#cancersurvivor

Radiation

One year ago today, I finished radiation and rang the heck out of that bell. After 33 days, I was ready for it to come to an end.  Radiation was tough.  I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that I built up a lot of dread in my head.  Too it was tough because a lot of what people told me didn’t quite match up to my experience.  Everyone, doctors included said it would only take a few minutes each day.  Well because it was my left side that was being treated near my heart I got to use a special breathing tube thing that would hold my breath for me in an effort to get my heart out of the field of radiation.  Those first couple of weeks, I was usually on the table for about 20 minutes.  It was 20 minutes of the therapist telling me, “Take a deep breath…your breath is held…you’re breathing now.”  After a few days, I got used to the rhythm of these commands and then they would change it up and a different therapist would be talking to me.  And when this happened I would always at least twice try to take a breath and have no such luck, so we had to start that breath hold all over again, seemingly only adding to my time on the table.  I guess I just want to put this out there for someone else to maybe read who might experience the breath holds during radiation also because it does take longer than just a few minutes.

Other things I would share with those going through radiation are that it can be hard because it’s lonely in there on the table.  Usually, every other step of the way there is someone else there to who can see what cancer treatment is all about.  In radiation, the therapists and doctors come in and out and during the actual treatment it’s just you and that can be hard sometimes.  I know there where days when I felt like a science experiment that had to remain on the other side of the wall.  I wish I could say that I had found some sort of magic cream that kept me from burning but I had no such luck.  I turned red and it was painful.  It got to the point where if I had needed any more days of treatment the doctor was going to take a break because my skin was so angry.  Thankfully, I only had two more days to go so we soldiered through.  I feel though that seeing my burned skin meant it worked.  I know that’s weird but whatever makes you believe right?  I think the most important piece of advice I can give to someone about radiation is to protect and pay attention to the back side of where you are getting radiation.  I got all sorts of creams and stuff to help the possible burning but they never told me that some of my back may get some radiation as well.  It wasn’t until it was too late that I realized I needed to pay attention to my back and to the area of my neck where they were radiating lymph nodes.  I just wish someone had told me about how far those radiation rays could go before I went through it.

The burn on my neck was something I wasn’t prepared for.

Beyond moisturizing more than necessary, I would also tell people the end of radiation might be hard because it’s usually the end of active treatment.  I know for me it was difficult because for eight months my life had been all wrapped in cancer treatment and now the hard heavy part of the fighting was over.

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Meditation

The other day I had come home from somewhere and just completely lost my shit. These past few weeks have been filled with appointments and tests and I had had enough and the stress just had to come out of my eyeballs crying tears over something so insignificant at the time I can’t remember what it was. But at the time it had me worked up and I decided I just needed to meditate. I needed to sit and just be with my emotions at that moment. And by being present and putting space between me and my thoughts I found the perspective I needed to calm down and move on with my day.

I felt the need to write about this as a reminder to myself that when times get to be too much I always have the breath that I can return to, that I can meditate for just one minute and realize that thoughts are just thoughts and mean nothing. And this is important because they say managing stress is good for cancer survivors and overall health and for me meditation is the cheapest, easiest form of stress relief there is.

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Chemo

A few weeks ago marked one year since I finished chemo. Six rounds of Taxotere, Carboplatin, Herceptin, and Perjeta every three weeks and I was done. I was trying to think of what I wish I had known before I started and the first thing that came to mind was to start hydrating days in advance of infusion day. Dehydration was a struggle for me, having to go in twice for IV fluids. There where days where I struggled to drink and eating just wasn’t happening. What I later learned is that most breast cancer patients gain weight during chemo, I lost 20 pounds. For the most part what they told me about chemo in “chemo class” was true. It’s effects are definitely cumulative and run the same same course over each round, which was nice in a way because it added a little routine to the chaos of treatment.

What they didn’t tell me was just how horrible things would taste, I quit drinking coffee and anything with caffeine because it tasted like I was chewing on metal. They didn’t tell me either that some side effects may not show up until months after I finished chemo like when my fingernails started to split and pop instead of being lost during chemo like I had read about so many people experiencing. I guess too what they didn’t tell me is just how powerful the chemo is and how it can so quickly impact other parts of your body. Somewhere around the third or fourth round I experienced some heart troubles and learned about ejection fraction, which has to do with how effectively your heart pumps. I also got to add another doctor to my roster after seeing a cardiologist because my heart rate would get so crazy just sitting in a chair.

Thinking back on it now though, I think the thing that I don’t think I could have understood until I experienced it myself was just how powerful chemo is. Yes, I knew I would lose my hair and it would attack fast growing cells but never did I think it would be so fast that I could see how effectively the chemo was working. My tumor was in a position where it was visible without having to feel around for it and after the just the first round of chemo it shrank so much that it was no longer visible. My oncologist looked at and said “holy crap.” In a way, I think it was the first time in my cancer battle where I truly felt I was going to be ok, because I could see just how well the chemo was working. And that my doctors knew what they where doing.

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Test beget tests

Tests beget tests. That’s what I keep reminding myself. The truth though is besides from being tired of all the testing and scared of the possibility that they might find something, I’m really just angry and frustrated. I know it’s all to be through and for the sake of my future but at what point do I get a break? For almost the last 18 months it’s been one thing after another. Everyone keeps telling me things will calm down but every time I think I might be approaching that point another test begets tests. I want so badly to put a close to this chapter of my story but the truth is I’m just not there yet. And I can’t compare my story to others. I just have to have hope and faith that the tests all return desirable results.

Me waiting for a CT scan last week

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Reflection on 2017

I’ve never been one to really reminisce at the end of the year but I realized the other day that hasn’t been any typical year. In 2017, I finished chemo, had two surgeries, eight weeks of physical therapy, 33 days of radiation, and finished a year of herceptin treatments. Add in the countless appointments, scans, and ultrasounds, and I’m exhausted. But I survived and I’m coming out of it all a stronger person. And I’m thankful, I’m thankful for it all because it’s all to make sure I get to continue to live.