From now on, every 6th of May is going to be a special date for me. This is the exact date of my official and final diagnosis. It is the day I heard the words “I’m afraid the biopsy has CONFIRMED…”. From then on my life completely changed, in many different ways. For one, I became a hospital patient and entered the healthcare system. Unfamiliar territory then, my second home now.
I have written much about chemotherapy. And a bit about my operation. But how about radiotherapy? I never got to tell you all about the experience of having your breast blasted with radiation on a daily basis for 4 weeks. Yes, you hear me well: daily. Oh the joys of having to go to hospital everyday!!!! So let me take this chance to give you a little summary of what is like.
Before you start your treatment you have to go for your preparation session. I, as usual, went along by myself. I was feeling ok, didn’t think much of it. Got there, sat in the waiting room, flick through the out-of-date gossip magazines that are always lying around in such places and was called in. Of course, it was when I found myself in a room with 5 nurses and medical machinery that it hit me again: cancer treatment. To stop cancer coming back. Coming back. Shit. Felt emotional but held my tears back.
Next is the usual undressing-of-oneself-to-show-affected-breast to whichever health professional needs to look at it. I laid down and then they started taking measures of my boob and saying random numbers. Then my favourite bit came: I got my tattoos!!! well, or as they nurse said when I asked him if I was getting tattoos: “we now call them permanent marks”. Whatever. To make sure that they are radiating the same area every time they did two tiny dots, one between my breasts and one under my armpit. I’ll post some photos. Then it was an mri to take detailed pictures of my body contour and off I went, back home.
Radiotherapy didn’t start for a few weeks, I think it was about 3. So quite a long break. Tired still from the chemo, but hating the 4 kg that I had put on the last half of chemo, I decided to hit the gym again. I think most people think that cancer patients lose weight when doing chemo. But they couldn’t be more wrong. Yes, it is true that some do. But it is also true that many don’t! not all drugs make you feel sick or lose your appetite. Plus you are given steroids. Plus, if like me, you are doing chemo in the middle of the coldest winter in the uk for however many years, chances are you are not gonna leave your sofa. For weeks. Unless you have to go to hospital to do chemo or with a temperature. Honest. By the end of chemo and Xmas I felt like a blob of meat. So, back to the point. I went back to the gym, slowly regaining my level of fitness and losing some pounds along the way. To me this was about regaining some control back over my body and my life. Which in many ways I had lost to cancer and chemotherapy.
Radiotherapy started at the beginning of march and it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. True, it did make me feel tired, but I continued going to the gym all along it, even though at times it was a struggle. To be fair, compared to chemotherapy, radiotherapy felt like a walk in the park. The one thing that got to me was having to go every day, which is a nearly 2 hour round trip from my house. All for a 40 second blast of radiation. 40 seconds of treatment!!! honest, I counted it. You’d go in. You’d lay in by a huge machine. Two radiologists would get the ruler and marking pens out. Measure you. Mark you. Turn the lights off. Say some random numbers (random to you, that is). Move the machine. Ok. Turn the lights on. Leave the room while a siren is going (supposedly to alert others that radiation is blasting out of the machine?). 20 seconds blast from the right. A radiologist comes in and moves the machine. 20 seconds blast to the left. A radiologist comes back in “you can relax your arm now”. They give you your time for the day after and off you go. I did 19 sessions. 15 to the whole breast and 4 targeted to the area in which the tumour was located. The process for the last 4 sessions was pretty much the same. Only that they put like a piece of wodd with a circle cut out on the machine so that the radioation would beam just onto the area. And it was only 1 40 second blast. FIY.
I thought I’d show you photos of what the machines look like. These are not photos of where I was treated, I have just taken the off the internet.
And so…”where are you now? have you finished treatment?”. I get asked this question a lot. And I find it hard to answer. Yes I have finished the treatments that most people have knowledge of when it comes to cancer: chemotherapy and radiotherapy. No, I have not finished other treatments that you would not necessarily know about unless someone close to your, or yourself, has had breast cancer. I am currently on herceptinuntil December 2010. And I am soon to start tamoxifen, for at least 2 years (I could stop if I wanted to try for children), but a recommended time of 5. Great. Look forward to having the menopause at 31. More on that some other time.