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Cancer Chronicles #12 Radiation is Weird

A few weeks ago, when I was finally starting to feel a bit better from my last round of chemo, I made the impromptu decision to get out of Dodge and go visit my brother and sister-in-law in Venice, Florida. This came on a day when Bryan declared he had had it with me and my negativity, as I was finding yet another annoyance to complain about. I felt lousy. The desire to crawl into my bedroom closet and shut the door to wait it out crossed my mind. This didn’t seem like the healthiest of options, so I set out on a walk instead. While on my walk, my brother Sean texted to see if I might be able to come for a quick visit before radiation started. It seemed like a sign from the Universe. I’d be doing Bryan a favor by taking my ornery self on a minivacation for a bit. So, I booked a ticket for Hattie and myself and by the end of the week I was sitting poolside with one of Sean’s famous Mai Tai’s in my hand. While my oncologist probably wouldn’t have approved of my drink, the getaway was just what the doctor ordered. For 3 days I felt as close to normal as I have in a very long time, minus the baldness and other obvious changes. I sat in the sunshine, swam in the pool, read trashy magazines and delighted that my taste buds came back online so I could enjoy my favorite Sauvignon Blanc. It was pretty great. Sean and Cindy’s hospitality of opening their home and lanai to my battle weary soul was the best gift. I would have stayed a long time but it was time to get home and on to the next phase of battling cancer.


Radiation, in a word, is weird. If chemo has all the makings of a good tear-jerker, radiation has the vibes of a sci-fi movie. Laying there on the table, a giant machine moves around me at different angles. Red lights beam down on me from the ceiling and green lasers criss-cross my torso to align with the tiny tattoos I was given prior to starting. Things buzz and beep, lights occasionally flash and I am coached by my team to hold my breath at various intervals to protect my heart. There I lay, bald and well.. lacking any sort of modesty getting zapped from various directions while my team watches from their protected vantage point behind a door at least two feet thick. Nothing unsettling about that! I don’t love it to be sure. It’s humbling to catch my reflection from time to time as the machine passes overhead but it is quick, my team does their best to make me comfortable and I do appreciate the 70’s station that’s always playing. Elton John and Stevie Wonder to keep me company? Yes please!

Radiation is far more manageable than chemo. While I am starting to feel its effects more and more, including a very strange looking tan and waning energy, it is not nearly to the same level of constant exhaustion that I was before. Radiation tired sneaks up on me and when it does I slow down but it usually goes away with a good night’s sleep and for that I am grateful. As I write this, I am 17 rounds down with 8 more to go. One day at a time…

Soon I will be completing what is referred to as “active treatment.” Interestingly enough, I haven’t even gotten to the most important part of what I will be doing to prevent my cancer from returning. Whereas chemotherapy and radiation are designed to improve one's prognosis in the short term, anti-hormone therapy is meant to win the long game. As my cancer is hormone positive, meaning receptive to estrogen and progesterone, the plan is to bring those two hormones to a screeching halt. I will receive monthly injections to suppress my ovarian function (the main source of estrogen in women’s bodies) and begin taking aromatase inhibitors which serve to make sure your body doesn’t do anything with the remaining estrogen you may have floating around.

Bring on the hot flashes.

I have heard more than once lately “You’re almost done!” and while that’s true on some level, I feel like I have only just gotten started. Like all parts of this process, anti-hormone therapy does not come without its own set of issues; joint pain, weight gain, mood swings and all the symptoms of menopause to name a few. (Sounds fun, doesn’t it?) Like all the parts of this process, I wait with trepidation as to what that means for me. Patients are typically on these drugs for 5-10 years. That’s a long time. Then, there will be the question of reconstruction and the multiple surgeries related to that. So many more decisions and doctor’s appointments await. So no, not almost done.

But at least for now, it IS getting easier. The budding leaves and longer days, my increase in stamina and tiny sprouts of fuzz beginning to show itself all over my head are giving me a bit of hope and relief after a long, long winter. The other day, while out driving I was surprised to see a house being built near ours. It was well underway and it was the first I’d seen it. I had this moment of feeling like I’d been gone, out of town for a long time and it was built in my absence. I racked my brain for a second, wondering where I’d been and realized…nowhere. Just home. Yet in many ways I have been gone to places I couldn’t have imagined, experienced things that have changed me. And just like returning home after a long journey, it feels good to be back.

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