“The human race has only one effective weapon, and that’s laughter. The moment it arises, all our hardness yields, all our irritations and resentments slip away, and a sunny spirit takes their place” -- Mark Twain.
to accompany the next several paragraphs.
I started daily radiation treatments around October 1. The total dose was about 5040 centigrays, which is a lot of radiation, with a daily dose of about 180 centiGrays (a centiGray is a unit of absorbed dose, equivalent to about 1 rad) in addition to a "boost" to the area of the scar on the left side. I went to the Cancer Center every day, and once a week I saw Dr. Goss, the radiation oncologist, who explained what was happening. It was interesting to see his reaction when he examined my skin and listened to my complaints. Many women have to stop their treatments because their skin gets too raw and burned to continue. I seemed to be OK and didn't have to stop. I continued for six weeks (weekends off) and it just about killed me to drive to the Cancer Center every day in that horrible traffic on Paseo Del Norte, but I did it. Fortunately the techs were cool. Isn't that a big scary machine?
When I first arrived, the nurses showed me the gowns and gave me a cubby with my name on it. Each day I would sit in the women's waiting room and wait for my name to be called. I met a diverse group of women who waited at the same time every day. We chatted and read the same old magazines cover to cover. At first I didn't want to say anything. I'd just listen, fool around with my Blackberry, or read a book and never made eye contact. Then I slowly started to speak up. By the time the six weeks were nearly up, I had developed first-name friendships with the other patients and workers. When a new patient would arrive, we'd gang up on her and tell her what to expect so she wouldn't be frightened. Honestly, towards the end when I would walk in, they'd say "Grace!" like they were greeting Norm on "Cheers" (if you don't know who he is, you're too young to be reading this blog). On my last day in mid-November, I brought in cookies and a music CD for the treatment room -- it helped if there was good music playing while the machine whirred and clunked.
Some of these women were so scared! And they had reason to be. They had cancers I had never heard of. Some were in chemo and radiation at the same time. The same time! And some were so frail, in wheelchairs or on crutches, that we weren't sure they'd make the entire treatment period. Yet they all seemed to be handling it well. There wasn't any chance to feel sorry for yourself in that waiting room. It was so uplifting.
Some days I'd go to Starbucks after treatment. Sometimes my friends would meet me there. It made me feel normal, sitting there having coffee in the morning with all the working people. Here is a photo of Ben, one of my excellent flickr friends, who was happy to take time out of his day to get some caffeine. (sorry, ladies, I know he's attractive, but he's taken). Don't you think Starbucks should pay me for this shot?
Mid September I'd gone back to work and had to start radiation treatments soon after. I began to be really tired during the day (as they predicted). I don't think I'll ever be back to normal. I have been good about resting at night, but I always feel like I could nap during the day. I told some friends that the fluorescent lights were sucking the life force out of me, and it had to be from the radiation. They said, "Nope, that's how we feel, too. "
Here's what I tell everyone: Go outside. Don't sit inside all day. Get some sunshine and fresh air, and you'll fire up a few neurons. It's amazing. Even standing in the sun outside of your building for five minutes is worth it. Find a plant or a tree and breathe in some oxygen.
Another good reason to head for the sunshine: to fight off depression. Some of us get seasonal affective disorder (S.A.D ) in winter when it gets dark and dreary. I miss the sun. I miss the beach! I enjoy the cool weather, but it's hard to fight the winter blues. To top it off, I've had some bad news lately. A friend of mine has had a recurrence of her breast cancer, and it just breaks my heart. I'm also a little afraid -- what happens when mine comes back (not if, but when). Two other friends have had major surgeries, and although I'm worried for them, I think they will pull through. Finally, I've had a close companion and confidante leave me recently. I'm surprised at how much I miss him. It's hard to count your blessings at times like this.
Then I remember: I have wonderful friends. How can I be sad when I have friends like this? Check it out! that's Catherine and her daughter Christa looking fabulous.
Recently one of my male friends gave me some guidance and advice about continuing to learn and sharpen my senses. He encouraged me to plan for my own future (who else will if I don't?), just like I do all day long for my customers at work. It took a week or so to sink in, but I've come to realize it's time for me to really focus on myself and figure out what I want to do next. For me.
I have never in my life felt so alone. It is always tough being alone during the holidays. But though I am alone, I feel strong and ready.
This morning I found one of my favorite passages from the Bible: Ephesians 6:10-17:
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.Isn't that vivid? The "belt of truth buckled around your waist" and the "breastplate of righteousness"! Even in different translations of the Bible, this language is never tamed down.
Many doctors advise that patients use mental imagery to fight cancer or imagine the cancer leaving the body. This passage reminds me, as I wait for the doctor, that my hospital gown is cinched with the belt of truth and underneath I'm wearing the breastplate of righteousness. I'm invincible.
What's next? I will have surgery again in January to take another layer of tissue near the tumor site. I will have these huge implants removed, and new ones put in. It will take me a few weeks to heal again. I hope to remain in good shape during this time and not let my training lapse. I'm training for a short race (the Susan G. Komen in June) as part of a training plan to improve my fitness and reduce my likelihood of recurrence. My chance of recurrence is 25%. (That seems pretty high for all I've been through, but I had what they call a "stubborn" tumor. I'm on tamoxiphen now, every day for two years, followed by an aromatase inhibitor. I'll have MRIs every so often to check for recurrence.
All of these surgeries, treatments, medications, and my training regimen serve to strengthen my armor. They just have to. I don't think I can go through another year like 2007.
Smile, everybody, and go soak up the sun.