvard professor, responded to an email I’d sent asking her for guidance. She kindly introduced me to two Boston doctors. One, a young endocrinologist called me two days after I returned home. With my cell phone pressed to my ear I was surprised to hear Dr. Huang’s voice on the other end, “ I’m calling to thank you for educating me. You’ve given me new information that I will take into consideration as I continue my practice.” WOW! Even thought she couldn’t help me, maybe someday what I’ve shared with her will help one of her patients. I thought this was pretty cool, and in stark contrast to what was going down with this New Jersey endocrinologist.
Back in the NJ endocrinologists office, I began to think of my next move. I reminded myself where my concern over the hormone issue came from. It was not driven by worry or the fear of death. I’ve had an understanding before I even got breast cancer that part of the experience of life is that it comes to an end. Because of this belief I feel a total ease knowing that one day I will die. I figured I should share this with her. “ I’m here not out of fear or worry. It’s intuition and curiosity that’s brought me here. So can we do something to find the cause of these elevations and then maybe treat them?” “Your levels are not in the alarming range to me, ” she replied disdainfully. As persistence grew inside me so did my powers “ I don’t want even mildly elevated levels” “Well,” she said, “only to ease your anxiety, I’ll order a transvaginal ultrasound of your ovaries and a CAT scan of your adrenal glands. But”, she muttered in an obnoxious tone, “normally with elevations like you have I’d let it go.” LET IT GO! The way I saw it, letting health issues go is how I got myself into this mess to begin with.
Having sex with a gigantic ultrasound probe can now be checked off my bucket list. The sexual encounter revealed I have Polycystic Ovary Syndrome known by its acronym, PCOS. The endocrinologist broke the news to me without giving me any information on the syndrome other than telling me I should continue losing weight. With my superpower of self-care heightened I went back home and Googled PCOS. I found that PCOS wreaks havoc on the body if untreated. I was at an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, endometrial cancer, depression, and worst of all heart disease. With my self-care power raging I called my gynecologist to inform her of this diagnosis. She put me on medicine to treat insulin resistance which often comes along with PCOS and leads to type 2 diabetes. Once my insulin levels are regulated through the dietary changes I’ve been making (I’ve lost 45 pounds) and the diabetes drug, she is optimistic that my excess male hormone levels will subside!
To investigate my risk of heart disease, I called a cardiologist. He ordered a coronary calcium scan, the single best test to determine the likelihood a person will suffer a heart attack. The scanned image of my heart was given a score of 86. Only 16% of woman my age have a score above 0. The higher the score compared to other women your age, the more plaque you have in your arteries, and the greater risk for a future heart attack. My artery that scored 86 is referred to as the “widowmaker”, or in my case, “widowermaker”, as most people do not survive heart attacks that originate there. In the 34 years I left PCOS unattended to, it had created the perfect habitat for breast cancer to grow. So I was not surprised with what the doctor told me next, “Your calcium score falls in the top 98% range of women your age.” I thought, holy shit, only 2 % of 50 to 59 year-old women, have plaque buildup worse than me? With a concerned voice he said, “I want you to start taking Lipitor and a daily baby aspirin”. Astonishingly, Breast Cancer and my new found superpower of self-care saved my life.
Now I have something in common with most 70 year old men. Also, even without a degree in psychiatry, my ego had the pleasure of knowing that my psychological evaluation of that New Jersey endocrinologist was indeed correct.