It’s been more than two weeks since my final radiation treatment, and I’ve been delaying the writing of this post for as long as I could. Why? Because my active treatment has ended and I am still not sure how I feel about it all. There were cheers and confetti when I walked out of the radiation room for the last time, and tears when saying goodbye to my radiation team. There was relief when pulling out of the hospital’s parking lot. No more driving straight there from work every day for 6 straight weeks. I was done. I think.
I honestly can’t even tell if this is the end or the beginning. I understand that may sound strange to someone who hasn’t been through cancer. Cancer never ends. The treatment ends. The physical scars heal and, eventually, the mental and emotional ones do, too. The fear wanes, but I’m not sure it will ever go away. I’ve met survivors who tell me that, years later, they will still worry that a lingering stomach ache means they must now have stomach cancer.
So, I can’t tell if this is the end or the beginning. Tomorrow, I start my 5-year course of Tamoxifen, a drug that will starve whatever cancer cells remain in my body. There is an online contingent that is very vocal about the terrible side effects of this drug: severe hot flashes, bone pain, muscle aches, etc. I Googled and now I can’t unsee what I have read.
There is also a good side to Tamoxifen. A recent study showed that the drug reduces breast cancer recurrence rates by nearly a third for 20 years. Taking the drug for 5 years has a long-lasting protective effect well beyond the final time you have to swallow that daily pill.
But once again, I am scared and worried about how my own body will react. Once again, I am feeling so vulnerable and different from everyone around me because of cancer.
A woman in my breast cancer support group pointed out that 1 in 8 women will receive a breast cancer diagnosis in her lifetime, but “why am I the only one at the mall or the supermarket wearing a head wrap and have no eyebrows?” she asked. Such a good question for which I have no answer. I do not wish cancer upon anyone, but in my own selfish way, I wish I had a kindred spirit who could relate to my daily struggle of the new, post-cancer me finding equilibrium in my old life. It is terrible to see myself say that in writing, but there it is.
Physically, I have fared well. Unlike my friend in support group, I still have my eyebrows (and all of my hair) because I didn’t need chemo. That has been a blessing and a curse. To the unknowing eye, I may have looked a little tired thanks to those dark circles under my eyes, but I probably looked completely normal as long as I kept my clothes on. There is more than one instance where I was tempted to just take off my shirt so that the person I was talking to could fully appreciate the price I have paid to keep my breast and to keep my life.
I look back upon the past 6 months and I am amazed at what I now know – about cancer, about radiation skincare, about keeping a marriage together, and about life. I have tried to document via this blog as much as I could bear to do so. What I can’t capture is the sense of change – how cancer changes your perception, your body, your mindset, your relationships, and your life.
So, is this the end or the beginning? I guess it is neither or both. Only time will give me the perspective I need to make that decision.
In the meantime, I will have a daily reminder of what has happened and a daily reminder that the fight never ends from here on out. In the meantime, I have a daily reminder in my calendar so that I don’t forget to take this pill. The end date for these reminders? December 15, 2019.
Read my continuing posts about breast cancer.