Cancer is not just surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and other treatments. It's multi-faceted and changes your life. There is no getting around that, and each cancer has its own uniqueness in so many ways.

One facet of my breast cancer journey was my mental health. Because I'm such a positive, upbeat person, it's actually a difficult topic, but if it helps one person it is worth sharing. It was only a point in time in my journey, but one I will never forget.

Tamoxifen: I dreaded the drug, though I knew I would have to take it. My research and the blogs I read made me despise it before my oncologist even prescribed it. To make things worse, I had been taking Wellbutrin for a few years. When my oncologist prescribed Tamoxifen, he indicated I could not take it with Wellbutrin as it would inhibit the effectiveness of the Tamoxifen. I was concerned, as I had very mild depression and Wellbutrin simply took the edge off.

My oncologist referred me to a local psychiatrist to find a replacement for Wellbutrin once I started taking Tamoxifen. Seemed simple, but that is when my very rocky journey began. We tried a number of options. If a med was unsuccessful, my psychiatrist would prescribe another med and sometimes try an add-on.

At times I felt like a zombie, with absolutely no emotions whatsoever; at times I was beyond angry; and then there were times when I didn't even know who the person was that I had become. I was petrified inside. I would go to work and go to bed when I got home because I was actually scared of what I might do. I felt safer if I was asleep. I would sob, and I would pray — begging God to show me the way.

It was such a scary time in my journey. It was bad enough I was dealing with breast cancer, but this turn of events was unexpected. I did things and said things that were so out of character for me. I begged for help, but it felt like my cries went unheard!

Amazingly, few people, besides a couple of people on my medical team, knew what was going on with me. One person I confided in had dealt with depression and anxiety issues herself in the past, and she was my rock when I needed her. She would sit with me while I fell apart, and there was so much comfort in that. One person wanted to help, but had no clue what to do. She felt very helpless. A dear friend knew what was going on, and he would listen and just let me talk. Another person simply fueled the fire and made me think I was crazy.

As much as I wanted to give up, I didn't. Giving up is not in my nature. I did everything I could to get the help I needed and to get myself back. During that time, I felt like I let everyone down, and that most people did not know or understand the root cause of what was going on with me.

After months and months of trial and error with a local psychiatrist, I reached out to The Jeffrey C. Siegel Quality of Life Center at Froedtert Hospital. That is where I met Jennifer Knight, MD, and she was my saving grace at Froedtert Hospital. I still remember my first appointment with her. I absolutely fell apart and begged her to help me. She spent a significant amount of time with me to understand how I was prior to having breast cancer when I took Wellbutrin, what meds my local psychiatrist had tried since I started Tamoxifen and how I was feeling at the time. She was very familiar with Tamoxifen and what meds would not adversely impact its effectiveness.

She also referred me to Dr. Heidi Christianson, who is a psychologist at Froedtert Hospital. She helped me deal with being a cancer survivor, my fears, my hopes, my life with my daughter with special needs and family issues. She helped me realize I had been in an emotionally and mentally abusive relationship. The healing finally began. I knew in my heart God would show me the way, and I would once again be OK. I credit my faith and the team at Froedtert Hospital for getting me back on my feet and smiling again.

If this brutally honest message touches just one person experiencing what I did, that's enough for me. If it helps a caregiver, that is enough for me as well. What I've shared is a glimpse into the absolute scariest time in my life, but I was able to finally find the help I needed. I didn't realize Tamoxifen could lessen the effect of the medicine I was taking and certainly didn't expect to go through what I did while trying to find an alternative. I did not know day-to-day if I was going to make it through. This is simply an awareness of the implications meds, such as Tamoxifen, may cause.

Today, I am the happiest I have ever been and no longer take an anti-depressant. I live life a little on the edge, mostly because cancer has changed my view on life. I smile and grin as I take risks others may not so willingly take. I am blessed to have met an incredible gentleman that I am sharing my life with and am in the midst of moving to a smaller town, which is very exciting. This just proves that the dark hole you may fall into is temporary, and that you should never give up! There is always hope. Just persevere!


Share Your Thoughts

Did you have to stop taking medication during your treatment? Did it affect your mental or emotional health? What advice do you have for others who may experience this? Share your thoughts below.

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About the Author

Jennifer Pichelman was born in Racine, Wis. She graduated from Concordia University Wisconsin with an undergraduate degree in business management and communication. She recently celebrated 25 years with a manufacturing company in Racine and currently works in marketing. Jennifer was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma in 1994 and underwent chemotherapy and radiation. Due to the radiation to her chest, Jennifer was told she had an increased risk of breast cancer, which her oncologist diligently screened for with mammograms and breast MRI's. She remained cancer free until December of 2012, when she was diagnosed with a secondary cancer, breast cancer. When a small mass was discovered after a mammogram, deep down Jennifer knew she had breast cancer. After biopsy results came back, Jennifer was formally diagnosed on Dec. 28, 2012 -- 3 days after Christmas.

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Kimberly Yoghourtjian
on June 7, 2018 - 12:24 pm

Thank you Jennifer for sharing your story honestly. You give hope to people who are struggling under very difficult circumstances. People don't have to give up hope. Trust in God, and He can lead to the right answers. My husband was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia, and you are right, cancer changes your life in one way or another, but there is hope and I know as a caregiver that God can fill the holes. My husband would say the same as a cancer patient.