I am slightly beyond one-third my way through this cancer clean-up process. Today, I completed radiation treatment #11. (Yes, I count every single one.) It has been an eventful few weeks since I started treatment. I turned 40 on the day of treatment #6. I met with the nutritionist and started to overhaul my diet after treatment #7. Another patient stopped breathing during treatment and threw the entire day’s schedule off by two hours on the day of treatment #8.
Ahead of me lies the stretch of radiation treatment where the cumulative effects start to show. I’m already feeling fatigue, but the skin changes haven’t started yet. I’ve changed my deodorant to one that doesn’t contain aluminum, which can irritate my skin even further. I’ve kept up on my exercise to keep my energy levels up and fight back the fatigue as much as possible. I have stopped eating non-organic meat and vegetables, soy, dairy, and flax seeds to eliminate foods that mess with my hormones and are possibly feeding any cancer left in my body.
Everything about my life is different now, yet so many things feel the same.
Every weekday, I come in, change into a hospital gown, and sit in a tiny waiting room for my turn in the machine. Sometimes they are running on time; sometimes they are running very late. But always I sit with the other women in the waiting room – so tiny and narrow that our knees could touch. Every weekday, I see the same faces.
We all have one thing in common – these women and I. We had cancer. We had surgery. Some of us had chemo. Some of us didn’t. We sit. We wait. We talk.
I met a women who drives four and a half hours to get radiation treatment. Her doctors in upstate Vermont wouldn’t touch her, so she went to Boston for surgery. She was allowed to do chemo at home, but now she drives back to Massachusetts for radiation. “The doctors here tell me there’s hope,” she said.
Contrast that with another woman I met who would have preferred a mastectomy and no radiation so that she wouldn’t lose her seat at her daily card game. “They (her breasts) just get in the way anyway,” she told me.
As I’ve written before, the path from diagnosis to surgery is an emotional roller coaster. There are the ups and downs of the fear and the unknown. The path from surgery to (and through) treatment is different terrain. The fear is gone. The healing is well underway. The unknown is known. Going through 6 weeks of radiation treatment is a mental marathon. I have to keep going no matter what. The finish line is waiting for me; I just have to get there.
The hardest part of radiation treatment has been the consistency of showing up everyday to a process that I know is simultaneously making me healthier in the long-term while hurting me in the short-term. As I have also written before, cancer tests who you are. Am I the person who can hold it together through the months between diagnosis and treatment? Am I the person who is scared enough to change their lifestyle to not let cancer win? Am I the person who can show up to treatment on time – day after day – for 30 treatments and not lose my mind?
So far, the answer to all of those questions is yes. Yes, yes, and yes.