Can You Drink After Breast Cancer?

The alcohol-breast cancer connection was in the news this week. According to a report in the August 23 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, regular alcohol consumption increases the risk of hormone-receptor positive breast cancer, but apparently does not increase the risk of invasive ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS). The authors said it was the first major study to look at the potential connection by cancer subtype. The women they looked at ranged from complete teetotalers to women who drink from 1 to more than 14 drinks a week.

When I read about this, I wasn’t sure whether to pat myself on the back or spank myself, since I had estrogen-receptor positive DCIS and I fall into the drinking category. I fall somewhere between role model and dire warning. I got carried away from time to time when I was younger, just as I used to worship the sun. The nice thing about getting older is you just naturally slow down. Hangovers and sweating in the sun have both lost their appeal for me. I’m nowhere near the 14 drink per week tally.

I will tell you that as soon as I was diagnosed I wondered if my youthful misbehavior brought anything to the party, but I decided pretty quickly not to beat myself up. I know women who have never touched a drop of alcohol in their lives and got breast cancer. I know other women who should have had full chest and liver replacements by now and (so far) are cancer-free. I really believe there’s some genetic luck of the draw at play.

I also believe the alcohol question is similar to choosing a course of treatment. We have to weigh the risks and benefits and make the choice that’s best for us as individuals. I like wine with dinner and I never met a glass of champagne I didn’t like. My choice is to continue enjoying that in moderation (although as the saying goes “Moderation in all things, including moderation.”)

The morning after my mastectomy, I asked my surgeon if it would be okay to have a glass of champagne on our 33rd wedding anniversary the following day. He’s one of the more relaxed human beings on the planet, and he said, “Sure, have two if you want.” My nurses were scandalized by that. (For the record, I did have two glasses. Hey, doctor’s orders!)

I guess what I”m trying to say is that I’m trying to strike a balance between my vices and enjoying life. I exercise more, and more often, than I ever have. I don’t text (or drink) and drive. I don’t eat or drink to excess but I think good food and drink are two of life’s great joys and I plan to enjoy them both for as long as I live. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go have a mimosa.

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