Y’all know I’ve been struggling with my health ever since cancer came into my life in late 2009. Surgery, chemo, and then Tamoxifen have all played a role in making me feel awful in a number of different ways.
Two things have been my banes in the last few years, both of which are side effects of Tamoxifen: weight gained around my belly that *will not come off* and the sleeplessness of menopause. I’ve been dealing with the latter by taking Ambien, but I must say that it makes me very uncomfortable to do so on a regular basis. I do not believe life is good when you need drugs — of any variety — to maintain a balance or feel good. The alternative is very, very difficult for me, affecting me on so many levels:
- lack of energy
- spaciness of the brain
- lack of motivation
- foul mood
I’ve always said that sleep deprivation was not for me, and this side-effect is really awful for me to deal with. I’m unhappy with the drug solution, however. Its a real Scylla and Charybdis moment.
The weight around my middle is a far more complicated issue. Since recovering from chemo, I’ve been doing all the ‘right’ things: I eat high-quality mostly ‘clean’ food and I exercise 4-5 hours a week. Absolutely nothing I have done has made the smallest bit of difference. If I eat a very low calorie diet for my height/weight (~1500 cals) I do lose a few pounds, but find myself ravenous (hello — exercise!) and prone to sudden binges and cravings. My normal eating does not lead to craving sweet or salty foods, and I usually have no problem with not eating after dinner and when I am hungry throughout the day.
The ‘advice’ out there is to:
- Eat 5-6 small meals a day, which is essentially impossible for me to do.
- Eat specific foods every day, which I find boring.
- Exercise at least an hour a day. Can’t do it.
- Avoid all sugar, processed food, starch, and alcohol. This is easier for me to do, although not 100% of the time.
I’ve tried those things, and failed. I come close, but can’t sustain the habits. So. . . am I a failure? That is certainly what the diet industry would like me to believe. But I’m pretty sure that if you asked any person who knows me at all, they would say that I am trying to live life . . . normally. And there is nothing normal about a diet. Nothing.
What is massively frustrating for me is that I am healthier than I have been since I left home — I eat quality, I exercise a lot, I don’t smoke . . . yet I can’t seem to lose what is around my middle. My arms and legs get toned and sleek, my posture is fabulous, my muscles — all over — are strong. But I have a kind of coat of fat all over me.
I think its the Tamoxifen.
I’ve been taking T. for 30 months, and am 30 lbs heavier than I was when I was diagnosed with cancer. My fat coat isn’t from being in menopause and having a low metabolism — I’m super normal in all my blood work (including thyroid) and I get good exercise. After thinking about it for a few months, and talking it over with J., I started to do some research. One of the things I realized was that fat cells — and especially adipose fat cells, which are the ones that make up the belly fat I am carrying — store up estrogen. So even though I am taking a drug which keeps estrogen from flowing through my body, my fat cells were actively (gleefully!) storing up estrogen.
Let me break that down more clearly:
me + tamoxifen = fat
fat = super-storage estrogen
me + fat = loaded with estrogen
Then I took my research to a doctor friend and we talked it over. She thought my research was solid, my comments apt, and my plan absolutely reasonable. She recommended that I add HIIT exercise into my life 3x/ week, and then told me that the adipose fat was not only storing up estrogen, it wasn’t the kind of estrogen that makes you happy, but the kind that is associated with inflammation. Inflammation of the kind that is associated with a host of other problems and cancers.
So, as of today, I’ve quit taking Tamoxifen.
I will be adding HIIT to my fitness schedule, which now looks like this:
M: Strength Training
W: Muay Thai
Th: Aqua Aerobics
Sa: Aqua Aerobics
Su: Yoga and HIIT
Pilates may fall by the wayside, and I’ll add my 3rd HIIT session then, if I can stand it.
I’m giving this a few months, and then we’ll see. It won’t just be weight I’m tracking, but inches. (I track my upper arms, chest, waist, belly, upper and lower thighs, and calves.) I’ll be monitoring my sleep habits and other estrogen-deprivation symptoms.
Don’t worry, I’ll keep you posted.