I thought chemo was tough. I thought recovering from surgery was hell. Then I started radiation…
The process of receiving radiation in and of itself is not that bad. Aside from a slight case of claustrophobia induced by a large machine spinning around me and the quickly-wearing-off novelty of driving to downtown St. Paul at 7:00 each morning, it’s not so bad. The radiation itself is not painful. The technicians are chatty and fun. My radiation oncologist is friendly and informative. And everybody knows my name. In that way, it is kind of like a certain 80s era Boston bar.
Any resemblance to Cheers, however, ends after about the 20th treatment. That is when the skin begins to itch. When it begins to peel. When it begins to hurt like a motherfucker. When is becomes such a deep, dark red color that it looks almost black. That is when the fatigue kicks in full force. When the simple act of running to Target becomes a barely surmountable test of endurance. When fatigue forces you to bed well before your grown-up bedtime. Like a toddler who has been naughty.
That is where I am sitting right now.
I’m pretty miserable, but at least I can tell myself that it’ll all be over next Tuesday, I will complete the BIG THREE treatments in 2016! I’m not sure why this is important to me, but I want to put this year behind me for good. I want to finish the major treatments and move on to the much easier medication phase in 2017. So despite the pain and fatigue, the end is near.
I overslept this morning. That is a surprisingly easy thing to do when you are exhausted beyond ridiculousness and every other creature in your house – human and canine – are on Winter Break or do not have to be at work until noon. Everyone else gets to sleep in, but I get to go to radiation.
I normally leave my house at 6:45 to allow for a quick stop at Caribou for my morning cup of life-instilling deliciousness. This morning, however, I woke up at 6:45. This was quickly followed by a creative – and impressive, if I do say so, myself – chorus of curse words as I pulled on clothes and quickly ran a toothbrush haphazardly across my teeth.
Hair be damned.
No coffee for me.
I rushed to get to the hospital on time. My daily appointment is at 7:30. I made it there at precisely 7:31. Not bad for a caffeine-deficient corpse on wheels! I undressed, put on the lovely pink smock, and lay down on the table – all prepared to get it done so I could be on my not-so-merry way.
The technician took one look at me on the table and said, “Ooohh…wow. Has the doctor seen this?”
Over the weekend, I had begun to peel. The spot directly over my collarbone is especially raw and ugly. I am also peeling in my armpit and the skin under my armpit is way too close to black for my comfort. Though I have met some incredibly beautiful women in my lifetime with brown or black skin, it’s not really normal for a pasty white girl like me to have black skin. Honestly, it’s kind of freaking me out a bit,
The radiation technician immediately went to get the doctor, who came in, leaned over me and whispered, “Oh, dear.” Not exactly what you want to hear from your cancer doctor. He went on to say that there would be no radiation for me today. In addition, he was giving me tomorrow off, as well. Apparently my skin needs time to heal before we continue with the radiation treatment.
So that thing I said about knowing, at least, that my treatment would be over next Tuesday? Yeah, that ain’t gonna happen. I am not getting a total reprieve from radiation – simply a break. The two days I am missing will be tagged onto the end. That means, as it stands, I will complete radiation on December 30th. Considering the current condition of my skin (raw, peeling, black, and incredibly painful), it is entirely possible that I will need an additional “break” or two before I am done. Any more than one additional day will push me into 2017.
This really means nothing, except that it means everything. It is purely symbolic that I want to complete radiation in 2016. Realistically, I know that I will never be done with cancer. Or rather, cancer will never be done with me. I will be followed by my oncologist for the next ten years, at least. And even beyond that, there will always be the lingering “what ifs.” What if that twinge in my shoulder is cancer? What if that ache in my hip is cancer? What if the normal, everyday aches and pains of aging are neither normal nor everyday for me?
What if…what if…
I will live with the “what ifs” for years to come, but there is something significant to me about closing the book on 2016. My symptoms started in January, I was diagnosed in March, started chemo in April, had surgery in September, and finished radiation in December. One year of my life gone. One entire year, but only one year. 2016 sucked like no other year before it, but it will soon be over and done. The worst of my treatment complete.
Or maybe not.
Silver Lining: I seem to have forgotten with my last few posts the “silver lining” I promised to always look for at the beginning of this whole mess. So today’s silver lining? I ate Campbell’s chicken and stars for lunch today. It’s my go-to “sick and depressed” meal…and it was unusually comforting and delicious.