Home stretch? I know it should feel like it but it doesn’t for some reason. Not yet. Maybe because I still feel like I’m settling into the radiation rhythm. Here is how the rhythm goes: pack my bag (carrots, almonds, apple) and pour my green tea. Drive an hour, change into a gown, lay on a table in a ridiculously uncomfortable position until I don’t think I can last one more second, get dressed, drive an hour back home. I’ve done this 10 times now, with 20 to go. A new twist just added: drive another 50 minutes to occupational therapy then drive another 50 minutes home. What happens while I’m there may be good (lymphatic massage sounds nice) or it may be bad (breaking corded lymph vessels sounds painful).
As my treatment has progressed each phase was usurped by the next. As soon as I started chemo I practically forgot about the mastectomy. Although the side effects were still lingering, having my reconstructive surgery helped me move past chemo. I figured radiation would shift the focus away from the reconstruction.
Most of what I read said radiation is super easy but for me, not so much. Maybe I paid a bit too much attention in physics, but radiation scares me almost as much as chemo. Concerns about what the radiation may do to my new breast mean I can’t put the reconstruction behind me. Concerns about what the radiation may do to my lymph system scares the crap out of me. I don’t want lymphedema and I don’t want to have to wear a compression sleeve for the rest of my life. If it wasn’t already obvious that I am a worrywart, it is now.
Dr. Schupak said my treatment plan is “complex,” which I guess is why my first few radiation treatments were pretty long and intense. The physicist had to come in each day to confirm the treatment plan and place monitors on my skin. While 3 technicians, a physicist and a radiation oncologist were all hovering over me, taking measurements, marking my skin, positioning this gel–pad thing that intensifies the dose, double and triple checking alignment with my tattoos, this thought popped into my head: these good people are saving my life.
I immediately knew I had to put that thought out of my mind. I wasn’t allowed to move, much less sob. But I did feel like sobbing, “You people are saving my life! Thank you for being smart, thank you for coming to work today, thank you for liking math and physics and medicine!”
I’m often guilty of over-thinking things, and it seems radiation is just heaping on things to obsess about. For the duration I need my own figurative fall out shelter. I might give guided imagery a shot. It seemed to help with chemo to think about those cancer cells dying.
In the meantime, I’m going to try to stop thinking about how much hotter hot flashes would be with a compression sleeve on. I’m going to try to stop thinking about how Dr. Disa will have trouble fixing my new breast if radiation messes it up because I know surgery on irradiated skin often fails. As that machine swings around me, clicking and buzzing, I’m going to try to stop thinking about incidental radiation dosage to my heart, thyroid and lung. And as I lay there counting the songs that are playing (my sanity-saving strategy to track how much time has actually passed versus how much time seems to have passed), to avoid sobbing I’m going to refrain from whimpering “thank you for saving my life” to the technician who reminds me to turn my head or who says I can finally, finally bring my arms down.