My husband puts his keys on the table after coming in from work. I bee-line straight to him, immediately burying my head in his chest.
“You’re all done, babe! How did it go?” he gently asks with a smile in his voice, referring to the last of my six and half weeks of my daily radiation treatments.
My muffled voice chokes out “It went well…” then trails off.
He pulls my face from his chest, and realizes I am crying. “What’s wrong??”
Obviously he is perplexed as to why I would be sobbing after reaching another milestone in my breast cancer journey.
I have been emotional all morning, even silently crying on the treatment table as the technicians gear me up for a final zap of radiation. They see my tears, and say it is absolutely normal for patients to have mixed feelings about reaching the end of treatment.
You see, there is a comfort in being in regular, active care. It creates a safety net within a world of uncertainty. You meet with these people daily, and then it ends.
What’s left? A feeling of vulnerability. A teeny bit of doubt sits in my brain, wondering if the the treatments have worked. Now add to that a global pandemic, and you have yourself a great big pot of anxiety stew.
Speaking of that pandemic, it truly is a surreal experience having breast cancer treatments during such a bizarre time. I have almost become paranoid leaving my house to go anywhere. Fortunately, the front-line workers at Swedish Cancer Institute have been top-notch. They make sure everyone wears a mask and they take your temp before they even let you in the door.
Each day, I was greeted with a smile. How do I know they were smiling? It’s in their eyes. I dress down, put on my robe, and wait with my fellow cancer-compatriots. Small chit-chat commences about the weather, how fashionable we all look in our gowns, and how much cancer sucks. Eventually, a voice over a speaker calls your name, and off you go.
My daughter is with me. She gets to meet the people I see day in and day out. One woman, Marianne, pulls a gift from a bag, and hands it to me. She thanks me for supporting her through this journey. She has had a particularly tough time, because in addition to dealing with her cancer, she has asthma. Wearing the mask exasperates the issue, and she sounds like Darth Vader as she tries to catch her breath with her face covered by something that makes her feel like she is suffocating. I feel for her. I want to hug her.
Once on the table, they put me in a precise position, arms raised above my head, snorkel in place. It’s not really a snorkel, but it might as well be. I stay perfectly still, as I am zapped. It all goes very fast. It takes longer for the set up than the actual radiation treatment. (You can read about my initial experience here).
Eventually my skin gives in to the ionized radiation. Remember that time you forgot to put on sunscreen on your friend’s boat, drank all day, fell asleep and woke up like your skin was put under a broiler. It’s like that.
And did I mention the itching? It feels like a healing tattoo. Only, there is no fun tropical turtle inked to the skin after it heals. I am reminded not to scratch at it, so my only option is to pat my skin forcefully like a freakin’ weirdo. I use a variety of creams, lotions and ointments and do my best to remember it’s temporary.
These past few weeks have been a loop of radiation, working my job and filling the time with all the yard work we have been meaning to do for the past 11 years in this house. Why has it taken so long? To be honest, my husband and I have always chosen our motorcycles on a nice weekend over digging, weeding, planting, building, etc.
Can you blame us? I mean riding a motorcycle is FUN. Yard work, is well, work.
But here we are. Like what seems like every person on the planet, we have decided to finally get a handle on all the stuff we have put to the side over the years. What else is there to do during a pandemic?
Actually, I can answer that, but you have to get dressed at some point 😉
So, what’s next? I have a follow-up with my Oncologist in a few days. I am nervous and hopeful, but look forward to being told at soon that I am cancer free.