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Cancer Chronicles #11 Goodbye Chemo, Hello Radiation

I am 3 weeks out from my fourth and final chemo (yay!) and awaiting the start of 5 weeks of radiation, 5 days a week. No rest for the weary, friends. And I do mean weary. At my last chemo appointment, I asked the doctor how long before I would start to really feel like my old self again. 6-12 months was her reply. 6-12 months???! Not including radiation. Because one of the main side effects of radiation?? You guessed it, fatigue.

3 weeks post chemo the fatigue is not the same as it is in the first few days after an infusion, thank goodness, but it is always there, waiting to sneak up on me. I test its boundaries from time to time, feeling my way to the edge of what I can push myself to do before I flop on the couch to recover. Of course my favorite way to do this is through exercise, pushing my walks a little farther, picking up the pace, even to the point of a slow jog. It feels equal parts familiar and foreign, the rhythm of moving like returning home after a long time away juxta positioned against legs that feel slow and heavy; breathing that is much more labored than I remember. Then comes the trade off. After a refreshing walk/jog, it can be challenging to do much else and I’m forced to drag myself yawning through the rest of the day. For now I’ll take it. I am fairly certain what small pockets of energy I have begun to acquire are about to be zapped out of me. But you do what you have to do.

This whole process is all about finding your footing over and over and again. Just when you get used to chemo and are on the road to recovery, you are thrust into the world of radiation and mentally preparing for that leg of the race. It is safe to say that part of having cancer is just as exhausting as the physical demands. In some ways, it’s more so. Over the past few weeks, it is my mood that I’ve had to reckon with more than anything. While I was relieved to have chemo in my rearview mirror, I also felt overwhelmed by all it had taken from me. My energy, my hair, my tastebuds, lost hours and days with little to show for myself besides a few more tv shows watched; another book read.

This all seemed to come to a head the day we met with the radiologist. On the morning of the appointment, Ben was boarding a plane to Mexico to celebrate his senior year with his good buddies and their moms for spring break. I was supposed to be joining them. In January, when we learned I would need chemo, I had to back out. Needless to say this was a huge disappointment. A vacation with my oldest child about to launch out into the world felt like a pretty special opportunity. Instead, at the exact same time he was taking off, I was learning about the 5 weeks of radiation I would need. I knew radiation was coming but at that moment I’d had it. Maybe it was because I was still so tired from chemo. Maybe it was because the entire 5 county region seemed to be heading out for sunnier skies. Or maybe it was the fact that our refrigerator also chose that day to fail. I don’t know. But I came home from the appointment mad, discouraged and done. At first I couldn’t quite articulate what was causing my meltdown complete with ugly crying and yelling. Then I realized I was burned out. At the end of my rope. Over it. The urge to get in my car and drive away as fast as I could was strong. I missed my old self, the one with energy, a fully intact body and long hair. The one who wasn’t worrying all the time ( well at least not about cancer). The one who felt strong and joyful. “I don’t want to do this anymore!” I repeated over and over to Bryan.

It was not my best day. They can’t all be. Eventually I took some deep breaths, washed my face and turned my attention to getting the best deal on a new fridge I could. Which I did, thank you very much. Before I went to bed that night, I repeated something I’ve said many times when I’ve had a particularly bad day… I’ll try again tomorrow.

And I do because everything always looks better in the morning doesn’t it?

At almost 47 years old I am still learning so much about myself. In this case, I am learning to unapologetically allow the messy moments; to recognize that sometimes just acknowledging how much something sucks instead of always powering through, is such a relief. Human nature is to get as far away from hard emotions as possible but often in doing so we prolong our struggle. Might I recommend surrender and good cry if that's your thing. It's so cathartic.

And so we are on to the next steps. Everyone tells me radiation is much easier than chemo and I am hopeful it will be. I liked the radiologist and the team that will be treating me. I could sense they'd appreciate my sense of humor which, at times, borders on inappropriate. And it will be good to stay right here at home for this part. No bad nights of sleep in a hotel bed. But like chemo there are things about it that are unsettling. My cancer was on my left side so there is additional concern about how radiation impacts the heart. It also takes a full 6 months to see what types of permanent changes happen to the skin and this could have an impact on how or if I can have reconstruction. All this for a few rogue cells. Geez.

There you have it. Plodding along from one appointment to the next, one moment to the other feeling my way through this crazy cancer experience sometimes gracefully with my smile intact, sometimes a hot mess.

All of it just exactly how I should be.

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