goodbye chemo, hello radiation

Daily radiation started on Wednesday last week. It wasn’t that much fun to include this as one of my birthday activities. On the other hand, this treatment’s very availability is a gift in itself.

We have to travel further afield to another hospital for the radiation. There they are juggling 140 patients per day over four machines. As such, apart from informing staff a week ahead of times you may be unavailable each day, there’s not much flexibility. It can be up to a two hour return trip including the session and already it’s a tad tedious.

There are puzzle books, magazines and tea making facilities in the waiting room. Our daughter noticed someone working on a very large, nearly completed, jigsaw puzzle. “They’ve been here a long time”, she quipped.

Schedule

As you can see from the schedule, it’s been mostly nightly rather than ‘daily’ radiation thus far.  For the later appointments, we have to buzz to enter the building.

Painted in Waterlogue

I am apparently very good at getting into position for the zaps, even as a beginner. I had to confess to the radiographers that lying down features high on the list in my skill set.

Only 17 more zaps to go. That’s seventeen times to don the stylish blue paper gown. Seventeen times to be the canvas for a coloured marker. Seventeen times to watch green laser lights line me up. Seventeen times for the radiographers to disappear and leave me alone in the room as bell sounds signify the start. Seventeen more opportunities to rip the paper gown which is supposed to last me the duration. 

There is less than a month to go before regular visits to the hospital become past tense. I guess that means that future relax is what’s ahead, right?

 

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looking ahead

grevillea - 18 June 2014 - Tokyo & inverted - FX Photo Studio PROI’ve finally come up for air after the last chemo dose, just in time for 20 zaps of radiation over four weeks starting next Wednesday.

What’s exercising my mind, however, is what comes after that.

You’re saying, “Wait, there’s more?”

Yes. Yes there is.

The majority of breast cancers are Endocrine Receptor positive meaning that oestrogen, once a useful friend, has become another F word.

This foe will require 5 years of daily tablet popping. In consultation with my oncologist, I will get to select one or other from a family of aromatase inhibitors. Aromatase is an enzyme responsible for converting androgens to oestrogen. Don’t you think androgens sound a bit like alien life forms?

This seems all very straightforward until you start researching the suite of potential side effects*. These may include but are not exclusive to:

  • loss of bone density;
  • back to the future menopausal symptoms;
  • fatigue (universal to all of the treatments thus far);
  • joint and muscle pain (more common than you’d hope);
  • mood changes (watch out!)
  • poor sleep; and
  • weight gain (really?)

As someone who has low bone density already, I was concerned enough about these impacts to have a chat with my GP yesterday. Thankfully, she didn’t minimise my concerns and took the time to outline a range of potential options.

There’s one word that keeps coming up in conversation and reading.

E X E R C I S E.   That doesn’t start with the letter F so it looks like I’m going to have to learn to love the E word.

*As an aside, nobody mentioned any of this at the start of the treatment planning. I don’t know whether people feel as if you can’t handle too much information up front, but I would have appreciated a heads up a bit earlier.

letting go of expectations

It happens time and time again. Whether or not we’ve had experience with something, it seems common to set up expectations about how something’s going to go, how someone’s going to react, how much time something will take.

Despite being told that the impacts of each chemo session are cumulative and have longer impacts, I figured on this last cycle that it would be enough just to plan for a couple of extra days of dysfunction. Ipso facto, by now I should be bouncing back. You know, still easily fatigued, but noticing daily improvement.

“You should be feeling better by now.”

Not quite, but soon. Let’s just not pinpoint a date.

 

 

 

 

growth cycles

It’s been eleven weeks (give or take a day or so) since we selected seedlings to plant out in the extended vegetable garden. The nursery visit was a distraction from the commencement of chemo that April Fool’s Day afternoon.

When we planted them, it seemed such a long way away until any harvest. Who knew that broccoli heads would evoke such excitement?Painted in Waterlogue

transitions

Painted in Waterlogue

 

In less than two weeks, I will start four weeks of daily radiation therapy.   Somewhere along the way, my hair will begin to grow again.

After that, there will be decisions about medication that holds the prospect of longer-lasting side effects than either the chemotherapy or radiation. It is clear that serious discipline around exercise and nutrition will be required to manage and maintain my health and fitness from this point on.

 

fourth and last

flowers - 6 June 2014I’ve not reported any highlights of this past week. It’s too easy in the low periods to let the days blur into one another.

For the record, here’s a summary.

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On the day after the delayed chemo infusion, old friends from Canberra came to visit bearing flowers and wine, upon which I looked longingly as the glasses of others were charged and subsequently emptied.

It was such a warm afternoon, I stepped up and out for a slow walk to the point where we were rewarded with the presence of pelicans on the shoreline.

Painted in Waterlogue

On Day 3 of this cycle, unexpected visitors from the north arrived to find that my social skills were somewhat reduced. In the days that followed, human connection was limited to occasional moves in Words with Friends and mostly short responses in telephone conversations.

This cycle has confirmed for me that, not only is everyone’s experience of chemotherapy in its many forms different, but the effects of each individual cycle are different too.  This time around, I’ve spent less time sleeping away the worst days and more time taking advantage of medications to manage what one might call one’s gut response.

I’ve managed to tackle most daily newspaper crosswords albeit slowly and feel generally as if my brain function has held on a bit better this time.  Improvement is just days away and of one thing I am certain. It will arrive in the form of a cup of coffee.