The radiation treatment may have ended but the effects soldier on to a ‘high’ point a little while afterwards which, for me, includes a small but critically located skin loss. Still, it’s good not to have to make the daily trek to the hospital and great to have the end marked with family members bearing flowers.
This is the week that was and by way of announcement, it’s not appropriate behaviour to grab, scratch or utter curse words when the treated area decides to prickle, stab or itch when you’re out in public.
That said, it’s been seven days of putting some new practices into action. Some of these are easier than others to achieve.
Alcohol and coffee are on the avoid list. I cannot bring myself to totally give up a morning cup of coffee or red wine. So the word ‘avoid’ becomes ‘limit’ on my list. This week that meant reduced strength coffee and two small glasses of wine over the week adding up to five alcohol free days.
Easier asks are:
- avoiding red meat.
- consuming no sugar except when it comes in fruit
- eating smaller portion meals
- oats for breakfast
- vegetables, vegetables, vegetables with broccoli as the hero
- exercise that matches capacity – no matter how small each day
- juicing (with pulp included) as a lunch option
- water, water, water
So far so good with the exception of a lemon tart. I’m feeling better for the change already and hopeful that all of the above becomes habit-forming sooner than later. A lot depends on it!
This hair loss thing. It happened. I took it in my stride. I am now used to donning headwear when out in public and on cold winter days and nights.
Things on the follicle front have been pretty stable. Now, seven weeks on from the last chemo dose, there are signs of activity on the top of my head. It’s welcome growth albeit patchy in location and uneven in length.
What’s not welcome is the all too swift and sudden appearance of a forest sprouting from my chin. These flourishing follicles are going to require a management strategy!
Tuesday 22 July 12.50 pm. That’s the date and time stamp for the last scheduled radiation zap. The team of radiotherapists were and are amazing even if they didn’t pick up on my request for cake to mark the occasion.
As an event marker, I had suggested to Himself that we have lunch at Chop Chop Changs. He had greater plans afoot which included packing a bag for an overnight stay in the city.
So it was. Food, new books from Avid Reader, a film and more food. These images will remind me of a quiet celebration of the end of one stage and the beginning of another.
As an aside, you’ve got to love a cinema that offers wine with your film AND volume options. It’s the little things.
As I drove into the hospital precinct last night, I could hear a flapping sound. The stretch up the hill and around the corner landed me directly opposite the Radiation Oncology building which was as far as I was prepared to drive with a flat tyre. The car park was several wheel rotations too far to be safe. I pulled up near the short term passenger pick up area and stopped in a no stopping zone.
In the minutes I had to spare before my zap session, I made a phone call home and wrote a note for the windscreen to ensure at least that the car wasn’t towed in my absence. I may have been flapping a little myself as I walked into the building for the first of four targeted booster hits.
By the time I emerged, the roadside assistance had been arranged. I had an estimated 40 minute wait ahead of me.
At the moment, I’m not very steady on my feet if I stand unsupported for too long. So I sat myself on the utility box on the footpath and watched people on their way to visit newborn babies. I listened in on snippets of phone conversations as visitors on their way home reported fractures and post-surgery conditions to friends and loved ones.
I had conversations with the two parking inspectors who eyed off my car as an income generator until I skilfully played two cards – cancer patient AND a flat tyre. I watched other infringers without cards of any sort take their medicine as they returned to their vehicles.
The roadside assistance man reminisced as he worked on the tyre. Fourteen years ago when he first arrived in Australia he worked as a cleaner in the hospital so he could learn English on the job.
I am so grateful that I was right where I needed to be when the tyre expired and grateful for people who do their jobs well and with compassion. Not least I’m grateful that my right hand man at the end of the telephone at home managed the rescue logistics to ensure that my flapping response was short-lived.
Peripheral neuropathy can be one of the side effects of chemotherapy. I learned recently that just because the chemo is behind you it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve dodged all the bullets.
For the past two or three weeks, I’ve had little or no sensation in the tips of my fingers and thumbs. So far the impacts of this have been limited to a reduced ability to turn book pages and the odd late and loud response to hot surfaces while cooking. I’ve put this gem on the list called “Let’s hope it goes away one day”.
Meanwhile the daily zap impacts have begun to accumulate with mild to medium sunburn like sensations and sensitivities. Once more in the round of treatment, this product has become my friend. After this afternoon’s zap, it’s 15 down and 5 to go.
While I was waiting to see the surgeon today, it became apparent from whispered conversations that the person in his rooms was at the beginning of her breast cancer experience.
When the woman emerged from her appointment, I kept on with my reading although I really wanted to look her in the eye and say it will be alright and the treatment time will go really quickly even though it might not feel like it now and on the worst days.
Four months ago I had just had my first surgery. Four months ago I was taking it one day at a time. This time next week I’ll be lining up for my last radiation treatment after a second surgery and four cycles of chemotherapy. It feels like both a long time and a short time.
This morning I saw my surgeon for the first time since the end of March. He wins the prize for my favourite specialist thus far. He’s a listener, empathetic and easy to chat with.
All’s looking good on the wound front. While I had him as a captive audience, I asked questions about the aromatase inhibitor regime I may start in August. I’m particularly concerned about the bone density impacts of these drugs. He accessed my last bone density scan and confirmed that given already established loss, in his view, I would need to consider bone strengthening drugs to counteract the effects of the AI drug.
Sigh. There are so many unanswered questions. We’re talking about drugs to address what other drugs damage. Drugs that also have their own negative impacts. Drugs that may/are likely to/will affect quality of life factors for years.
There is much to mull over.
excerpt from Cancer Australia’s Guide for Women with Early Breast Cancer