Becoming Benjamin Button

I haven’t seen that movie, but I feel Benjamin’s pain with premature aging. I don’t recall anyone telling me in the early days of this cancer “journey” that being thrown into menopause a decade earlier than normal would be such a bear. In fact, I don’t recall hearing anything at all about being thrown into early menopause. Yet another lovely bit of fallout from a cancer diagnosis, for sure (insert a boatload of sarcasm here).

Menopause is a bitch on any level. It’s certainly not a contest, and some women have it way worse than others. I’m thinking of one darling friend in particular who’s been dealing with the ‘pause for 10 years. Yuk. It just sucks, and I’m because I’m officially old and crotchety, I’m not in the mood to look on the bright side or try to find something positive about this shitty situation. Correction: I just found something positive — it gives me an excuse to use the word shitty, one of my faves in the cursing arsenal.

I first came face-to-face with chemically-induced menopause two summers ago when my favorite oncologist recommended hormone suppression since my breast cancer was fueled by estrogen. Get rid of the food supply, starve the cancer; makes perfect sense. Suppressing the estrogen for me was achieved by the dynamic duo of Tamoxifen and Lupron. For the lucky uninitiated, Tamoxifen is a pill-form of chemo that we members of the pink ribbon club take every single day for 5 years, minimum. The Lupron is delivered once every three months via a gigantic needle that left me bruised for weeks.

Enduring the injection was a piece of cake, though, compared to the side effects of Lupron: constipation, joint pain, bone pain, general body pain, dizziness, hot flashes, fatigue, stuffy nose, nausea, sweating, insomnia, weakness.


Add that to the side effects of Tamoxifen–bone pain, hot flashes, loss of balance or coordination, persistent fatigue or weakness, among the highlights–and you’ve got a hot mess.

No wonder I feel bad.

Then I look in the mirror and I feel even worse.

Side effects of menopause are just as fun as the drugs’ side effects: hot flashes, osteoporosis, hot flashes, mood swings, hot flashes, changes in your female gear, hot flashes, mood changes, hot flashes, change in vision, fatigue, hot flashes, night sweats, hot flashes, joint pain, hot flashes.

Did I mention the hot flashes?

The combination of the drugs’ side effects and general menopause side effects are mind-boggling.

The unsung side effects from all this mess are mostly vanity-related but no less troubling. A thinning of the hair on one’s head accompanied by a growth spurt in the hair on one’s face. Decreased collagen in the skin. Dry skin. Dark circles under the eyes. Brittle nails. Wrinkles. More wrinkles. Changes in hair color and texture.

Any part of this would be unpleasant enough when dealing with it at the “normal” time, whatever the hell normal is anymore. Going through the ‘pause with girlfriends could be fun: let’s stay up all night, sweating and hot-flashing, while watching our moustaches grow. Sure, we’ll be extra tired and grumpy the next day, but hey — we’d be tired and grumpy anyway, right? If I’m going to become an old bitty before my very eyes, I want to do it with my BFFs.

But wait, I’m on an accelerated schedule. I’ve got the Fast Pass to menopausal hell, while the women in my peer group are still relishing their early 40s. Botox is for fun, not necessity, and plucking billy goat chin hairs is reserved for grannies. 40 is the new 20, right? Except for me; 40 is the new 60. I am the granny in this scenario. I’m feeling more kinship with Betty White than with J-Lo.

To quote Sheryl Crow, “No one said it would be easy. But no one said it’d be this hard.”


26 Comments on “Becoming Benjamin Button”

  1. David Benbow says:

    I’ll keep my fingers crossed that you, like Benjamin Button, will become younger as you age. If you ever need to escape the hot flashes, you could do worse than a visit to Minnesota.

  2. chogg says:

    Hi there, I have posted before and we have traded a couple of emails. This post is EXACTLY what I am feeling. The toll Lupron and Tamoxifin are taking really, really stinks. I am about to turn 41 and wish I was dealing with “regular 40’s” problems. The weight gain, hair thining, skin changes, nail changes really stink. After doing the battle with the beast shouldn’t we be able to look good??? I feel your pain!!

  3. Lauren says:

    I am so sorry Nancy, they did it to me twice, once in chemo and then my periods started up again 18 months later…so here I am five years later going through it again….i hate cancer…i hate how i feel like it aged me a million years, I hate how i cannot lose weight…but i do love being alive.

  4. I can relate to all that, Nancy. I felt so robbed of youth when I got cancer at 43. I think the thinning hair was the worst–so noticeable, almost as much so as my lymphedema arm. I have to laugh about 40 being the new 60 for so many of us. Thanks for the chuckle. I’m with ya. xx

  5. Yeah that is shitty (I dare not mention any perks!). Here is something I found useful: Oil of Olay Hair Removal System. I grew this fuzzy hair all over my face and neck, while still bald might I add. You can imagine how “cute” that looked (boatload of sarcasm, of course). But then I discovered Oil of Olay hair removal system, and it completely took off all the fuzz and it has not come back. That was about 8 weeks ago. I would recommend it.

    Beauty tip 2: for thin eyebrows, use a powder. You can buy the powder with a little brush which looks way more natural than a pencil.

    Tip # 3: False eyelashes, not the whole set, but you can buy them that come 3 or 4 hairs in a little clump. Great to fill in bald patches on the lash line. It takes a bit of practice, but hold them with a tweasers, dab them in the adhesive, and then place them.

    For hot flashes, move to Newfoundland…it’s enough to freeze the arse off you up here!
    Cancer Warrior

  6. Christy says:

    Another shitty side effect of cancer, aka, the Devil! Mine, as you know was not chemically induced. I simply started having the flashes, migraines, and all the other crap and like the energizing bunny, it just keeps going and going! It sucks anyway you look at it; but thankfully, we have each other to bitch to and lots of alcohol. Although someone once told me I should consider giving that up during menopause. Hahaha. Not a chance!

  7. gozzygirl says:

    I can relate to the side effects. I endured a year of Herceptin too, which slowed down my hair growth after chemo. Then did two months’ worth of Zoladex, which is similar to Lupron. I had my ovaries removed, and took an aromatese inhibitor instead of Tamoxifen. The side effects weren’t too bad at first, mostly bone pain, but they gradually got so bad I felt like I was 80 every morning. But when the dizziness hit, and made me look like I was drunk at work, stumbling into walls, I decided to take a drug holiday. I feel great now and am not sure whether I’ll go back on it. Ironically, the onco nurse said that if you get side effects it means that the drug is working. Hmmm, so what does she say to the patients with no side effects?

    • This reminds me of when the OB-GYN tells pregnant ladies the nausea means the hormones are sufficient to help the baby grow. What indeed of the women who feel no side effects?

  8. I hear you!

    I had a hysterectomy at age 36 and went into severe menopause. Six months later, as I was thinking about suicide (if it didn’t hurt too much), my doctor put me on ERT. I did quite well for 20 some years until I got breast cancer and had to quit. (Plus worry that ERT caused the breast cancer.

    Went back into menopause big time – the hot flashes, lack of libido, and dry you-know-what were the worst. Except for tiredness, no brain, lymphedema, etc. And because my hair is so thin, I wear it very short. People ask me if I just had chemo.

    After about 5-6 years of severe symptoms, they finally started to ease a bit. Then I had to have an oophorectomy. Right back into hot flashes, etc. It just didn’t seem fair that at age 68, I had had three menopauses.

    Now at 81, the symptoms are some better again, but I did have to change my sleeping T-shirt last night because it was soaked again.

    I guess we learn that life isn’t fair!

    Love your saying that 40 is the new 60. And the 80s are just 80s. Old.

    Love you guys. And thanks for the tip about Oil of Olay Hair Remover.

  9. mmr says:

    Thanks so much to the author and all the commentators. Not only is it good to not feel alone, it’s great to learn helpful things, like the Olay hair remover. No one had warned me that mastectomy alone (and perhaps DIEP failure and more surgeries) could cause menopause. I went through the hot flashes, along with a STAPH infection in the hole that was once a boob, right after mastectomy so I was REALLY hot (and oh how that makes me laugh when I think of the modern version of “hot”). I also had to keep my house at 78 degrees in winter, trying to save the remaining flap, which ended up dying anyway. I found a couple of people online who said that the double mast itself could do this. The dr. then admitted that the estrogen drop could be intense enough to cause it. And then 6 months later, during my first vacation–to the beach–had a month long period show up. (One advantage of the huge DIEP scar and numbness, though: no more cramps!) I have so far declined to have ovaries removed because I didn’t want to endure it yet again. And thanks Lois for warning that there could even be a third time! Also, my oncologist says anesthesia can make your hair fall out. After an initial 21 hour surgery and several further surgeries, that’s nice to know, since my brush is full of hair….

    And PS I love the word shitty. Few other words encompass the true feeling after all this. 😉

    • Girl, you’ve been through the wringer! Yikes.

      • mmr says:

        I love the wringer analogy. “Surviving” can be crushing, can’t it? Also reminds me of mammograms, and at least that’s one thing I’ll never have to do again. Another perk! I think somewhere I read that you’ve had 8 procedures so far, so I’m still a few behind you, though, so still perhaps a little wringing to go for now. I’ll see what Dr. S says next week. Have you had tattoo? (Sorry if that’s too private a question-)

      • No question is too personal for me. I’ve not had tattooing yet bc I don’t have a finished product to tattoo. We still have some shape & symmetry issues to address…the fun never ends!

  10. It’s just plain rude, girlfriend! Rude, rude, rude! Who would have thought we’d consider Betty White a peer?


  11. […] like that.  I also had serious bone pain that got worse instead of better. I felt as if I were aging at a scary-fast pace. While the bone pain and aging were unpleasant, they weren’t deal-breakers. The T-rage, […]

  12. […] My 3 1/2 years of Tamoxifen were bad. Really bad, and got progressively worse. I wrote about my Tamoxifen experience a time or two, including the always entertaining T-Rage. I was a happy girl after kicking […]

  13. JD says:

    Good you’re doing well now. I wish I’d found this when you posted it 4 years ago. I think we’re just about the same age, and being almost 1 year NED, but only 7months on Lupron and 10 months on Tamoxifen at that point, I thought I was alone in how nuts it all made me!
    I’m still feeling nuts now, mind you, but it’s a *familiar* nuts at this point. I just hit 5 years NED, am approaching 5 years on hormone therapy, and have agreed with my dr’s opinion that I should stay on for 10 years.
    Have your docs warned you of the small possibility of your system “waking up” when you go off the meds, leading to a natural meno later on? Arrrrrrrgh 😂😳😭

    • Hey JD! Glad you found me, albeit it later than you might have liked. Congrats on hitting the 5-year mark. That’s a big deal! I’m about to turn 47 and had a hysterectomy (including ovaries) a couple years ago, so hopefully I won’t have to start over with the menopause mess. That would be the 4th time: Lupron, Tamoxifen, and hysterectomy were plenty, thanks! Hope you continue to feel great! Thanks for reading.

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