Dear Cervical Cancer and Radiation After-Effects
Thank you, sincerely, for helping me get over my aversion to pooping in public. The often unexpected urgency you have bestowed upon me in the most public of places, including but not limited to Target, cafes and my office, has necessitated my very quick acceptance that I can - and must - broaden my Number 2 Network to outside the home. I don’t think I could’ve done it without you.
The Upside to Pelvic & Abdominal Radiation?
Keeping my girlish figure. Recovery is making my intestines incredibly sensitive, resulting in a little more awareness of what I take in. All those comfort foods that are supposed to be “treats?” Yeah, those happened a little more often than I was realizing (especially the booze). Here’s a fun list of extreme edibles and potent potables that were staples pre-cancer and are now once-in-a-while goodies. Not because I’m actively trying to be healthier, mind you, but because my body can’t handle them:
Burritos. Bourbon. Sausage & Peppers. Nachos. Red Wine. Champagne (MOST SORELY MISSED). Mac N Cheese. Lattes. Milk. Steak. Anything With Red Sauce. Anything With Cream Sauce. Pastries. Diet Coke. Salsa. Raw Fruits. Raw Veggies.
So, you know, thanks A LOT, cancer, for making me eat healthier. I can think of easier ways to go on a diet!
Sometimes (today, for example) I can’t fucking believe I went through chemo and radiation. Not gonna lie, In those instances, I feel like a total badass.
I kick ass at chemo, external radiation, and now, internal radiation. Suck it, cancer!
My Next Two Mondays - The Gory Details
Yesterday’s visit at UCSF couldn’t have gone any better. It was an easy ride down, nothing too crazy while we were there, a tiny blood sample and mostly chatting, great food at ‘our spot,’ then an easy drive home. I stayed awake the whole time and even caught the president’s speech before heading to bed.
So! If you don’t want to know the gory details of my next two Mondays and Tuesdays, the above paragraph should suffice. If you want to know my next steps, please read on!
We’re heading to SF Sunday night where we’re hoping to meet up with a long-lost friend for dinner (what I will eat, I have no idea, since I was informed I need to be on an all-liquid diet that day. Details.). Monday morning, we check in at 8 am. I’ll get an epidural as well as anesthesia to knock me out. I had the option of the anesthesia and went for it since I had a mini private breakdown when the nurse was taking my tiny blood sample. I told her you’d think I’d be used to those sorts of things after chemo and whatnot. “You never get used to the difficult things,” she told me.
Once I’m knocked out and numb in the pelvic area, the doctor will insert a few catheters vaginally into the site of the tumor. Those will be with me for my duration of the hospital stay. Once he’s done, I’ll head to the recovery room where they’ll watch me for an hour as I come out of anesthesia.
They’ll then take me to get a CT Scan, where the doctor will be able to plan the exact points of radiation. While he’s planning my treatment after the scan, I’ll be in my room with JLP, chillin’ at no more than a 30-degree angle and basically not moving at all so I don’t disturb the catheters.
I’ll most likely get my first radiation treatment later in the day, around 4 pm or so. They’ll shoot radiation through the catheters right at the site of the tumor and I guess wherever else he decides. I might get another that day. They only take about 15 minutes. I’ll spend the night in the hospital with my homies the catheters.
The next day, I’ll get one more round of radiation-shooting, then we’ll head home before lunch! The doctor is confident I will have zero side effects, other than a possible headache from the epidural, some cramping from all that business up in my lady business, and maybe some spotting / discharge, which would most likely be what’s left of the tumor melting away. We were both concerned about the 3-plus hour drive home, but she referenced an older couple who just had the same procedure and drove about the same length of time home and had no problems, so I’m not worried.
After that, I’ll hang out a month to let the residuals of radiation do their thing and leave my body, then I’ll have a followup scan to make sure we’re all good. And that’s that! Another chapter in the cancer saga about to be opened and closed.
I know! For being such momentous occasions, my posts on my last days of chemo and radiation weren’t exactly celebratory. Vague Instagram photos? As if!
Truth is, I’m thrilled. I’m gob smacked. I’m EXHAUSTED. I’ve never been so tired. Emotionally, physically…any ‘ly,’ really.
And I’m not really done. Sure, not having to immediately ingest 32 ounces of water this morning was amazeballs, but we did still have to get up at 5 am to get down to UCSF for a 10 am pre-brachytherapy appointment (we’re on our way now, watching a gorgeous late-summer valley sunrise).
Monday is my first internal radiation therapy, followed by another the following Monday. Both times, I’ll spend the night in the hospital, something I’ve never done before. I’m not sure if my overnight stay is because I’ll be radioactive or because I’ll be under anesthesia. I’m sure we’ll get all the details today and I can report back tomorrow.
In the meantime, WOO! OW! Eff you, chemo! Suck it, external radiation! I mean, thanks for saving my life and all, and thanks for making me prove just what a badass I really am. But I’m glad we’re going our separate ways. Bring it, brachy!
Ladies Who Radiate
There’s been a few times that I’ve felt this cancer thing makes me a part of a special club that only those of us “in the know” can appreciate because we’re all in the same place for the same reason. Once was at the fertility specialist, another was at the skin care clinic a local dermatologist puts on for cancer patients, and the other… well, the other is pretty special. It’s every morning in the radiation waiting room.
Most patients receive radiation in blocks of time. Mine, for example, is a total of 25 treatments, all at 8:30 AM every weekday. So, since Aug. 1, my weekday routine has been to wake up at 6 AM, manage to get 32 ounces of liquid in me to have a full bladder for my treatment, then head down to the cancer center with JLP. Once there, I just wave to the receptionists who check me in, then head to the women’s dressing room, where a few ladies might already be waiting, finishing up, or just chatting.
I grab a gown, undress behind a curtain, toss my clothes in Locker #4 and affix its key around my wrist, then sit with my Ladies Who Radiate while I wait my turn for the machine. There are two radiation machines, so our comings and goings are kind of staggered. At one point, there might be up to six of us at a time chillin’ in our gowns, talking shop.
Sometimes we talk cancer, but mostly we just gab. It’s a safe place to ask how one’s treatment is going, to offer advice on side effects like rashes and fatigue; but it’s also a place to get to know a few women who are all experiencing this crazy detour in our lives. There’s no room for shyness, really. This shared experience automatically sheds any “getting to know you” precepts and we are automatically sisters, for lack of a better word.
Now that I’m down to just six more treatments, I’ve become the Old Guard in the dressing room. I’ve hugged quite a few LWR goodbye on their last days, hoping C’s grandbaby arrives any time, wishing D good luck on her celebratory trip to Alaska. Now I’m the one to change the date on the tearaway inspirational calendar, bring in magazines, help S tie her gown when her fingers won’t cooperate.
It’s weird to think that in just a week I’ll be saying my goodbyes, that I’ll be saying “see you around!” Because the acknowledged hope is that we don’t run into each other again in this space. We hope instead to see each other at the farmers market, or while dining out, or maybe even at the gym. When that time comes, we’ll pick up right where we left off: knowing we Ladies Who Radiate(d), we members of this elite club who paid pretty steep dues to gain lifetime membership, don’t have to talk about cancer, but we could if we wanted to.
On This, the 15th Day of Nuking…
Holy shitballs I’ve just completed three weeks of radiation. Can you believe it?! My rad onc is thrilled (THRILLED!) with my progress. My body is doing everything right to combat the ravaging of radiation and chemo. On the whole, I’m having very little side effects, which she chalks up to 1) me being young and healthy and 2) the IMRT. Without a doubt, she said, I would have a lot more gastrointestinal side effects if we didn’t fight to have the IMRT instead of the 3D Conformal radiation.
From this corner, I feel the side effects are just enough, thank you very much, and couldn’t possibly imagine having them amplified AND going through them twice (if I had gone with 3D Conformal, we would have done 5 weeks just focused on my pelvis, then another 5 weeks on my abdomen). I might not have lost my appetite, but I am definitely a more picky eater, and I tend not to stray too far from a restroom. Overall, except for Mondays, my energy level is decent, my nausea stays at bay, and I’m getting plenty of sleep. I may have lost a bit of weight, but I figure I can chalk it up to going a month without booze while simultaneously getting more than 64 oz. of water in a day - a handy tip for anyone looking to lose 10 pounds, no?
Just 10 more nukings to go, plus 2 chemos. Easy Breezy!
I have to alert my radiation tech when I’ve left my chonies on due to bleeding; I usually just scoot them down once I’m on the table. I thought this was no big deal, just our regular routine, but today my tech asked, “you’re still bleeding? Have you told anyone?”
I had, but that was last Wednesday when it first started, then again on Friday with my chemo nurse. It’s nothing big, just a steady releasing of clots that doesn’t seem to be ebbing. I met with my radiation nurse today to go over it; she was a little concerned that my platelets were low and worried we’d have to pause chemo or maybe even radiation to give my blood some time to regroup. She went over my counts and drew some blood (from my SUPER RAD PICC LINE) and said she’d call.
Turns out, I’m even more badass than I thought! My platelets are even HIGHER than they were on Friday and my “body is responding well to the blood loss” (which is good because the alternative, should I continue to bleed, would be to pack my lady parts with gauze. NO JOKE). My nurse thinks it might just be hormonal bleeding, so nothing really to worry about.
Mondays are my worst days, recovering-wise. I spend most of the day in bed, napping and dreaming of terrible things for me like Chicken McNuggets and nachos. That’s a good sign, though, right?