Tag Archives: radiation

The Curse of What Iffing

As someone four-and-a-half years removed from a breast cancer diagnosis, I’ve reached the point in my recovery where I “what if” myself all the time. I’ve moved past the consistent routine of doctors appointments and testing that were de rigueur during treatment and the clinical trial I took part in. That leaves me with a lot of spare time, and plenty of room in my brain case to ponder what I did or didn’t do during my treatment.

For example, I keep going back to the four week period between chemotherapy and radiation where I seriously considered not doing radiation. At that point, I’d had a PET scan and 16 chemo treatments that, as far as I was concerned, killed enough evil in my body and psyche. I didn’t see the point in roasting myself, as I referred to it, on top of all that. The logic wasn’t there. But, I went ahead and did it. The problem I had was, what if I don’t do it and the cancer comes back? So, I went ahead and submitted myself to 34 trips to the giant rotisserie.

Then, after my oncologist and I determined that I was really and truly post-menopausal, I decided to switch from Tamoxifen, the gold-standard of estrogen-inhibiting drugs, to an aromatase inhibitor, which is meant to kill any remaining estrogen your pituitary gland might have the audacity to secrete. I spent eight months of misery on that drug, and boy was I sorry. I went back to Tamoxifen and promised to re-visit the situation once I’ve been on it a full five years.

In December, 2017, I discovered that I had atrial flutter, which is an irregular heartbeat. I was subjected to a battery of tests and had to take a beta blocker and blood thinner for a couple of months. Then, I scheduled myself for a procedure called a cardiac ablation, where a doctor specializing in cardiac electrophysiology, went up through my leg with electrodes to zap the area of my heart that was not beating regularly. A year later, my heart is fine, but I still cannot feel parts of my right leg.

Just before Thanksgiving, I came down with a cold and cough so epic, I thought I would never recover. Pre-cancer, I never had any issues with my lungs, save for one episode of bronchitis when I was in my 30s. Now, any cold I get settles immediately in my left lung, making me cough and wheeze like a three-pack-a-day smoker. I’ve never before felt a rattling sensation in my lung, and it is not pleasant. And for the record, I halfheartedly smoked Parliament cigarettes for about five minutes in high school.

Lately, I’ve been hearing a lot about over-treatment of breast cancer. The consensus now seems to suggest that women are receiving too much chemo and too many sessions on the rotisserie. Given that my diagnosis included a spread to my lymph nodes, I was told that the treatment I received would be very aggressive. What I wasn’t told was how bad the fallout would be years after treatment ended. I don’t think there is any doctor who would tell you that residual side effects from cancer treatment don’t change you physically and psychologically, but I do think there is a pact among medical professionals to downplay the aftermath. For example, the cardiologist who performed the ablation procedure, along with the general cardiologist I saw prior, were both reluctant to admit that my heart problems might have been caused by radiation treatment. In my case, it’s easier to say, you’re an overweight, middle-aged woman, what do you expect? Of  course you’re going to have heart problems at some point. Not that it matters now; the damage is done and I have to deal with the consequences of my decisions.

It’s human nature to question yourself when you get to a certain point in life. So many questions start with the phrase, “What if…” that you want to delete it from your vocabulary. I have my share of regrets, but the most difficult ones to reconcile are the ones that have to do with the decisions I’ve made about my health. It sucks to feel like shit for as long as I have, and to have trained professionals de-emphasize what you’ve been through. I’ve been gone since the dawn of the “Me Too” movement, and many people think this is a problem experienced only by women. I’m not so sure. Maybe if the medical establishment treated its patients with more empathy, I wouldn’t feel this way.

What if we could be kinder to each other and not look at each other like parts on an assembly line? What if we stopped and listened instead of trying to wrap things up quickly in order to move on to the next task? What if…

 

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WEN By Chaz Dean Summer Honey Peach and Summer Mango Coconut

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer and learned that I would need to undergo chemotherapy and radiation after my mastectomy, there was a moment when I realized I would eventually be bald. At that point in my life, my hair wasn’t in particularly great shape. I had stopped coloring it, and wasn’t getting regular haircuts, partly because I couldn’t afford them.

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Meltdown

 

This essay was originally published on April 7, 2015.

Life has been very interesting since I last posted, mainly because I had a complete meltdown following the conclusion of roasting. I didn’t realize that, like the roast you let rest on the counter after removing it from the oven and tenting it with foil, you keep cooking after you’re cooked. Yes, as bad as I felt the last time I blogged, I started to feel even worse a couple of days later.

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Radiation, Week 6

This essay was originally published on March 15, 2015.

Maybe some of you like your chicken this way, but not me!

Sorry for the delay in getting this post up; I’ve actually been suffering more from roasting fatigue than the burning. Although, my skin is starting to take on the hue of fresh ground beef. It’s different than a sunburn; there’s a sort of brownish tinge to it that I’ve never before experienced. Chalk more oddities up to the cancer experience.

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Radiation, Week 5

This essay was originally published on March 6, 2015.

Okay, so I’m getting a little tired of looking at Kramer the turkey. I’ve always loved the Coppertone baby ad, even though it was popular during a time when we didn’t know quite how dangerous the sun is. Now, we slap on sunscreen without having to be told. And wouldn’t you know – some of us are looking years younger than we actually are.

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Radiation, Week 3, and Surgical Follow-Up

This essay was originally published on February 20, 2015.

You’re wondering where my picture of Michael Richards as a turkey is… Well, I chose this one of Bill Murray instead, for no reason other than I like it. It’s from last week’s Pebble Beach Pro Am golf tournament, during which he always does a great job making everyone laugh. Though I’m not a golfer, I’ve been to Pebble Beach, and it is one of the most spectacular places here in North America.

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Fear and Mortality

This essay was originally published on February 19, 2015.

I’m beginning to think roasting is having a negative effect on my brain. For the past few days, I’ve felt more annoyed, pissed off and agitated than I’ve been in recent months.

The thought of shutting the laptops and avoiding social media has crossed my mind, but without access to both, I am not capable of working. I suppose I could go get a job as a greeter at Wal Mart, or a barista at Starbucks (not that there’s anything wrong with that), but that would be treasonous to my education, not to mention my body. I’m still not physically capable of all that much, and if the Internet did not exist, I’d be standing on an entrance ramp to Interstate 5 asking for spare change.

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Radiation, Week 2

This essay was originally published on February 13, 2015.

Ten roastings down, 21 more to go.

As I said in my last post, I’ve embraced the schmear. I schmear once when I get home from the hospital, and again at night before I go to sleep.

According to my radiation oncologist, and a couple of the nurses, the possibility of having side effects increases at about the third week. Next week should be telling, but I’ll only be receiving four treatments, since both oncology departments will be closed for President’s Day.

So, roasting takes a holiday; at least for one day.

Have a great weekend.

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