I started radiation therapy for my breast cancer today. It’s the first of thirty treatments that I will endure every weekday for 6 weeks. The lull between surgery and the next phase of treatment is such a head-fake. For me, it was 48 days between my surgery date and the beginning of my treatment.
During those 48 days, I was lulled into thinking that life could return to normal. That once my flesh had healed and stopped hurting, that I would just feel like myself again. I now realize that there will never be my old normal again. There is only a new normal to get used to again.
The planning session for my radiation treatments happened last week. I walked away from that sporting four new tattoos – four dots that are used to line up my body so that the radiation will be targeted in the same spots every single time. They are tiny, tiny blue dots – one on each side of my torso and two between my breasts. They are so tiny that you would miss them if you didn’t know they were there. But they are there, and I will have them for the rest of my life. Yet another reminder of what is happening to me.
So, with my heart in my throat, I arrived at the hospital to start the next phase of this journey back to health. It took me at least a minute to get out of the car. I knew that once I walked through the door, that was it. Six weeks of this same arrival.
The staff at my hospital have a great system together. Most of it is self-service. Clock in, go down the hall, grab a gown and get changed, and then wait for your name to be called for your turn in the machine. I got the orientation today since it was my first time. As we were heading down the hall, the receptionist pointed out the sticker on the button to open the automatic door. “You just have to push and wiggle. Push and wiggle.”
It was in the moment that I knew I would be fine. I have a few phrases that I use for when it’s time to get out of a situation, like “It’s time to pull the (parachute) cord” or “time to pop (the car door) and roll (out onto the road).” But I have to say that “push and wiggle” is my new instant favorite, probably because it fits what my life has been like since my cancer diagnosis.
Radiation treatment is weird. After so many people touching me to feel my lump over and over again, and then more people touching me to examine my post-op healing, there is barely any touching when it comes to radiation. For breast radiation, you lie at an angle on a sheet-covered platform with your arms over your head. The techs will nudge you here and there to get you in place, but there is no physical examination. We’re past the breast exam at this point.
Radiation is weird because the effects of it are cumulative. I was in the machine for about 25 minutes but the actual treatment was a fraction of that time. Most of the time was spent getting me in the right place and taking some images to verify the setup. This first treatment was uneventful, as the treatments over the first two to three weeks will be. It is around week three when the fatigue and sunburn-like rash will hit. I am worried about it. I’m worried about how I will feel and if I can withstand the stress and pace at work. I am worried if I really am strong enough to make it to the end – the end of this cancer nightmare that is so close – with my sense of self intact.
When I was first diagnosed back in July, I had the good fortune of seeing Molly, a 14-year breast cancer survivor and my perennial seat neighbor at PawSox games for the past 6 years, shortly thereafter. At the time, she had said to me: “Just keep your center of gravity. Keep the core of your heart and soul and you’ll be fine.” I didn’t quite understand what she meant at the time, but now I do. The fear, the pain, and the suffering of cancer tests who you are. It challenges everything you know about yourself – the good and the bad.
I hope the worst of this experience is over. I hope that whatever fatigue I feel will not compare to what it was like to heal from surgery. I hope that I can make it through all six weeks of radiation without the worst of the side effects. But now I know that if it gets too bad, I just need to push and wiggle. Push and wiggle.
Read my continuing posts about breast cancer.