I have 22 seconds of treatment left… ever… forever. This cancer is gone; everything I’ve done is enough, and tomorrow I close the book on this chapter. I will go in for my last radiation at 2:00. Sometimes it takes a while to wait my turn to go into the room. Then I get situated on the table while the x-ray techs line up the radiation machine with the tattoos and marks on my body. And then they all exit the room to officially start the treatment. It’s always a little strange at that moment because the “buzzing around” and chit-chat is suddenly gone- leaving me alone in the silence until the machine starts. I do, however (since I have done since my first MRI) imagine that I am not just holding onto the bar above my head, but holding Jesus’s hand… and it gives me a sense of peace in an otherwise sterile and unnerving environment. Then once that machine starts it radiates me for 22 seconds. For these last 8 shorter “boost” sessions, I’ve laid there and counted so that I know. Slow and consistent… 1 Mississippi… 2 Mississippi… 3 Mississippi- as the daughter of Larry Caldwell would surely do correctly. The last 2 times I’ve held back tears knowing that I wouldn’t have to do it for many more days. I’m sure tomorrow’s emotions will be too strong to hold back. I imagine tears will roll down my temples for those last 22 seconds of treatment. And if they do, I’ll be proud to have reached a point that I can wipe them away and cross my finish line with my hands held high. I’ve rounded third and am making my way home. I’m attacking the volleyball for one last spike. I’m about to plow through the defense in Bettis-like fashion to score a touchdown. Insert whichever sport analogy you’d like… tomorrow I WIN!
25 down. 8 to go. It’s so great to think that the end is coming soon. November 20th should be my last radiation treatment. That’s the week of Thanksgiving, which seems so incredibly appropriate, doesn’t it?!?. Radiation is just as exhausting as they said it would be. It’s amazing how good I feel in the late mornings- once I’m up and moving and at work I feel good. (Probably helps that I listen to some great music on the drive to work every day). But by the afternoon and after my radiation every day the exhaustion hits hard. And some days I try to squeeze in too much and hit a wall when I get home (somehow things like getting gas and stopping at the post office have become “too much”). Today was one of those days. Thankful to have delicious leftovers from friends’ meals that the girls could heat up on their own. Though Liana decided her dinner tonight was bread, tortilla chips and an apple. Sounds perfect, honey… go for it.
My skin has definitely reacted, but not too severely. I have one large section that looks like it has a pink rash and is pretty itchy. And a patch under my arm that is dark tan colored and sore inside. My doctor keeps tabs on me every week and assured me today that these are still very typical skin changes and she’s confident I’ll get through to the end of this without much more reaction. I’m applying all of the lotion I’m supposed to use and have been adding fresh aloe from a plant I’m borrowing from a friend (thanks Alli Herren).
The last 8 radiation treatments are considered “boost treatments”. They are focused just on the mastectomy scar and are more superficial than what I’ve had so far. They say that when cancer does recur, it usually comes back along the scar line. So they do concentrated radiation in that area at the end of treatment to make sure they hit it hard. If that prevents recurrence, then it sounds good to me.
And as a “meh” moment, I just feel the need to elaborate on the “reactive lymph node” under my arm that I’ve mentioned before. Lymph nodes often swell in response to different body illness or trauma. That’s why you get “swollen glands” when you’re sick sometimes. They swell up temporarily then go down to regular size on their own. During my mastectomy surgery, I had 8 lymph nodes removed. But there are still a lot of them left in me (everyone has a different amount). One of them that remains in my armpit area swelled up and was very noticeable about 2 weeks after surgery… in August. This is very common for lymph nodes in that area since there was so much trauma to it during surgery. It’s just that it hasn’t gone down on its own. My amazing surgeon has been keeping an eye on it. After a 6-week check-up he ordered an ultrasound to make sure it was ok. The ultrasound confirmed that it’s swollen because it’s “reactive” and benign (hear that as “it’s not cancer”). At my last check-up, he measured it and assured me that it’s getting smaller even though I can’t tell yet. I just wish… like really, really, really wish it wasn’t enlarged at all. If it wasn’t, I think I could be totally excited about the end of treatment. As it stands, and not to be a downer, I feel like I”m 99% excited and 1% scared that there is still something in there. I’ll have another ultrasound on it in December to make sure it’s still showing as benign and shrinking. (If you’re wondering, they can’t do a biopsy on it right now because I wouldn’t heal and would be at high risk for infection if they try a biopsy in the middle of radiation.)
Let me say this- every day I talk myself into the positive. I have a few mantras that I say in the mirror. I remind myself I’m cancer free; that this is just a benign lymph node; that cancer is gone and never coming back. But if there are days or moments that I seem a little unsure, you’ll know why. And if you’re looking for details to pray about, that lymph node would be a good one right now- that it’s 100% definitely benign and that it goes down on it’s own very soon. I’m so tired of worrying about it. Thanks in advance. And thanks again for the local friends providing meals to help us through to the finish line! Almost there!!!!
17 out of 33 radiation treatments done. I’m over halfway and that’s encouraging. So far, no external skin changes are noticeable. I can feel changes deep inside and my arm (especially under my armpit) is feeling sore. I’ve been stretching it a lot and still go to physical therapy to prevent too much tightening. I’m feeling the fatigue also, which is expected. It almost feels like I took a Benadryl shortly after treatment. After about 2 hours the fog lifts and I can finish my evenings. But the overall fatigue is cumulative over time and is definitely noticeable now. It’s getting so old to have to work and go to radiation every day. Plus I have a ton of additional appointments still. My thyroid is enlarged so I need to follow up with that through endocrinology. (I’m guessing my body is just still so “out of whack” since chemo.) And they keep monitoring a reactive lymph node that has been swollen since the trauma of surgery (but is not cancerous). These are all nothing compared to chemo. And will be done in a few more weeks (though the fatigue will last 6-12 months after radiation). Estimated time frame is to have my last radiation on November 20th- as long as I don’t have any skin changes severe enough to need a break. I’m gonna plan on the 20th, because I love the idea of being done by Thanksgiving! I have a ton to be thankful for this year!!
I was not expecting yesterday to go the way that it did. It was my first radiation treatment and I knew it would take longer than every subsequent one. I had no idea how long it would actually take and I was not prepared for how I would feel during it.
They were running behind schedule so I waited for quite a while before it even started. While waiting, I got a lovely video from our friend to make me laugh, so I’m very thankful for that. When they were finally ready, they took me back to the table and got ready to start. It was freezing in there so they gave me warm blankets to drape over as much as they could. But my chest was exposed (obviously) for a very. long. time. I laid with my arms above my head while 2 technicians and a doctor lined me up just right with lasers and machines. They marked my body up in several spots- making adjustments with a ruler down to the millimeter. Measuring, marking, taking a film, marking again, trying to decide if I should have a custom bolus (a plastic thing they lay on top of my chest that acts as an extra layer of skin). The women were as kind as could be. But the environment was cold and sterile with fluorescent lights that make any place less comfortable. My head had to be turned at a slight angle so I couldn’t move to make eye contact when they talked to me. I don’t think I’ve ever felt like such a science project. Three women talking about my body, measurements, angles, lasers… while I laid there unable to move out of that position for an hour. I tried so hard to think of positive things- listening to the barely audible music, praying, meditating, praying more. The hardest part of it was that the machine had a reflective glass that was above my head. Without being able to turn my head from its position I couldn’t do anything but stare at the reflection… the still unfamiliar reflection of 12 inches of scars across my chest. Perfect 6 inch lines on each side. I couldn’t turn away. I couldn’t pretend they were normal. I was literally faced with my new body, with background noise of clinical jargon that didn’t make sense to me. I know I’ve said that chemo and hair loss made me feel like an alien. This was different. This made me feel inhuman. I hated it. I tried to keep a good attitude about it afterward, but it was still bothering me. Until, of course, I could have time to process it and talk about it with Rob. He made me feel better… as he always does.
I had a decent night’s sleep and felt much better today. And today’s appointment was totally fine. In and out within a half hour. Time on the table was just about 10 minutes. Short enough to keep my mind on other things and not stare at the reflection. I’m sure there’s a lesson in all of this. Maybe we all need to spend more time faced with the reflections of our least favorite part of ourselves (inside or out). Maybe it’s a reminder that this is my broken earthly body… not meant to be perfect. Or maybe it was just a really crappy evening that I should stop analyzing. I wasn’t ready for how emotional that experience ended up being. But I’m sure ready to get these next six weeks over with.
A few random things:
I’m still waiting to hear from the radiation oncologist to set up my radiation schedule. I’m not looking forward to it, but I’m also anxious to get it over with.
I’m back to work full time; and so thankful that I work with amazing people who have made the transition as good as it can be.
This picture shows how happy I am to have my port out!! My arm is still just a little swollen and tender, but it’ll feel so good once it’s back to normal.
It’s been really nice outside so I’ve been soaking in the beautiful weather, knowing it won’t last much longer. If you’re reading this and it’s nice where you are- you should really get outside and enjoy it. Even just a walk around the block will be worth it. If you’re healthy enough to go do something- do it!
“It’s all gone.” Those exact words came out of the surgeon’s mouth today when I asked him if he can definitely say if there’s any cancer left. I know he hinted at it during the last appointment, and I knew that the pathology report was suggesting that, but he never actually said the words. And I was scared to even ask because every other person I know with cancer doesn’t/hasn’t gotten a direct response like that. But I asked, and he said “It’s all gone”, and for the first time I actually let the joy and relief that comes with those words enter my being and feel it from the inside. I don’t know how to explain it. Like I knew it intellectually at the last appointment, but today I FEEL it… I FEEL free of cancer and he confirmed that it is gone!!! I cried, the nurses cried, and they sent me home with cupcakes. It’s also easier to react to such good news now that I’m further in my recovery from surgery.
Along those lines, I’m continuing to recover well. My incisions are healing incredibly well. The surgeon was impressed and said, “I’ll do surgery on you any day.” The infected drain site is finally starting to look better, though is still the most uncomfortable part of this.
I started physical therapy this week and was totally impressed. The PT talked about things we’ll do to prevent lymphedema (swelling in the arm that happens when lymph nodes are removed and worsens with radiation.) She’ll also help me work on increasing range of motion with my right arm. And will help with reducing scar tissue and increasing skin movement around the incision sites. She was extremely knowledgeable about post-mastectomy needs and I’m looking forward to working through this with her. It feels good to know I can now be a little more active in my recovery instead of passively enduring stuff that is done to me.
(I still have radiation that will start in a few weeks… and I’ll keep you all posted on that as it gets closer. The dr said that radiation helps reduce the long term chance of localized recurrence. As much as I wish this was totally done, I’m willing to do another step if it means preventing this in the future.)
It’s been a good week and an especially good Friday! Also, I’m writing this as I watch the girls play “Just Dance”… that’ll put anyone in an amazing mood! Love, Love!