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The Voice of People With Breast Cancer


Our Voices Blog

Your Surviving-Tamoxifen Checklist. All the Things You Didn’t Know You Needed, But Do

In our monthly column, senior writer and editor Adriana Ermter shares her personal experiences with breast cancer.

By Adriana Ermter

Nothing can prepare you for the onslaught of side effects the tiny little hormone-blocking drug Tamoxifen can create in your body and your life. At least that’s how I feel…now. When my oncologist first handed me the five-year prescription for the 10-mg daily dose along with a pamphlet listing 40-odd side effects, I thought differently. Then, my oncologist explained how Tamoxifen works and what I may experience—including hot flashes, weight gain and irregular periods—in such an airy, breezy way that took, maybe, all of 45 seconds to share I figured, okay, I’ve got this. This’ll be no big deal. If there was anything to worry about my doctor would warn me. Thousands of women pop this pill every single day without complaint, I’ll be fine.

Holy crap was I wrong.

Tamoxifen is rough. From the first pill I swallowed I suffered everything from joint pain, night sweats and a sandpaper-dry vagina to headaches, the need to constantly pee, nausea and so much more. And while my oncologist fiddled with my prescription a handful of times, all the while promising me things would ease up after six months it never helped and it never did. So, here’s what I learned to have on hand and to be prepared for the hard way. It’s a Tamoxifen checklist, so to speak, of all the things no one tells you that you need, but you do.

Bedding and PJs
Night sweats are real and intense. Mine had me waking up multiple times per night completely soaked, like I’d just had a shower. So I bought a bed liner, you know, the kind you buy for little kids who are transitioning from diapers to no diapers, extra sheets and another pair of cotton PJs. I stacked a pile of towels next to the bed and folded the extra PJs on top of the towels. Then, during the night when I’d wake up wet and boiling hot, I’d roll out of bed, change my PJs into the dry pair, lay a towel over top of the damp sheets and go back to sleep. This became so autopilot, I could practically sleep walk my way through it. In the morning I’d change the bed sheets, do laundry and get ready to start all over again.

Nausea and pain
My head and joints, especially my hips and knees, were constantly achy and sore and made me feel like an old woman. Factor in nausea and moments of dizziness and I spent too many mornings wishing I could stay in bed and not go to work. Peppermint oil rubbed along the back of my neck at my hairline and a combo of one Advil with a Tylenol pill (both green-lit by my oncology team) were a game changer. The minty fresh oil was soothing and cooling and provided headache relief along with the painkillers and kept me alert. Keeping a bag of Goldfish crackers in my purse at all times pulled double duty as a snack and as barf prevention. All in all, this excellent combo of tricks kept me upright and functioning when I least felt like it.

Layers of comfort
Regardless of the weather, dressing in comfortable layers became my Tamoxifen uniform. At first, it was tricky to figure out what clothes best accommodated both my desire to look good and the fire that raged inside me, but the final decision literally boiled down to the fabric that could take the heat and not stick to my body. Cotton. Sleeveless and short sleeve dresses and tops, layered with light weight jeans, cardigans, jackets and hoodies reigned. Anything that I could pull off in a moments notice and that didn’t leave me standing naked in the middle of the No Frills or Shoppers Drug Mart aisles became my must-wear wardrobe.

Hydrating lube
Having a vagina that felt like sandpaper on the inside was, is, something I never thought I’d say, let alone experience and yet… Oh. My. God. It happened. Not that I was having sex or even wanted to and had to worry about that. Still the discomfort was real whether I was sleeping, walking, peeing or dealing with my period. On the months I actually did get my period and tried to insert a tampon, it felt like trying to shove a block of sand into the Sahara Desert. It only took 20 tampons and 17 awkward, yoga-style body contortions to determine that a little extra moisture would have done a long way. So I bought K-Y Jelly’s personal lubricant and it instantly became my new best friend. It also saved me from struggling into bendy poses and dunking the tampon into warm water, which is not only counter productive considering what tampons are structured to do, but also ridiculously frustrating. Trust me, I know. I tried. Lube comes in different sizes too, so I can handily stash one in my purse and another in the bathroom.

Dry shampoo
Polar opposite to the hydration needs of my nether regions, dry shampoo became my hair’s style savior. Courtesy of all of the hot flashes, Tamoxifen had me sweating like a pro athlete and constantly. My head was no exception so obviously this left my hair damp and clinging to my scalp. Not cute. Yet wearing a ponytail or bun all day every day got tired quickly, plus it often contributed to the persistent headaches I experienced. Spraying my hair multiple times a day with a sheer, dry shampoo worked miracles. Seriously. And it prevented me from looking slick and shiny. The only catch is if you’re going to rely on dry shampoo and use it every single day like I did, you’ll need a purifying shampoo (literally, that’s what they’re called) to wash away all of the product’s buildup on your scalp and hair. But it’s worth it.

Adriana Ermter is a multi award-winning writer and editor. Her work can be read in Living Luxe, Figure Skater Fitness and IN Magazine, as well as online at,, and The former Beauty Director for FASHION and Editor-in-Chief for Salon and Childview magazines lives in Toronto with her two very spoiled rescue kittens, Murphy and Olive. You can follow Adriana on Instagram @AdrianaErmter

Photo by danilo.alvesd on Unsplash