19 June 2010

Forward Motion

Eight and half months ago, it was almost impossible to imagine that this day would finally get here. I knew that someday I could say it, but throughout the months, the treatment schedule changed so many times, that it became hard to wrap my mind around the fact that someday I could say, "My cancer treatments are complete!"

"My cancer treatments are complete!"

Yesterday, Friday June 18, 2010 was my last radiation treatment. Every week, since the first week in May, I have made the trip to Ashville Avenue in Cary, to the Radiation Oncology Center. For six of the last seven weeks, I went every day (weekdays) at 11:30 a.m. to receive my radiation therapy.

I would get up most mornings sometime between 7:30 and 8:30 a.m. and work on that week's cake orders. At 11:00 a.m. I would leave for Cary. The first three weeks, I drove myself. Then, the fatigue became so overwhelming that I knew I was no longer a safe driver. By the end of the fourth week, the skin on my right chest from neck to midriff to armpit was so red and burnt, that it was very uncomfortable to wear clothes.

As I mentioned in my previous entry, the inflammation was so intense that the area around the implant was literally squeezing on the implant; it is so painful.

I had mistakenly surmised that once the last treatment was complete, I was on an immediate turn around toward recovery. And, while that is technically true, Dr. Sailer (my radiation oncologist) informed me at my final visit, that radiation has a delayed effect. What he was saying is that I will actually get worse, before I get better. The radiation has compounding side effects, so I will not observe the full effects of the radiation for several more weeks. He said that my skin will get more tough, more red, and then the top layer will begin to peel off, leaving very tender new skin behind. I will likely have permanent darkening of the skin that was radiated--like a permanent tan. It will probably fade some over the years, but to what extent varies from person to person.

The fatigue will also increase over the next few weeks and then gradually improve. It usually takes about three months to return to the pre-radiation level. I am glad that he told me, so that I would know what to expect.

This afternoon, on the way home from the wedding cake delivery, I was telling Doug that people kept telling me that radiation was really no big deal, compared to chemotherapy--that it would be so easy. Of course, this was from people who were bystanders who had not gone through either treatment. It was just their perception of cancer patients.

Yes, chemotherapy really can make a person VERY sick. The effect are so much more visible and dramatic. But radiation therapy has its own kind of terrible. I'll admit that the side effects of chemotherapy were oft times unbearable. OK...most of the time. But, I have never in my life had this kind of tired. Tired, just doesn't seem to describe it. Even during the sleep deprived baby years (and I spent the entire decade of the 80's pregnant and/or breast feeding) it never felt like this.

When the time comes when another friend of yours is diagnosed with breast cancer, (and it makes me sad to say that unfortunately the odds are that you'll have another friend who will) remember that every part of the treatment is very difficult. Chemotherapy, surgery, radiation...they each have their own terrible. Do offer words and deeds of love and encouragement, but try not to make one part seem easier by comparing it to another.

What comes now? Well, I'll have regular visits to both oncologists every three months for a few years. CT scans, MRI's to check to make sure there is no reoccurrence. (let's not even go there). And, in about 6 months, there will be an outpatient surgery related to the aesthetic details of the breast reconstruction. Hopefully, by then, they will not hurt so bad and I won't just beg to have the implants removed. :)

Keep reading, because I still plan to write at least for the next year or so. The treatments may be complete, but in a way, my life is at a new beginning.

Last night, my family took me out to dinner to celebrate the end of the treatments. When I arrived at the restaurant, my family was already seated and there were beautiful flowers on the table and a sign that Christian and Mary made that said:

more like

They had told our server about our celebration. At the end of dinner, she came by with several of the other's with a birthday sundae. She explained that although it was not the anniversary of my actual birth, that it was, in a way, a new beginning, a celebration of life...and they all sang the Outback birthday song to me. I was touched. And, I felt my perspective change. I felt... forward motion*.

Boo-yah!!! I am cancer free! I am a surviver. And honestly, what I survived and endured (along with all other cancer survivors) is nothing short of miraculous. They pump your body with the most toxic of chemicals and they subject you to what could easily be considered controlled radiation poisoning. But I did it.

Sometimes, in the last 24 hours I just tear up thinking, "I did it!" But, I didn't do it alone. You my friends were all there with me. My family--they were there with me. But above all, my Heavenly Father was there with me. And often, just at the point where I felt I could endure no more, he was there, or he sent one of you, his 'earthly angels' to lift me up.

* Princeton Dictionary: the act of moving forward (as toward a goal)


Lisa said...

Hurray! I'm so glad to hear the good news!

Patti said...

Well said dear girl! :D

Marcus and Brittany said...

You are so strong! Thank you for sharing your experiences. Congratulations on being cancer free!!

Catherine said...

Mom, I am SOOOO proud of you!! Down with Genevieve FOREVER!

Sue said...

So glad you can move on now. You are amazing! Still praying for you!

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