Has cancer treatment accelerated the aging process for you?

Has Cancer Treatment Accelerated the Aging Process for You?

Has cancer treatment accelerated the aging process for you? Talk about a loaded question, right? I don’t know about you, but I can say, without a doubt, cancer treatment accelerated the aging process for me. Still, there is debate about this, too.

Exactly how much can be attributed to cancer treatment fallout and how much can be attributed to natural aging?

So why am I bringing this topic up now?

Because February is my birthday month. And no, I’m not going to share my age because I don’t generally do that. Of course, some of you know how old I am (pretty old) and if you’ve read my memoir, you’ve done the math. But still, I like to keep some things a mystery.

But let me just say, I am thrilled to still be here and able to celebrate yet another birthday. 

This year’s birthday also meant it was time to renew my driver’s licence. When my new license arrived in the mail recently, I took one look at my new photo and thought, oh yeah, you’ve aged, Nancy. And btw, that number you plug in for your weight on your licence, do you declare your real weight? Just wondering…

Recently, I read a study shared by @BCSMchat co-moderator, Dr. Attai, that specifically addressed this topic of aging acceleration being a direct result of cancer treatment. You can read Dr. Attai’s blog post about it here. You can read study details recently published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

As far as I’m concerned, researchers could just ask almost any cancer patient, but yes, we need studies about this stuff, too. Validation matters.

This particular study measured and compared inflammatory cytokines (proteins important in cellular signaling regarding inflammation and pain) and comorbidity developments (other medical problems) among breast cancer survivors and a non-cancer control group. Inflammation is associated with aging-related physical decrements and increased disability, hence this study. In short, inflammation is a big deal.

At the beginning of the study, both groups had similar baselines of the above mentioned inflammatory markers, but at the end of the 18-month study, the breast cancer survivor group had higher levels of inflammatory cytokines than the control group, along with correlating higher levels of comorbidity.

Basically, this suggests that higher levels of inflammation likely result from cancer treatment and higher levels of inflammation result in increased comorbidities. One can conclude that the aging process is indeed accelerated by cancer treatment. In addition and unfortunately, this “pile on” of medical issues might also indicate premature mortality for some cancer survivors.

So again, it’s a big deal.

The study went on to say these things keep compounding over time and more followup is needed to further study them, as well as the biology specific to these effects. In other words, the worst might be yet to come for an individual patient since the issues can keep building up over time, sort of a snowball effect.

I don’t need convincing that cancer accelerates the aging process. Experts don’t all agree on this cause and effect idea, but it seems a correlation is indeed supported by this study.

It’s important to note, this particular study focused on inflammation driven issues, but there are other conditions that might arise down the road following cancer treatment as well, such as: cardiac or other organ toxicity, depression, neuropathy and decreased cognitive and physical functioning, to name a few.

This study makes it clearer (again) why oncologists (and others) these days are stressing more than ever the importance of exercise during cancer treatment and beyond. Exercise helps with a lot of things, including reducing inflammation.

Most of us fully realize the need for and benefit of exercise. I try to fit in some exercise most days. I also understand how hard it is for some and why condescending “blame the patient” articles and advisement are not helpful.

The difficulty sometimes is in the implementation.

Most survivors want to, try to and do some sort of exercise, but at the same time, many are plagued with considerable pain, fatigue and countless other issues that make exercise hard to do or to continue doing. And of course, there’s the normal life stuff to do; work, raising a family, household chores – just tending to all that stuff that needs doing in all our lives. These things get in the way for everyone, but for some cancer patients it can seem like too much to tackle because it is.

This is why it’s not always so easy to just do it.

Besides weight gain, I now have thin hair (which I hate – hair rant coming soon), neuropathy, joint pain, bone loss, sleep issues, hot flashes, lowered libido, fatigue, and a few other issues that shall remain unmentioned here.

And yes, I realize some of these can be and often are attributed to normal aging, but I know my body. I know exactly when these issues emerged or drastically worsened.

Bingo – right after cancer and cancer treatment rudely intruded into my life.

And one more thing, me “complaining” about these issues does not mean I am not grateful to be alive. My treatment saved me. I am still NED. I am grateful, but this other stuff matters, too. And yes, sometimes it pisses me off.

So does cancer treatment accelerate the aging process?

As far as I’m concerned, no study needed.

Without a doubt, it did for me.

What about for you?

If applicable, do you feel cancer accelerated the aging process for you?

If so, in what ways specifically?

If you’re a patient or a health care professional and you agree cancer treatment accelerates aging, what if anything, can we do about it? Ideas welcome.

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Featured image by Tony Hall via Flickr/Creative Commons

Has Cancer Treatment Accelerated the Aging Process for You? #cancer #breastcancer #chemotherapy #radiation #mastectomy #cancersucks

71 thoughts to “Has Cancer Treatment Accelerated the Aging Process for You?”

  1. Yes. I am just like you. Ageing has speed up. Ive been on edtrogene blocker for one year. Well sort of because I stop taking it on and off due to side effects. We all get the same side effects so I wont list them.
    But exactly as you menstioned.
    Intersting that nobody ever menstions how durring breast cancer tumor removal we are barbericly awake durting the tumor msrk8ng process. The stick a very long needle through the tumor so thst surgeon can find it and remove it. Fine. But do we need to be awake for this when they will not more then a few minutes later put us to slerp for surgery!
    I was fuming over this for months later. I made msny phone calls to all involved to no availe. I was told by a nurse sdvocate tgst its done like tjis because sometimes they msy need to move the paitiant or hsve them walk to a exray to find the tumor. She said its more a problrm with heavy women or ith large breast.
    Well my breadt are small. Im 120 lbs. Only one small tumor. I felt tortured and demoralized laying there crying in pain like a two year old.
    This needs to be stopped. They clearly can put us to sleep before stabbing our tumor .
    Input please.
    Thank you, Carol Flynn

    1. Carol, I’m sorry your experience made you feel tortured and demoralized. Mine wasn’t like that. I’m not sure, but I think you’re talking about your biopsy procedure. I was numbed up well for mine. I’m sorry you are experiencing a lot of side effects from your estrogen blocker med. Everyone doesn’t experience the same side effects, though, just to be clear on that. Be sure to talk with your doctor about your specific side effects. I suggest keeping a journal or log where you can write down specifics. Don’t suffer in silence. Validation means a lot. Good luck to you and thank you for sharing.

      1. Thank you for this blog- very helpful to read.

        I think Carol might be talking about the radiation injection for sentinel node removal, which some of us have done along with the tumor removal- a radioactive substance is injected and it circulates, arriving in the lymph node which the surgeon then finds through locating the substance, and removes.

        I’m sorry yours sounded so excruciating, Carol! They injected me with a local anesthetic before mine, so it was more bearable. But I think the local anesthetic is a relatively new recommendation, so maybe your medical staff didn’t do that. I do find doctors can be insensitive sometimes, though I think they are at least tending to get a little better.

      2. Hi Nancy,
        I’m pretty new to following blogs, and am thrilled to have found yours. I want to ask though, are there others who, like me, roll their eyes every time they read “Talk to your doctor”? What can they do besides offer more drugs I can’t afford? I’m not on welfare or any social services, and I do earn a bit of income, but mostly I’m just chewing through savings. I can’t bring myself to give my tax forms to every tom dick and harry imaginable to fund a prosthetic, or drugs or whatever. I am so sick of being humiliated by pharmacists and doctors. I can’t imagine what it is like for those who were in much worse financial shape than I was when diagnosed several years ago. The costs never go away.

        1. Alison, The financial ramifications can be devastating, that’s for sure. This is one reason I support universal healthcare as I wrote about in an earlier post. Thank you for commenting. I’m thrilled you found my blog, too.

          1. I had the dye injected 3 months ago. Worse pain ever. No numbing or warning. I’d this was a procedure done on a man , pain control would be addressed.

      3. No, Carol is talking about the long needle they put in your breast just prior to surgery at the hospital. I had it done, very quickly and efficiently, and without any pain, by a doctor and two technicians, who used an imaging device to place the needle correctly. One of the technicians told me not to look at my breast with the needle sticking out of it after the procedure. She was concerned I would faint, but I would not have fainted. Best to you, Maria.

      4. Ive been on Anatrozole ( Arimidex) or as some of us call it, “The Nasty Soul, LOL for 8 plus years. My private area is 20 years older than I am. I had to get a special steriod cream to alleviate the pain and itching. I had tried everything like yeast products etc. Turns out when estrogen isnt in skin, it breaks down. Causing itching, tears and other fun stuff. Ugh. But my family history is rife with breast cancer, so I stick with it. My Gyn and Onco work together with me to be as comfortable as I can, but that sucks. Im sure my skin isnt the only thing thats older! On the other hand, I am still here, and glad of it,. Chin up and carry on!

        1. Moonflwr912, You’ve stuck it out with Arimidex for a long time. I absolutely could not tolerate that one for whatever reasons. Did better on Aromasin. Thank you for sharing your experience. Keep on keepin’ on.

    2. Carol, I also had long needle inserted into my breast just prior to breast cancer surgery at the hospital. It was done very quickly and efficiently, and without any pain, by a doctor and two technicians, who used an imaging device to place the needle correctly. (I have large breasts.) One of the technicians told me not to look at my breast with the needle sticking out of it after the procedure. She was concerned I would faint, but I would not have fainted. Maybe I received a local anesthetic to my breast just prior to the insertion of the needle. I don’t remember. But I did not have any pain. Your situation was not good. Best to you, Maria.

  2. Until I got breast cancer I danced about 5 hours per week. I was in a dance group that also performed in cute costumes and heels. I did tap and jazz. Now after cancer I’ve gained twenty pounds and feel at least 10 years older. I never thought of myself as old, now I’ve become my mother! I have neuropathy in my feet and hands. My doctor says walk for exercise, but after a day walking around two grocery stores, my legs and feet ache. I used to sleep soundly, now I stay awake hours at a time.
    I’ve always been such an optimistic person, but no more. I cry often, but marked on questions from my doctor that I am never depressed.
    I also have pain where the nerves were cut during my lumpectomy. Am I glad to have survived my cancer? Some days I wonder.

    1. Marka, As I mentioned to Carol, try keeping a log of your side effects and then talk about them with your doctor at your next appointment. Be as specific as you can. I understand how hard it is to manage them sometimes. You deserve more help in better managing yours. Keep asking for it. Good luck and thank you for sharing.

  3. Yes, Cancer treatment of Armidex has aged me by 25 years.
    1) Armidex caused me to have high blood pressure and high colesteral. No one in my family has it and all were in normal range when I began. I am on blood pressure meds now. I eat healthy and try to exercise at least 10,000 steps a day. My weight is in the normal to low range body fat. My primary doctor is going to recheck these after I am off of Armidex for six months. I have four months to go.
    2) I get tired easily. I have to push myself to do any exercise, before I was the energizer bunny. I could go go go. Now somedays I feel like I am 25 years older and hard to get off the sofa.
    3) Armidex has killed my sex life and caused my uterus to become dry and brittle. My Doctor says don’t lift more then 10 lbs or my uterus could crack and I will need surgery. I love to Kayak and my boat is 46lbs.
    4) The first 3 years on Armidex I had dirreha every day and could not keep anything on my stomach and had bad head aches. At times it got so bad I went off of it for a few days to a week so I could go on. I thought I was dying the side effects were so bad. My doctor continued to say the benefits out weight the side effects since I was stage III. He said try to stay on it. Now I am only have four more months until I reach my five years. My doctor asked if I want to stay on it another two years, but I checked out the research and only 3 to 5 women out of 100 will benefit by staying on it for the additional two years. I am stopping after 5 years and hoping I can get back to my old self again.
    6) My skin is so dry I keep coconut oils and vitamin E cream on all the time. My hair is thin and dry also, but a less I have hair. Some days I feel like a hermit I don’t want to be social and go out of the house. I feel like my home is my cacoon I don’t want to leave it, but someday this worm will become a butterfly again.
    7) Many ladies I have met that were Stage I or Stage II went off of Armidex and I would have don’t the same. I just hope the damage is not too great for me to recover and of course I pray there is no more cancer in my body.

    1. Mary, I am sorry to hear about your nasty and too numerous side effects. Luckily, you’ve almost made it to your five year goal. I had to discontinue Arimidex due to my side effects and now I am doing better on Aromasin. Good luck with your final months on Arimidex. Hope you start feeling like your old self when you go off. Thank you for sharing.

  4. For a long time I felt that way. I think it is especially poignant for those who are doing hormone therapy – especially young survivors, who have to deal with menopause symptoms at a much younger age than they normally would. So there are real treatments that emulate the aging process – so even if we don’t actually age we feel like we have aged. It takes a lot of mental work to get over that idea of feeling like you are prematurely aging.

    It is funny that I don’t feel that anymore. I did some cognitive behavioral therapy around it. I’m not telling my self that anymore – so I don’t feel it anymore. But it does suck and I have to tell people that NO it is not the same thing to feel menopause symptoms when you are 45 years old! and the sudden onset of a lack of estrogen is much more extreme than it is for women who experience it naturally. And frankly, it sucks to be compared to someone who is 20 years older than you … it is a right of passage that happened way too soon and way too quickly …

    Anyways, that is one of my rants. I no longer tell myself that I’m prematurely aging … I might be, but I don’t tell myself that anymore.

    1. Becky, I don’t think it’s merely an idea of feeling like you are prematurely aging. I think cancer treatment does indeed accelerate the aging process for many women and as you mentioned, especially for younger women who are thrown into premature menopause. It’s the nature of any serious illness perhaps to accelerate aging because of harsh treatment which can and often does tax the body. The very nature of illness is to weaken the body and a weakened body in itself can make a person feel older. Good for you for no longer telling yourself you’re prematurely aging. I like how you put that in your final sentence. Thank you for sharing.

  5. Well I too have a birthday this month and just renewed my licence today.I was so happy to get a new picture as the one I had was from 5 years ago in the middle of treatment for second recurrence, my face was very bloated from steroids and I was wearing my wig so every time I looked at reminded me of a very low place in my life. I am back on treatment with my third recurrence but feeling much better than I did at 50
    However this whole cancer experience has aged my body, heart and soul.I experienced severe side effects from the treatments and was forced to go on disability and leave a nursing career I loved.I had never thought about “retiring” so young and was not sure what I suppose to do with myself when my husband and peers were still busy with their careers. I missed my coworkers and families I worked with. I aged 10 -15 years mentally in a matter of a year.
    I suffer all the usual physical side effects from instant menopause and aromatase inhibitors. I have moderate lymphedema which causes chronic pain and limited mobility causing restricted activities,This leads to further isolation as I cannot participate in physical activities that my peers do such as golf, curling, tennis canoeing ect. I am aware that this limited physical activity will speed up the cardiac aging process, I do walk everyday and so grateful for this, heals all when the sun is shining.But physically I feel like I am easily 10 years ahead of my peers. When I feel good I try to do as much as I can but when the fatigue sets in a nap does help as is does for most of my peers.
    Living with cancer ages your soul, you are forced to face your mortality far sooner than your peers and think about end of life decisions and leaving your family earlier than you ever imagined.
    SI believe cancer does age most people at a faster rate than those who have not had cancer but probably the similar to those with other chronic illnesses. I am proud to say that I have worked through many of the challenges and have a very fullfilling and happy life despite all the challenges and constant living with uncertainty and I am happy to be celebrating another birthday and I hope I am able to renew my lisense again in 5 years. Take Care Ann

    1. Ann, Thank you for sharing. Your comments sum up what reality post a cancer diagnosis feels like for many of us. All we can do is our best – same as before cancer, right? I hope you get to renew your license lots of times in the years to come. And happy birthday!

  6. Thanks for this post Nancy. I am 2 1/2 years since treatment and I still struggle with fatigue (Stage 11b, bilateral, no chemo due to type of cancer). I recently accompanied a recently diagnosed friend to her cancer appointments and was surprised at how candid her radiation oncologist was about the long term side effects of radiation. I felt like he was talking about me, I get breathless easily (lung damage) and although I exercise regularly I am always tired afterwards. Apparently, they are now looking at studies to measure the efficacy of radiation much the same as the studies done for chemo years ago (which thankfully reduced the use of chemo in early stage 0/1 for certain types of cancer). If I live another 20 years I’ll be fascinated to see how these studies change treatment options.

    1. Wendy, I’m sorry you struggle with fatigue, but you’re certainly not alone on that one. Of course, that doesn’t help much, does it? Interesting observation you made when you went with your friend. I agree, it will be interesting to see how the treatment of cancer evolves. We have come far, but we still have far to go as well. Thank you for sharing.

  7. Hi, I am Mary Ann. My first diagnosis was in 2009, Stage I IDC left breast. I was 40 years old and I opted for a double mastectomy, chemo and Tamoxifen. A year later, I had a recurrence of the same cancer, same breast. I had the lump removed, radiation, a hysterectomy and Arimidex. The second time around was a game changer for me. I have changed so much into an ‘old lady.’ My red hair turned white, my bones hurt all over, I have had a miserable menopause. I feel like I can’t get out of the rut I am in. People don’t understand that just because I am done with treatment, doesn’t mean that I can just ‘forget about it.’ This entire diagnosis has been devastating. I feel tired all the time, I am so much different than I used to be. It has aged me beyond my 48 years and I wish I could climb out of the hole and work on myself. Some days, it is OK but some days I am tearful. I have seen psychiatry and it has become too expensive. I feel like I don’t know who this person is that now inhabits my body. It was all so overwhelming and I wonder if this gets better with time or if I have to make the adjustment to this new me. I am curious how others are feeling.

    1. Mary Ann, A cancer diagnosis once is bad. A second time is, as you said, a game changer. I’m sorry you are struggling and that people close to you are not understanding. I would say to pick the people (or person) who matter most to you and keep sharing your genuine feelings, fears and concerns. Sometimes people just don’t understand because they don’t know or realize. Open communication is so important. You need someone to confide in. And please have frank talks with your doctor about your emotions, too. Have you tried a support group, either in-person or online? I’d also suggest journaling. And fitting in even a little bit of exercise might help. Some of the stuff does get better over time, but some of it doesn’t necessarily. Thank you for sharing. My best to you, Mary Ann.

  8. I am now 65 and 10 years out from diagnosis and bilateral mastectomy and act 8 treatments and 33 radiations and 1 year on tamoxifen and 9 years on anastrozole. Ok. Also much additional supplement treatment like miseltoe and iv vitamin c. Did treatment age me? Absolutely, brain fog(use post it’s was my hospitals suggestion as I lost my job) joint pain, fatigue and skin that looks worse than my 90 year old aunts.
    My rant is that insurance should pay for a wellness protocol like they do for a hip replacement or back surgery. There is no protocol in place for the after effects. It is not a total protocol without the patient bugging their onocologist. My point is the treatment is an incomplete protocol and that contributes to women feeling it is their “fault” for not trying harder. Make rehab be a package deal just like overnight stays and reconstruction.
    Yes treatment ages you and I don’t know of any treatment protocols that address the issue before or during treatment.
    Pink post it’s is not an answer.

    1. Linda, I agree, there should be better followup, guidance and support. Survivorship is hard, too. Too often patients are turned loose and left to figure things out on their own. Some cancer centers do offer survivorship plans and even programs. (Mine didn’t) It seems that in the long run, helping patients adjust and adapt would save money as there might be fewer compounding health issues developing. Do your best and talk about all your issues and concerns with your doctors. Self-advocating is vital now, too. Thank you for sharing.

    2. Linda,
      Thank you for suggesting a covered “Post Treatment Protocol”. That’s an excellent concept and I believe it would have eased the way for many of us post surgery who had or have no idea what’s next or what’s best on our path back to wellness. Although our paths are separate and different our mutual goal of wellness is the same and I find sharing our paths to be very helpful.
      Linda N

  9. Cancer and its treatment have definitely accelerated my aging by at least a couple of decades.
    Three years ago I was a fit, active 59 year old woman. Almost a year of treatments (chemotherapy, mastectomy, radiation therapy) for Stage 3 Triple Negative breast cancer left me 30 pounds heavier with post cancer treatment fatigue, brain fog, peripheral neuropathy, a painful rib lesion (thankfully almost certainly
    benign) and most recently, probable cardiotoxic heart damage from chemotherapy.
    I have far less energy and I suspect sense of well-being than my 90 year old mother.
    I was interested to read that breast cancer patients treated with anthracyclines had a 30% reduction in aerobic capacity compared to healthy, sedentary women, even without a reduction in their left ventricular ejection fraction measured on echocardiogram. No wonder exercise such a struggle! I am awaiting cardiac MRI and cardio-oncology assessment.
    My cancer has certainly not been a gift, it has been a theft, “a series of losses” as another blogger eloquently described it.
    Since my diagnosis, I have tried to follow the wise advice of Andre Dubois in Broken Vessels, “We receive and we lose and we must try to achieve gratitude and with that gratitude embrace with whole hearts whatever of life remains after the losses”.
    But now it looks like I don’t even have a
    “Whole heart” to embrace this life that is left.

    1. Laine, Sorry to hear you have a lot of collateral damage issues to contend with. Lots of us do. Yes, cancer is a theft for sure. I call it a string of losses. In more ways than one. That’s a lovely quote. Your last sentence says a lot. Good luck with your MRI and other cardio assessments. Thank you for chiming in on this discussion.

  10. Nancy, thank you for sharing the details about this study, but like you said, we are the living proof that cancer treatments accelerate aging for many of us. I certainly feel it has for me. I think Tamoxifen has hit me the hardest, to be completely honest. I remember having all this energy after completing chemo. I didn’t stop! I did it all – cleaning, working, helping and writing. But the energy could have originated from all the steroids I was given during treatments. Once I completed radiation, I started to feel really tired. But I had good days too. Then Tamoxifen came, and it was a drastic fall for me. I felt very old, very quickly. My bones hurt and when I move my legs, you can now hear my bones cracking! Everything makes a sound. Ugh. I hope I am alright. I can’t even tell you how my intimacy has been affected. It is really bad. And my anxiety levels have worsen because of all these symptoms I experience. I am thinking of taking that break from Tamox very soon. I just need the strength to do it – not an easy decision.

    I am glad they’re starting to look into these issues more. We need better treatments. Our quality of life matters too. xoxo

    1. Rebecca, It’s horrible when younger women like you have to deal with this stuff, too. Of course, cancer sucks at any age. I’m sorry you’re dealing with this crap, it sure isn’t fair. Take that break from tamoxifen when you feel ready. It’s not an easy decision for sure. I’m still taking my AI, but I am not sure how much longer I’ll stay on it. I’m glad studies are being done on these issues, too. QOL matters. A lot. Thank you for sharing.

  11. I agree I’m 46 & feel I’ve been through so much in a year. I have a rare lung condition anyway but feel so much older since having the chemo and radiotherapy. My friends and family have been a great support and my partner has been amazing. But it ages then too I think.
    I don’t think people or the Dr’s realise how much we hurt! If only they could live a day in our bodies perhaps they would be me sympathetic and helpful.
    I hurt and ache almost every minute of the day and don’t want to tell people when they ask, as that’s not what they want to hear really and it makes me feel even more useless.
    I’m a strong and positive person and won’t let it very the better if me. But wow are some days a challenge?
    Rant over. Lol is nice to be totally honest for once .

    1. Amy, I appreciate your honesty. I think your point about our families being impacted is an important one. Does cancer age the whole family? Maybe so. I am sorry you hurt and ache so much of the time. I know what you mean about trying to remain stoic, but try to cut yourself some slack. There’s a lot of pretending and fake smiling that goes on after a cancer diagnosis and for years to come, too, perhaps. Like I keep saying, be real. Be you. It’s enough. Thank you for sharing. Ranting now and then is very healthy. 🙂

  12. Nancy, I love this post because it validates me, but I so wish I didn’t relate. Yes, I’m alive. I am grateful, but I hate how thin my hair is. It’s nothing in terms of being alive, but as an alive person, it matters. The fatigue has been an ongoing problem that cuts into my quality and enjoyment of life. I do wish there was more attention to the fallout of cancer treatment and what survivors go through. It seems it’s never addressed except by us as we commiserate with each other. I’ve felt for some time that the treatment has cut years from whatever remains of the rest of my life, but perhaps I’m just more in touch with my mortality after treatment cut through that bubble. It does feel good to know I’m not alone in this. Thanks for writing this post.

    1. Eileen, I wish you didn’t relate, too. I remember a post you wrote a while back with a similar theme. Sigh… Thank you for adding to this discussion.

  13. Ha ha Rebecca’s point–everything makes a sound, yeah that about sums it up! And then the not being able to be in one position for very long–my limbs get that tingly “fell asleep” feeling all the time.
    These are just little things I know, but for me it is more of an overall general feeling of a leap forward in my age. I’m 45, but imagine I seem or feel more like late 50s. For sure, I have more energy now than when I first completed treatment, but…I just never feel full of energy even when I’m going to go do something I like. I have never recovered the energy level I had before.

    1. CC, Cancer is the great energy depleter, that’s for sure. Among other things, of course. And sometimes I wonder if that depletion is indeed permanent to some extent. Lots of fallout, some of which cannot be documented per se, but it’s real nonetheless. We feel it in our bones. Sometimes literally. Thank you for sharing.

  14. My memory is like my 90 YO grandma’s! But I still have all my energy thankfully. What I notice is that my muscle tone and balance are degenerating. I exercise every day and over the past 4 years the decline has been dramatic. I also have bizarre injuries from my sport all over my body. I never had injuries like this before. I asked my doctors if it could be from the Tamoxifen and got the usual resounding no, but my physio suggested that menopause may have slowed the blood flow to my muscles and tendons. At the start of this year, I had a conversation with my doctor about mobility, and then went home and cried because I thought what 45 year old is worrying about mobility? Anyway, after I calmed down I started working on it and it’s getting better. Sometimes it’s isolating to feel like a young woman dealing with older women’s challenges. I’m also fatter, but if I’m honest, that’s actually due to my overeating (LOL).

    1. Becci, My memory is definitely not what it was before cancer, and my ability to concentrate is diminished. For example, it takes much more effort for me to focus on a book and then to finish it takes me ages. Didn’t use to be the case. I am not sure what you mean about those bizarre injuries. That sounds worrisome. I’m sorry you are dealing with issues like mobility at your age. And yes, the weight gain is a result of many factors, I’m sure, and all these things are likely intricately interwoven. Thank you for sharing.

  15. Hi Nancy,

    This post hit a nerve with me because yes, I have aged a lot since cancer treatment. What really pisses me off is that doctors I’ve spoke to attribute my agedness to the natural process of growing older. Like you, I know me and I know my body, and doctors really don’t. I have aged, and it’s not pretty. I’ve never been the same physically and emotionally since cancer treatment. Psychological professionals attribute my aging to depression and anxiety. It’s the old “pass the buck” denial mentality. Doctors who deny our reality are dismissive. I was glad to read that blog by Dr. Attai. Very validating.

    1. Beth, I know my aging process has been accelerated, but it’s still important to study these things because validation matters for all involved. So I was happy to read Dr. Atai’s post, too, and follow the trail to the study report. Too bad you know exactly what I’m talking about in this post, as do many of us. Thank you for reading and sharing. xo

  16. I do agree about the aging. I also agree about needing more information around surviving cancer. I want to give a shout out to those in research.

    A year ago I completed 5 years of tamoxifen,etc. treatment. Similar side effects and have hated them all. I started walking more as a way to help me mentally deal with all of it. Last year Doctor said I should stay on treatment for 5 more years- I wasn’t happy, but knew others had it worse.

    This appointment- a year later- I am told- you are to stop treatment. New research came out discussing that longer treatment in my situation could do more harm than good. The harm- heart related and higher levels of cholesterol. (My maternal side is full of heart related deaths- blood clots, strokes, etc). 8,000 were researched. I was stage 1, estrogen positive, no nodes, no chemo, radiation.

    Still in shock. Doctor said she is guessing my lifestyle changes will now lead to greater weight loss. Can hardly wait for all of this to flush out of my system. Back for a check up in 4 months. Research matters.

    1. Ann, Research certainly does matter. I have heard the benefit of an additional five years isn’t necessarily there for everyone. Good luck with things and I hope your next checkup results in a good report. Thank you for sharing.

  17. I have really appreciated reading everyone’s thoughts. I am currently lying in bed too tired to move- I finished my radiation treatment six weeks ago and the fatigue has been tough. I have been on tamoxifen for only three months, but I am grateful so far that the side effects have been slight. I don’t think I feel much older yet, but I was only been diagnosed five months ago. I was spared chemo and I think this might be a big factor in not feeling quite as bad as how people sound they are suffering here. Cancer is horrible, isn’t it? I appreciate this site – always good to read the perspectives of other people I can relate to, without the pinkwash and overidealization of “the journey”.

    Anyway, I do a lot of yoga and I’ve been seeing a therapist for a few years. I think both of these things have been super-helpful in keeping me feeling a little bit better than I would otherwise. I saw some studies have shown that yoga helps with inflammation in cancer survivors- I would definitely recommend it to anyone who might be on the fence about trying it. (I only do gentle yoga- I really prioritize the importance of being very careful and not straining or overexerting myself.)

    Thanks again for such an enlightening blog and everyone’s experiences here.

    1. Noreen, It is great to read thoughts others are having, isn’t it? Sorry to hear about your fatigue. You finished radiation not that long ago, so be gentle and patient with yourself. You’ve been through a lot. Glad to hear you’re doing okay thus far on the tamoxifen. Hope that continues. And yes, cancer is horrible. I will never sugar-coat it. Good for you for doing the yoga and for seeing a therapist. I’m sure both those things are quite helpful indeed. Thank you for reading and sharing some thoughts. Good luck with everything. Day by day, right?

  18. Hi Nancy, I am new to your blog, it is great to have it to discuss different issues and concerns only us, breast cancer survivors, sometimes understand. Thank you for the great job you are doing, I read the posts and I feel relieved that I am not the only one that feels the side effects of the cancer meds and that I am not a cry baby or that the side effects are only in my head.

    I was diagnosed with BC Stage 1 on my right breast in October 2013, I had a lumpectomy and two lymph nodes removed which thankfully were clean. After surgery I had 35 radiation sessions and then hormone therapy which has been a killer for me.

    I started with Tamoxifen, because I had uterine fibroids, my oncologist indicated it was better I had a complete hysterectomy to avoid getting uterine cancer. I had the hysterectomy in 2014 but the side effects of Tamoxifen were so bad he switched me to Femara.

    After a year of Femara I had to change again. I am always feeling exhausted, sometimes I am so tired I cannot even stand up from bed although I do not sleep as I have also insomnia, I just cannot move, all my body is sore, even my feet. I have also gained a lot of weight, I have a fatty liver, my liver encimes are quite high. I also suffer sometimes from mental fogginess and the joint pain has been excruciating. I also have other side effects like dry eyes, hair thinning (my eyebrows and eye lashes are also thinning away), hot flashes and “0” sex drive.

    After Femara, my oncologist prescribed arimidex. Same side effects than the previous medicines. I was then prescribed aromasin which on top of the previous side effects also gave me heart palpitations. I had to request an emergency appointment with my oncologist a couple of weeks ago as I was really feeling sick. He suggested I take a break from the medicine for a month and he will see what other course we can take as I have already taken all of the medicines available in the market and they all make me feel extremely sick. Talking about aging, I sometimes feel I am 80 years old, when I am only 54.

    Although I am a very positive person, believe me! sometimes I feel my quality of life is no longer there. I think that if the cancer does not kill me, the side effects of the medicine will. I must tell you that I do not exercise at all, I am too much in pain to do so plus I live in south Texas and the heat here is unbearable, walking to my car in the parking lot of my office is sometimes a big endeavor. Ah! that’s something else, I have to work full time, some days It is very difficult to do a full day at work.

    So, I have an appointment with my oncologist in two weeks to get the next medicine, I guess he will recommend something I have already taken unless there is a new medicine I have not heard about. My oncologist also wants me to take it for 10 years, he said there is a new study that taking the meds for an additional 5 years reduces the possibility of a recurrence by another 30+%. Here are a couple of reports for your review:



    1. Soraya, Welcome to the blog! It is a safe place to learn, support, vent and share. I would suggest trying to squeeze in even a tiny bit of exercise. I know it’s hard to do sometimes – I’ve written several blog posts on this topic, but it might help. Good luck at your upcoming appointment. Thank you for sharing.

      1. I will look into the posts about exercising. Once again Nancy, thank you for this enlightening blog!

  19. No, I really don’t feel that it has for me. After a breast cancer diagnosis at age 63 in June 2015, a lumpectomy, four infusions of CT chemo and 23 sessions of hyper-fractionated radiation, I was put on Anastrozole. It was fine for a year, then I started having major side effects, resulting in CT scans, MRI, MRA, physical therapy, etc. Switching to Exemestane was even worse with depression and mood swings. Now I’m on Tamoxifen and the difference is astounding. I still have minor side effects, but nothing like what the AIs did to me. My hair is all back, I don’t feel like cognition or has suffered, and I blame my relatively minor joint pain on the arthritis passed down from my mother. I do get tired during the day, but it’s at least partly because I don’t get enough sleep at night. I know I may have to go back on an AI at some point and dread it, but think my doctors’ fairly conservative treatment with the chemo and radiation have spared me so far from what could have been a much different result.

    1. Denise, I’m glad you’re feeling better on Tamoxifen and that you don’t feel your treatment has accelerated the aging process for you. I cannot say the same. Thank you for reading and sharing.

  20. Just came upon your thread about cancer and aging.
    Two and a half years ago I underwent a lumpectomy and node removal. Unfortunately all my nodes were positive. As a result had six rounds of strong chemo and and the most radiation they could give. After that was put on Ariimidex for 10 years Immediately I had terrible bone and muscle pain every day. I am short of breath, cannot walk up stairs without using my arms to pull me up. I walk hunched over. I’m worn out just going to the bathroom and back. Plus I gained about 20 lbs. My dr. Switched me to Letrozole to see if that helps. It didn’t. My other dr put me in Meloxicam to help. It doesn’t. I have zero stamina. I’m sure that the treatment has caused this and accelerated my aging by at least 20 years. I know that the damage is irreversible. But I’m alive. But I’m not the same person I was.

    1. Jan, I’m sorry you are dealing with such nasty side effects. You certainly aren’t alone, not that knowing that helps a whole lot. I’m working on an upcoming post about managing the side effects from AIs. You might be interested in reading that. Don’t suffer in silence. You deserve validation and help from your medical care team in managing issues you have. Thank you for sharing.

    2. Jan — Your story sounds pretty much just like mine. I am pretty sure that the Arimidex is the main culprit. My medical oncologist allowed me to go off it for only 2 weeks last fall and, of course, it didn’t make any difference because I understand that it takes 2 or 3 months to get out of your system in order to make you feel normal again. I am not willing to play “roulette” with it, though.

  21. I just found your website. I was diagnosed 3.5 years ago with triple negative BC. I had neoadjuvent chemo, double mastectomy and radiation. I was fortunate to have a complete pathological response to the chemo. One thing that I did since the diagnosis and through the treatments and afterwards was walk every single day for 3 miles, which took 45-60 minutes, no matter what the weather. It was very hard at times, but did it. I feel that this helped ward off things like peripheral neuropathy, and kept my oxygen levels very high, which seemed to surprise the doc (pleasantly). After the treatments ended, I was exhausted but kept the exercise going. Then I worked in anti-inflammatory supplements (can google them, for example turmeric) along with weighted exercises and stretches. I’ve just kept building up the exercise routine. As I did this, my energy level increased. It just took a major “step” up recently when I worked in more weighted exercises coupled with “rebounding” which is excellent for restoring the lymph (garbage removal) system in the body. The benefits of rebounding which is very easy to do (and more effective time-wise than running), can also be googled. I definitely do think that the cancer treatment caused accelerated aging symptoms in me, but that if you fight back very hard with ever challenging exercise and supplement routines, it can be at least partially reversed (if not more). Time will tell if/when I get back to 100% of where I was. But I feel improvement as time goes on with my routine.

    1. Anna, I agree, exercise is very important. Of course, it’s important for everyone, cancer or no cancer. I’m glad you’ve figured out what works for you. I’m a big walker too. I don’t know what rebounding is. Guess I’ll have to Google that. Thank you for sharing. Keep on keepin’ on.

      1. Some of us can’t tolerate the exercise anymore due to the rapidly increasing pain in bones and muscles due to the cancer treatment. After 10 to 15 minutes of standing and/or walking, I am bent over double with the pain!

        1. Donna, I understand about not tolerating exercise. It can be so hard to even contemplate unnecessary movement. My suggestion is that if all you are feeling up to is sitting in a chair and taking deep breaths in and deep breaths out, start with that. And try calling exercise movement. That might help. Or not. Here’s a post I wrote awhile back with some helpful (maybe) tips. http://nancyspoint.com/do-you-hate-to-exercise-10-strategies-to-help-motivate/

  22. Absolutely it accelerates aging however, I find that some of my collateral damage is improving. After the bone marrow transplant for AML, I had not taste or smell and neuropathy in my legs and decreased hearing all of which I attributed to chemotherapy. Now at six and a half years my neuropathy is gone and I am starting to get some feeling back in my feet. I have a little taste and no smell still and my brain is ever so slightly better. I think that part of the problem is that it is only recently that we have been so successful at treating cancer. That means more survivors living longer and we need more research on the collateral damage. I also think that exercise is always good but the studies on that are biased as the people who are able to exercise have less collateral damage to start with.

    1. Susan, It’s good to hear that some of your collateral damage is improving. I still have neuropathy in my feet after eight years, so I’m guessing it’s permanent. It must be hard to have your taste and smell impacted like that. I’m glad more research is being done on CD and that long-term side effects are being taken more seriously. I agree about the exercise being so important, but as you said, some people find it hard to start or even think about it due to feeling so poorly with CD. I always suggest if all you can is sit in chair and breathe in and breathe out, start with that. Thank you for reading and commenting.

  23. Oh, yes!! I just recently told someone that it has only been 3 years since I finished my cancer treatments (surgery, chemo, and radiation), but I feel like I have aged 30 years since then. I think the main culprit is the Anastrozole that I was put on 3 years ago and have been told I must stay on it for at least 10 years. I am in extreme pain in my lower back and left hip, groin, thigh and calf and sometimes my ankle and foot. My GP says my xray shows mild to moderate arthritis, but it feels like I am trying to walk on fractured bones. Can’t sleep at night cause every time I try to change position, the pain wakes me back up. None of the OTC meds do anything for it and I don’t want to do any controlled meds for pain. I lose handfuls of hair on my head every day, it seems. Weird skin rashes showing up on my body. Become easily fatigued. Seem to have a little neuropathy in feet. Can’t lose weight, no matter how hard I try. The list goes on. But the alternative if I don’t take the Anastrozole is not good.

  24. I agree with some of this. I’m a 19 yr survivor (diagnosed at 33) with sciatica I’m pretty sure was caused when I had my reconstruction for which they cut my left abdominal muscles wo telling me. I then had to have hernia surgery & a new mesh implanted (twice bc the first time I got a staph infection). However, I am determined to try to enjoy my life in my 50s bc I was too busy fighting cancer in my 30s. I am on weight loss meds which have been amazing, I get Botox, and I have hair extensions! It pisses me off that our needs are not met post-treatment, & I’ve gotten into it & become hysterical w several docs. I guess the one good thing abt breast cancer is that you don’t take any shit after having it!!

  25. I absolutely feel that meds have accelerated my aging. But I am 72 this month, so I should expect some wrinkling and sagging. Right? I asked the oncologist at my last appointment about stopping, and she was adamant that I stay on it because my onco score was 29, and I was grade 3. I read my medical record and she says I will now stay on it for 10 years. Only told me verbally 5 years.

    On the bright side, I was diagnosed with osteopenia while on anastrozole and then femara. Oncologist switched me to tamoxifen, and it did help with side effects. I recently had my ‘every other year’ dexa scan in February, and I am now in normal range. I’ve worked hard with exercise and eating. Feeling pretty proud of myself.

  26. I was diagnosed with stage 3, HER2+, occult BC on my birthday 15 months ago. At the time, I had been the caregiver for my husband (who had Alzheimer’s) for 14 years and had retired 3 years previously. I feel like especially those last 3 years of caring for him had taken a toll on me physically and emotionally, but I was still surprised at my diagnosis after a routine mammogram. I went through 30 rounds of chemo, surgery to remove affected lymph nodes, then 29 radiation treatments.

    With the chemo treatments, I could no longer care for my husband. He was moved into a care facility. He died six months after that. I am so glad that I was able to be next to him when he passed. We had been married 52 years and together since I was 16 and he was 19. Really, I was on auto pilot during all the cancer treatment. (I was and still am, however, unable to plan any kind of service for him.) It was not until I finished radiation and began feeling a bit better physically that the grief of his loss hit me hard and devastated me.

    Do I feel older? At 72 now, my life is totally changed. I feel (most days) like I’m on a more level emotional keel. (Counseling has helped enormously.) But I am not the same person in any way. I cannot exercise yet. I have fierce insomnia and lay awake for hours most nights. I am not feeling anxious, I am just wide awake. I then feel tired during the day, of course. I rarely leave the house, although friends come to see me on most days. Neuropathy has affected my balance and I use a cane. I have reduced heart function (which may improve) after the chemo drug Herceptin. I was unable to finish the year-long course because of the toxicity to my heart. There are many more after effects that could be named.

    I don’t think I’m depressed. But I do think I am totally entitled to feel very sad and grieve after these events in my life. At this point I can only contemplate one day at a time. I am unable to even imagine what the rest of my life might be. I only hope that it isn’t long. Maybe that feeling will change, maybe not.

  27. Wow! Looking at all of these comments, you’ve certainly hit a nerve. I will say, yes, cancer treatment has had a diminishing effect on my body, whether it’s called aging or just side effects. My blood pressure is starting to elevate which means my arteries are likely hardening from chemo. At times, my skin looks more wrinkled, my eyes more puffy. Still, I find that exercise, drinking lots of water, upping protein intake in times of fatigue all counteract those effects. I am truly amazed at how resilient my body can be and I tend to focus on that more than the signs of deterioration. Another great post Nancy!

    1. Liz, It is pretty amazing how resilient the human body is when you think about the rigors of treatment and in your case, ongoing treatment. Your suggestions about exercise, drinking lots of water and upping protein are good ones for all of us. Thank you for sharing.

  28. Photographic evidence would suggesgt that after five years of undergoing treatments, the one that has caused the most biological aging is Taxol by far and away. The steroids did not make matters much better either. Some days I do feel like I am 80 – getting out of bed and stepping down onto my sore feet, using my knees to walk to the bathroom or to make a coffee in the kitchen, feels like miles not rooms away. However, after all the obviousness of the reports (at least to me although I agree data driven factual information to back up how we feel gives us less of the feeling of being hypochondriacs and whining about age, when damn it, we should be HAPPY to be alive, right?)
    There’s a positive note to aging. And it’s not one that a report can easily underscore with data and charts. Wisdom comes with age. The wisdom that I had at 49 was fully eclipsed this year in my accelerated soon to be 55 biological years old brain. I forget more – chemo brain might parallel senior moments. Yet I also remember more – to be kinder, to myself and to others. To remember that love is what counts, nothing more and nothing less, in the gift of this body with which I carry my soul on this current journey. I know what I don’t know and ask a lot more than I espouse. I look back at my anger in the blog posts of 2016 and 17, and the calmer, more engaged posts of 2019 and the beginnning of 2020. THey’re less about me and my woes. More about the questions of life made apparent to me as time with a terminal disease I suppose will do to us… I’ve realized the gifts of silence – now as I sit in my bath at 3 am and as I meditate two to three times a day. I realized that there’s some things I don’t want to change but change they must. That includes the woman in the mirror.

    I recall a conversation with a neighbor complaining about not wanting to look old. About how she’d get plastic surgery to prevent the aging process from showing. Mind you, she didn’t look old. But no one seems to age as they used to with the median age of mortality at a record 79. To be 80 years old I know is a pipe dream and even coming near 60 would be wonderful to me. I’d love to see the progression of my age with grace and with a passion for the many tomorrows I hope to find even as I slouch towards the Bethlehem of my kitchen for a steaming hot cup of Kona with cream. I love the taste. I remember my grandmother scolding my mother when I was around 7 or 8 for allowing me a cup of coffee. Grandma said it would stunt my growth. HA! She was a staggering 5’2” and I peaked at 6 feet tall. My mom would laugh at her and say, ‘Ma, I guess you were right! Look how stunted she’s become!”
    The wisdom of ages sometimes gets it wrong. I’d love to see the grandchildren my stepsons bring over to us to meet and to be a grandmother – and to have learned that love was the reason for the visit – not anything more. And I hope craig gets the joy of seeing his first grandchild with me but chances are they will not know me. Perhaps they’ll know of me. Perhaps the boys can take a lesson more from their other mother’s disease and remember me when it comes time to recall their lives stories to their kids.
    So yes, my physical self – shrank 1/4 of an inch because of cancer that spread to my bones and accelerated osteoporosis caused my spine to have stress fractures on my L7 and C5. Excruciating pain and nothing to do but wait I hope and take care of myself so I don’t wind up with titanium in my spine. Not that I won’t be grateful for standing up and the advances of medical oncology to help me get there.
    I love your post and it’s a real topic for us. One that makeup cant cover up.
    Love you so much, Nancy. You’re not old to me. You’re just Nancy the wonderful and wickedly intelligent woman I’ve come to know.

  29. I am two months post active treatment for stage 2 b HR/ER+ HER2 – breast cancer right breast. Lumpectomy, 4 weeks radiation and I’m still new to Arimidex. I am 58. My worst fears about AI were the long list of debilitating side effects and it made me positively terrified and miserable to the point of crazy. The idea of losing my retirement dreams and capabilities made me feel powerful rage and despair. I altered our home renovations to accommodate my anticipation loss of mobility, and cried a lot during radiation.

    But what I want to say is that I would have benefited from hearing from women doing ok on Arimidex. I certainly realise perhaps there is less impetus to comment when things are okay. So I make these comments to maybe help a woman about to start anastrozole deal with the kind of anxiety I felt : I am 10 weeks in and have no side major effects I can identify. I don’t know if my current afternoon fatigue is post radiation fatigue or from the Arimidex, and I have some brain fog. I use my phone calender to set reminders for the slightest thing as I don’t trust myself. I think it’s getting better though. But it’s early days- I don’t have any joint or
    muscle pains or issues so far but will have to face density risk in the long run. But I was at the highest anxiety level about commencing Arimidex but have managed well so far. I hate that medicos dismiss women’s voices about the impacts it is obviously having. They must work on these side effects. I feel a solidarity with everyone here as I was crazy with fear. But then it was so unexpectedly okay once I started. Maybe a woman somewhere will feel less scared hearing from the woman who has at least started off okay on Arimidex. I hope things stay okay for me or by mid year I’ll be a wreck I do feel aged by cancer by the fatigue and stress ! but not otherwise visibly in my skin or hair? I wish everyone here the best xxx

  30. It’s been nearly 5 yrs since my lumpectomy for ductile sarcoma on my right breast. I only had radiation and feel so much for those who have had to do Chemo as well.
    I am taking Letrozole and it’s been very difficult feeling like I’m 80 yrs old from sun up to sun down.
    I was very pretty for 59 yrs old. When I see my reflection or when a photo is taken of me I am wondering if this is a long nightmare for which I will never awaken? I’ve gained 50+ pounds and every attempt to change my eating habits soon go south. I have never been a sweets person but I cant get enough! My skin is so dry and wrinkly. I do not recognize my hand and feet not to mention everything else. I’ve never been so unhealthy. My radiology oncologist strongly advised me to go on a vegan “lifestyle”.
    I’m sorry for all of you who have struggled from estrogen blockers. I guess it’s better than the alternative but it still hurts inwardly and outwardly.

  31. Aging – yes. I looked okay even a year after treatment for MBC. Then it all crashed with hair loss, dry skin (it used to be oily), neuropathy in my feet, and occasional hip pain which must be arthritis since the scans did not indicate cancer there. some dark days I wonder (out loud because I’m quite verbal and extraverted) if it’s all worth it. I want to live as long as possible, but I hate becoming the old, old lady when my mind is young. The often quoted saying “Aging isn’t for sissies” is so true, but cancer forces aging.

    1. Linda, Pretty sure most of us have those dark days. But a MBC diagnosis likely brings more of them. I’m sorry you have hip pain. And neuropathy is no fun either. You have a lot to deal with, that’s for sure. Normal aging is not a piece of cake and throw in cancer, and well, you know. Gotta keep on keepin’ on I guess. Thank you for commenting.

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