I have written before about my expectations for each phase of this process. You know what I keep saying - once I get past the surgery/A&C/taxol/radiation, the next part will be easy, I say to myself. Ha! As we’ve all learned by now, nothing is easy compared to anything else. Each phase is just different. You’d think I would have learned that lesson by now. But forgetfulness takes charge, and after I’ve completed everything, I found myself feeling like I hadn’t suffered enough to really call myself a survivor. Yeah, I had pain after the surgery. A LOT. But that’s in the past and I forget about it, because I have new things to deal with.
The A/C left me nauseated; the medication to help me with the nausea left me constipated; the drugs I took to protect me from having an allergic reaction to the chemo left me agitated; and the whole mess left me exhausted. Exhausted and bald.
After a three week break, we started the taxol. Ah, the taxol. How I worried about the taxol. Everyone told me that it would be different than the A/C. It had it’s own issues, though most patients have fewer issues with taxol than A/C, or at least the taxol issues were easier to tolerate than the A/C issues. Other breast cancer patients I’d read about on line said differently, that it was actually WORSE for them than the A/C. So for once I wasn’t expecting an easy ride by comparison to my experience to the A/C. But I was terrified about losing my nails.
As I have mentioned before, one chemotherapy agent has proved to be neither easier nor harder to tolerate than the other. Each is simply different. I didn’t lose any MORE hair during taxol, and the hair on my head, which started to grow during my break from A/C when we traveled so much for the sentencing hearing, kept on growing. Still no eyelashes or eyebrows, though, which makes it interesting on the rare occasions when I felt like applying makeup.
Then came radiation. By the third week, I was back on anti-nausea medication. Why would I be nauseas? The radiation oncologist didn’t seem concerned about it, and offered to prescribe an anti nausea medication, which I declined, as I still had PLENTY left from the collection I’d gathered all through my A/C. Every day like clockwork, one hour before we had to leave, I’d be nauseas. Only ONCE did I ignore it and go without the medication. That was the most miserable radiation session of the entire course, and I barely made it through without begging for a break. But that would have started the process over again, and that I was sure I couldn’t get through. I would have blown that radiation session, and it would have been tacked on to the end of my series, and I had a terror of extending my series past 2013. Then by the third or fourth week, I was on twice daily ibuprofen for the inflammation and pain. My skin looked like hell, and I couldn’t wear a bra. Radiation sucks. The aloe and prescribed radiation gel no longer helped, as it dried out my skin more than it soothed, and the calendula cream just burned. Thankfully the nurse working with me gave me a more emollient, gentle ointment (Aquafor, I love you!), which got me through the last weekend.
Now it’s two weeks after the final session, all the grey/black ash that was the top layer of my skin has peeled away, and left a nearly normal-looking layer underneath. It looks good, though it stings like anything. I’m still taking the ibuprofen for inflammation, especially when I do too much. I guess you could say that I can finally accept that radiation is really, truly behind me, though the pain and tight skin remains. I can wear a bra now, sort of, but not all day, and if I push it past 5 hours or so, I feel like I need to take a scissors to the bra to get out of it.
When exactly does this get easier? Yes, I’m elated that I am not being radiated every day, or being infused with chemotherapy agents once a week or so. But seriously, recovery may be the hardest phase I’ve encountered yet. Quite frankly, it’s a bitch. I want to be able to do the things I could do before, like, oh, I don’t know, pick up all the laundry, get it washed, dried, folded AND put away, and NOT be completely done in the next day? As I write this, though, I realize now how far I have come since March 29th. It wasn’t so very long ago that just taking a shower would do me in for the afternoon. Recovery is HARD, maybe the hardest thing I’ve ever done. But now I can really see it – I Am Getting It Done.