Extra-Crispy: Radiation, The End of Treatment

October 3, 2011 at 9:15am

It's been ten months since I was diagnosed with breast cancer, and I'm finally at the end of treatment.  August and September were spent getting the worst sunburn of my life through radiation therapy, which was the last leg of my active treatment plan.  Surgery was first, which you can read about here, then I had chemo, which I wrote about here, then radiation, which was actually a breeze compared to the other two.  My only real complaint was that radiation was Every. Single. Day. for six weeks, which meant I had to put on shoes and leave the house Every. Single. Day.  My fellow barefooted introverts are shuddering.

Radiation treatment for breast cancer is most commonly preformed after a lumpectomy, as research has shown that for lower stage breast cancers, a lumpectomy followed by radiation (which is to locally kill any stray cancer cells not removed by surgery and prevent a recurrence of cancer at the site) is just as effective as a mastectomy.  But then there are those higher stage breast cancers, like mine.  The larger the tumor, the more lymph nodes involved and, in addition to mastectomy and chemo, you, too, get to experience the joys of radiation.

Basically, radiation involves lying on a steel table for about fifteen minutes and getting painlessly blasted by radiation at specific points.  Tiny tattoo dots, permanently marked on your skin but so small they look like freckles, guide the machine to where it needs to be.

This is me outside my treatment room.  I'm wearing the lovely paper jacket I had to change into every day, which made it easier for the radiologists to get to my chest area.  There were a lot of paper jacket ladies in the waiting room.  I called us Team Breast Cancer, because we were all wearing the same jersey.  People there for radiation for other types of cancer got to keep their clothes on.  I was secretly envious.

This is my last day of radiation.  I had one of the ladies at the desk take my photo on my last walk down that hallway.  Of course, I had to go back and get my camera, so technically it was my next-to-last walk down that hallway.  I'm still wearing a wig at this point.  My hair is growing back, but it's currently so short I look like GI Jane, which is a good look on Demi Moore, but not on me.

For the next five years, I'll be on a medication called Tamoxifen.  My breast cancer was estrogen-receptor positive, which basically means my type of cancer feeds on estrogen, and Tamoxifen blocks estrogen from binding to cancer cells.  One of the not-so-common side effects to Tamoxifen is weight loss, and I lost about twenty pounds in six weeks when I first started taking it.  This, my friends, is called a Silver Lining.

October marks the first month this year I won't have some sort of active treatment or test.  I will have to go for regular tests, probably for the rest of my life, to check for reoccurrence.  Cancer that has escaped its original site and has moved to a different place, like lymph nodes, has had a taste of freedom, so you have to watch it closely.  I have a cat like that.

I'm feeling great and I can't wait to get back to work.  I won't have to put on shoes!  Unless, of course, as my friend Heidi says, it's my boogie shoes.  Those, I will gladly wear.

Thank you, my wonderful readers, for your support through this.  You have suprised and humbled me with your good thoughts and wishes, with your cards and gifts.  I love you all.  Now, let's get back to books.