I got a few tattoos today! 5 of them to be exact.
Are you surprised?
Don’t believe me? No really, I did. Okay, I’m exaggerating a little. Yes, they are tattoos, but nothing fun or artistic. I was tattooed with 5 little dots on my chest and stomach in preparation for radiation- the final phase to my cancer treatments. These dots help them perfectly line me up in their smarty-pants-high-tech machine for my radiation treatments. The tattoos are so small they could be mistaken for freckles. So, not incredibly exciting. But whenever I see them in the future I will be reminded of this grueling journey which has taught me more about myself than anything I’ve ever been through before. These 5 tiny dots will serve as reminders to myself to be grateful for how far I’ve come, to never take for granted God’s precious gift of life, and personal proof that I am stronger than cancer. Who knows what I’ll face in the future that all of this will give me the confidence to overcome.
So what in the world is radiation?
As far as I understand it, they shoot high powered rays directly to one area. High frequency rays move fast, therefore they continue on their controlled path and only touch the localized area they are aimed at (as opposed to low powered rays which slowly bounce all around and spread to surrounding areas.) Basically, radiation damages DNA strands. Then, over time my normal cells will repair their DNA (some permanent damage occurs but most will repair itself.) But damaged DNA that is attached to cancer cells doesn’t have the ability to repair itself. That’s it in a nutshell. If I slaughtered the medical explanation for radiation, sorry I gave it my best shot.
Today I was scanned inside this big Christmas wreath to allow the radiology oncologist to precisely map me out for the upcoming radiation. How festive!
Speaking of which, I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas. I know we did. I was really feeling blessed. Here’s one of my favorite shots from our Christmas feast. I love that precious time of gathering around the table together.
Like my Christmas hat? It even lights up. I’m an embarrassment to my oldest daughter when I wear it but I can live with that. I don’t care, I love it. I am excited to have some hair now. Although I’m having fun with the Sinead O’Connor look these days. I may or may not have lip synced to ‘Nothing Compares to You’ on Christmas.
Look at these smiles. Girls just wanna have fu-un! We were all ready to celebrate, feeling relieved to have made it through this year and be where we are today. Merry Christmas to all, thank you Jesus for your gift of life! Alright, back to the point…
The long winded version of what’s ahead:
The standard of care for my situation is to receive 5 weeks of localized radiation to the area that had cancer (5 days a week for a total of 30 sessions.) I begin January 10th.
At first I was wary to accept this. The negative side effects were not something I was incredibly eager to sign up for. The list is long: skin turns red and peels like a sunburn; soft tissue shrinks and restricts range of motion- not favorable for a swimmer; slight fatigue (but it doesn’t make you nauseous or loose your hair- yeah!); lymph nodes radiated near the neck can sometimes cause a sore throat; oh yes, and let’s not forget about the potential permanent damage to lungs, heart, you know, those good ol’ vital organs. Since my cancer was on the left side I’ll be asked to take a big breath in and hold it when they administer the radiation. This causes your heart to move slightly to the right and out of the line of radiation. I will need to hold it several times in each session, about 20 seconds each. So hopefully this is successful and my heart doesn’t receive any of the rays. Yikes. You bet I plan to practice my breath holding skills (I know a few good pool drills for that.) Also, radiation can cause your ribs to be brittle so in the event of a car accident, fall, bike crash (God forbid!) or who knows what, I could end up with broken ribs more often than otherwise. Many other short and long term side effects were laid out for me. But that is all they are. Potential effects- not a guarantee. I am just going to rely upon prayers (here’s your cue my friends!) to cover me with God’s hand of protection. Friends, you’ve been with me through this whole thing. Now, please pray against any complications. I’m just fearful of this phase because of the name of it. I mean, who wants radiation? Maybe I’ve just seen too many movies such as those with mad scientists experimentally radiating themselves and ending up with an evil superpower. I have these silly fears that I’m going to morph into some creature with two heads!
Naturally, I doubted the necessity of radiation since all my scans post chemo and my pathology report came back with the great news that my biopsied breast tissue showed no evidence of cancer (NEC.) I mean, can I just get off this awful ride and go home now? Waiter, check please! Well I wasn’t the only one doubting the necessity of it. Let me explain why. My chemotherapy drugs Herceptin and Perjetta have only been being used as a combination for a few years. And even though these two pack a power house punch, that is to say they are seeing astounding results for Her2 positive cancer patients, but it just hasn’t been studied for 10+ years. The radiologist confided that she herself suspects that in 20 years she’ll be sitting with patients in my exact situation and telling them that radiation is not necessary. But as of right now, not enough time has passed to know this for sure. Thus they cannot give me exact statistics as to what my chances of recurrence are if I take or don’t take the radiation. But to be on the safe side, all of my doctors emphatically urge me to take the radiation.
So it boils down to me just plain not wanting to go through with one more regimen (Can you blame me? I wish I could run for the hills and be done with all of this already!) But they are right. Do I want to do everything possible to ensure all cancer in my body be completely destroyed? Yes. Of course. I have learned that for one cancer cell to even be detectable on a scan it has already multiplied over a million times. So right now there could still be one microscopic cancer cell in me. Perhaps I wouldn’t know it for years. Let’s just not even go there. The fact is that they know for sure that the rate of cancer returning lessens after radiation. I’ll hang my hat on that.
While weighing it all out with one of my best friends, Emily, something clicked when she said, “I know you. You would never quit at mile 25 of a marathon. Never. And this is your mile 25. You’re almost there. Why wouldn’t you do whatever necessary to ensure that you get across that finish line?” Leave it to a race visual to get my attention.
I’m pressing on my friends. Staying focused when I’m weary of the race. But I will get across that finish line. And I will have you all to thank for helping me get there.