Once I had been reassured that I was not going to die from my recent diagnosis or the liver hemangioma that was spotted during a CT scan (and then seen with ultrasound, and then an enhanced ultrasound because they wanted to be 100% sure it was the harmless blob they thought it was. Sweet Mother of God, that fucker damn near killed me with the stress alone) I was ready for the next step. You find out through this process that there are many types of oncologists you see, each of them specializing in their area of practice (i.e. surgery, radiation, or a medical oncologist who often organizes chemotherapy or oversees the patient’s care in general). My radiation oncologist was a complete gem. He was incredibly smart and comfortingly kind. When I think of how lucky I was with all of my doctors, I am still so grateful for how much grace I have been given.
Most of the women I know who had radiation after surgery had 16 treatments. I had 20. The reason for the higher number is that I was young and pre-menopausal and there are different risks associated with that, especially with hormonal breast cancers. Before treatment started, there is a simulation appointment where you’re essentially being mapped and positioned for the treatment plan that the technicians recreate every day when you come in for radiation. In addition to lying there, boobs out for the world to see including the guy who was “just here observing”, I was given 5 tiny tattoos on my chest & rib cage that I thought I would be really upset about but they’re barely visible. Just dots. Seriously though I made it 44 years without getting a tattoo and now I have some lame ass dots instead of something cool like a skull with snakes crawling through the eyes, or an angry looking pitbull. How anticlimactic.
My first week of radiation was horrible, and it wasn’t even the treatments. The staff were amazing and the most difficult part of the process really was holding my breath for 30 seconds at a time (when getting radiation on the left side, consideration to protect the heart has to be made. Holding your breath pulls the heart away from the rib cage). The hardest part was the experience. Being in a waiting room full of people who were sick; some of course much worse than others. Seeing children, even babies under 2 years old there for cancer treatment. Watching their moms barely holding themselves together while their babies struggled. It was breaking my heart to see so many people hurting so much. I couldn’t sleep at all that week and I’m one of those people who just cannot function when I am tired. I was a disaster – probably the worst and most crazy I have ever felt in my life.
Fortunately I had arranged for acupuncture with my functional medicine dude which helped my sleep and stress immensely. I connected with one of my most important villagers, got into the swing of things and sailed through treatments. Couple of bumps in the road along the way but nothing major. My skin did react but not until about half way through week 3, and it didn’t become much worse than a sunburn. I made my own lotion that I applied along with the moisturizer that was recommended by the staff. I did not feel excessively tired during or after treatments. I stayed active the whole time, drank lots of water and continued to eat really clean.
I am convinced that the level of self care that I maintain is why this was an easier experience for me than it can be for others. All that work I had put in over the years was not a waste; it was my saving grace and it paid off big time. I was 100% committed to myself and my healing throughout the process – because I had to be, and recognizing how much I deserve that dedication was part of this process and this experience. People can love you all they want and it’s fabulous and amazing but at the end of the day, the only person who can make you the number one priority is you. Self-care is not selfish. We are all sacred beings and deserve to treat ourselves as such.