Beam On

It’s 9 weeks since my final chemo and I am starting to feel a little better.

I am half way through my 19 sessions radiotherapy now and that has all been going really well. I have to travel to Aberdeen to get the treatment, it only lasts 12 minutes though and has been pain and side effect free so far. You lie naked from the waist up on a high tech sun bed and get X Rays zapped to the tumour site and the lymph. There are about 3 nurses in attendance who physically move your torso into alignment with the scanner. My right arm is held in a stirrup and the nurses leave the room while the ‘Beam On’ sign is on. Then it’s just me, my thoughts and some high energy X ray beams. This treatment should reduce the likelihood of a local recurrence of cancer.

I started yoga about 3 weeks ago and I am finding it tough but I believe it has really helped the cording in my arm which was causing pain when my arm was extended. My scalp is less red and itchy and my hair is really coming in although still very short and not long enough to style. The skin between my breasts has healed after using a steroid. My fingernails are beginning to peel away from the nail bed. I thought my fingernails were going to be OK but they are another casualty. I feel more in control of what I am eating but I think losing this weight may present a challenge. However, I am more accepting of this. It is what it is.

So things are better. I try to get out every day for a quick walk before heading out to Aberdeen and the journey there has been made more fun by a mixture of desert island disc downloads, music and the company of good friends.

I will see my oncologist for the last time the day after I finish radiotherapy and I am beginning to think about what I should be asking him. My treatment will be over. I think I will also see my breast consultant one last time too before being cast back into my ‘normal’ life.

I feel happy most of the time but I am very easily tired and my bones ache. My periods have still not returned and I don’t think they will. I think taxotere turned them off. Despite this I feel a little of my bounce coming back, my enthusiasm and love of life. It is hard to feel these things when you are not well physically. My body has suffered, I feel like chemo violated it. I have not been as open about this with people because I am always aware that one day some of my friends may require treatment for cancer too. Chemo is there to kill cancer cells. You have to hope it is doing that at the same time as it is killing off other bits of your body too.

I have felt numb often during this process. And feeling numb is protective; there is only so much pain you can tolerate. But I now I have to allow myself to feel again, to open myself up to the good things in my life and to do that while accepting the uncertainty of life.

About 35% of those diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer will experience recurrence. This is more likely to be a distant recurrence which means the cancer becomes secondary. It is most likely to happen in the lungs, liver, brain or the bones although this is less likely. The average time for recurrence is 2.6 months. I have to take this knowledge, factor in the probability of my risk and accept it. Otherwise I will not be living my life the way I promised myself I would. That is really tough and you are dealing with it at the same time that people are congratulating you on completing treatment and looking forward to things getting back to ‘normal’.

Of course I have no idea what normal is anymore. People in the cancer community talk about the new normal and that is something that you recognise from diagnosis onwards.

So I have the opportunity to rebuild my life. At some point I may begin to think of myself as a survivor but that feels far off right now. I am still grieving for has happened to me but I do accept it. I am getting better day by day. I don’t know what the future holds for me but I choose to live hopefully. To be grateful for what I have and to bear whatever comes with courage and dignity. I have tried to do that and I will continue to do my best.

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