It has now been more than one week since my final radiation treatment. We’ve had New Years, packing up the Christmas gear for another year, and thinking about next steps as far as our housing arrangements for the next 3 years, and beyond. And I have three blissed weeks off from doctors and needles and hopefully anti-nausea medication, in which to luxuriate in those less exciting topics. I had had a return of my nausea those last three weeks of treatment, every morning about an hour before we had to leave to drive into downtown. Hmm, I wonder why that could be….
It’s been a long haul, but we’ve finally finished 20 weeks of chemo, and 6 weeks of radiation. Oh my g.o.s.h., who would have thunk it…I know I couldn’t imagine being here, standing in “The Hard Part’s Over” Land. And I thank you for joining us on this larger than life, unexpected journey. There is still a long way to go, but we have a little time to rest before we start the trek down the mountain.
About 3 weeks into the radiation process I often had the horrible thought that on the final day the doctor would say “Just kidding! You’ve got 12 more weeks to go!” This is similar to the worry I carried around before my final chemo infusion. I mean how could I be done, so simply as that? Shouldn’t I suffer a little longer? Shouldn’t I have to work harder at this? But as we now know, the final infusion came and went with no drama, and no fanfare.
My final radiation appointment was about the same. It’s funny, the ten appointments leading up to the final, while I was anxiously counting the days, and trying to fit Christmas in there somewhere, giving up a lot of what I had envisioned – clean house, outside trees adorned with ornaments, my ceramic Christmas Village set up, with a new addition or two – as often as not, I found myself getting a little sad about the prospect of being “done” at least for the time being. I’ve been at SCCA every week or two for nearly 6 months, then was there every day for another 6 weeks. These people were like beloved coworkers to me. We all had the same goal, taking care of my cancer so I could take care of the rest of my life. We all know that there will come a time when I am NOT doing this. But when I’m knee deep in it, I can only focus on the now, on getting through each treatment, which is not as bad as I thought it would be, but it’s not as easy as I thought it would be, either, if that makes sense. In short, radiation therapy is nothing like I thought it would be.
Each hurdle I pass, I think, “Okay, this next part has be to a piece of cake compared to what I just went through.” Don’t kid yourself, it isn’t. It’s just different. During radiation I may not have the mind-numbing fatigue and miserable nausea I had with the A/C regimen, and as much as I declare I’d rather have pain that the awful completely-at-sea-in-a-storm feeling I had on the pain medicine, know this: Radiation damage still sucks eggs. It hurts, and there’s nothing you can do about it other than apply the gels and ointments, take the ibuprofen, and go back the next day asking for more. Thinking about it now, I am VERY grateful for the good advice from the plastic surgeon last March, and didn’t get the skin sparing mastectomy surgery. That extra skin flap would have made the situation even more hideous and painful.
But even in the face of all of that, I was going to miss seeing my therapists every day, and the lady at the front desk with her cheerful smile, and I would literally tear up at the thought of it for the 10-12 days leading up to that final day. I love my radiation oncologist; I looked forward to the therapists stories every day; and it was a delight sharing our cooking accomplishments with one another. But as much I loved all of that, on the final day, I couldn’t get out of there fast enough.