Argentina, Breast cancer, Cancer, Depression, Hair regrowth, Ireland, Radiotherapy, St Vincent's, UK, Women's Health

Radiotherapy: Week Seven (in Which I Remember My Last Valentine’s Day)

IMG_4719I’ll never forget Valentine’s Day 2012 because it was the day I went to the Clinica del Sol private hospital in Buenos Aires to get that lump in my breast seen to. There was nothing romantic about getting my boobs out in front of the grey-haired old male Argentine doctor, nor was it particularly sexy having them squashed like pancakes into the vice-like clamp of the mammogram machine. But hey, at least I didn’t have cancer! Or at least I didn’t find out about it until later.

The good thing about Valentine’s Day 2012 was it set the standards low for 2013, so I wasn’t too disheartened when the heart-shaped card in my letterbox turned out to be a thank you card (a nice one, at that!) and not a display of love from one of my many (elusive) secret admirers. Nor was I too bothered about spending a second consecutive Valentine’s day in the hospital, because at least this time it was for my penultimate round of radiotherapy. But it’s fair to say I’ll be easy to please come 14th February 2014.

IMG_4688So that’s it: radiotherapy done. And with it, the end of eight long months of cancer treatment.

One operation, six rounds of chemo, 33 rounds of radio, roughly 80 injections, 40 self-injections, more than 50 hospital trips, five nights in hospital, three seasons, one birthday and a whole load of cups of tea.

It’s been quite a journey.

But if anyone thinks that means it’s ‘over,’ they are very much mistaken. I managed to avoid hospital for the first 29 years of my life but I’ll be going back every year for the rest of my life without fail. The first check-up takes place in 4-6 weeks, the next shortly after that, and another one in July. For the rest of my life I’ll be having mammograms and letting strange doctors feel my boobs. But I’m fine with that, because I feel safe when I’ve got someone checking up on me. In fact, it’s widely said among the cancer community that the hardest part comes after the treatment ends. Once there are no more daily hospital trips, no more doctors and nurses monitoring your progress, the mind starts to wander and the insecurities and fear set in. It feels pretty overwhelming after such a long time under constant medical care.

IMG_4687But at least I get a little reprieve from the daily hospital trips for a while.

The sun came out in Dublin for my final day of radiotherapy, affording me the rare opportunity to walk to the hospital via the beach. After so many weeks of gailforce winds and torrential rain, this felt quite symbolic. It also allowed me to take off my hat and get some much-needed vitamin D to my face and head, which I’m sure will help my hair grow.

IMG_4716The last radiotherapy session was the same as all the rest. The final eight sessions were ‘boosters,’ directed towards the area where the tumour was, instead of the whole breast. I was expecting to have a bright red boob by now, but in fact you can hardly see the effects of the radiation at all. It may get worse over the next few weeks and it’ll be a while before I can shave my armpit and use normal shower gel and moisturiser, but I was expecting it to be a lot worse. I’ve included this photo to the left so you can see what it looks like to be under the machine. Bear in mind this is just for blog purposes – in reality I’d be naked from the waist up!

After the final session, I went up to the Breast Care section of the hospital to say goodbye to the nurses who were there when I was diagnosed. One of them, Maeve, congratulated me on finishing and asked me how I was feeling. I could barely find the words to answer because the question made me want to burst into tears. The poor woman must think I’m an emotional wreck because every time I’ve seen her, I’ve welled up. But the truth is, I can’t go back to that little room where I received my diagnosis on 22nd June 2012 without breaking down a little. That little room with its wonderfully friendly nurses is the place where all this started and it just brings a big lump to my throat. Most of the time I manage to cope by taking each day at a time, but that place brings back the whole unbelievable overwhelmingness of it all.

The effects of the radiotherapy will continue to work for a few more weeks. IMG_4693The tiredness has already hit me and is getting worse, but it’s a strange kind of exhaustion that comes in waves. I sleep for 8-9 hours but often in the afternoons I feel the kind of sleepy you feel when you’ve had a few glasses of wine and a big meal in a really toasty room – a kind of after-lunch sleepiness where it’s hard to keep your eyes open.

For the final session, I decided to wear the heart vest sent to me by my fellow breast cancer survivor and Fighting Fancy founder, Heather. I wore it not because it was the day after Valentine’s Day, but because it was my last session and it kind of symbolised what myself and all the other girls in my global cancer support network have been through. From the one who’s currently in hospital after her fourth mastectomy surgery, to the one who was admitted to hospital with a horrible mid-chemo infection last week, it’s been great to be able to share my experiences with people who really get it.

IMG_4643As all those girls all know, the journey is far from over, but at least I can start to regain a little normality in my life and slowly get over the effects of the treatment. Now if only my hair would grow faster so I could stop looking like a cancer patient…


12 thoughts on “Radiotherapy: Week Seven (in Which I Remember My Last Valentine’s Day)

  1. Congratulations and best wishes from someone who reads your blog and thinks you are a brave woman with an inspirational life story underway. Thanks for sharing your experiences and the wisdom you have brought to handling them.

    • Thank you so much! That means a lot to me. Also just to let you know the blog doesn’t end here. I’m going to keep writing as long as people keep reading as I’m sure there’s still a hell of a long way to go. Hope you’re well xx

  2. Bryan Foat says:

    The “end” (the good kind) has come. Of course, as you know and mention it isn´t really the end at all – but it is a HUGE milestone and I hope that you and those close to you (proximally speaking) are planning some type of celebration. I had a sort of “birthday party” a couple of weeks after the end of my treatment to celebrate the new lease on life, thank those around me for their support, etc. It was very, very emotional. I´d say, in fact, that it was the most emotional part of my particular journey, especially verbalizing what I needed to say to my wife (ex) and son at that point.

    You mention “…the unbelievable overwhelmingness of it all…” at one point in this post while in another you describe “…the mind starts to wander and the insecurities and fear set in. It feels pretty overwhelming…” Just an observation: from this distance and through this medium, the overwhelming feelings were not palpable. They may be more readily sensed by those who are actually around you. Or, you may benefit from sharing those feelings and garnishing additional support when you need it. Clearly it isn´t logical, prudent, healthy or possible to be unwaveringly positive and/or stoic throughout the entire process. Feelings of being overwhelmed are perfectly normal and, as long as you don´t allow them to become the norm, have their place in the process. Again, I just mention this because I have been a faithful reader of this blog from a certain point onward and even went back (but not all the way to the beginnnig) and read prior posts and can´t recall you ever having described feeling overwhelmed. Of course, at my age and after having killed as many brain cells as I have in different ways over time, it could just be a function of poor memory on my part 😉 CELEBRATE You deserve it.

    Your chronicle has been inspirational, informative, innovative, insightful and, not least of which, entertaining (I claim literary license to have this included in the alliteration). Let me know when the book comes out…which, by way of suggestion, might include a reflaective narrative on the one hand but should not neglect either a chapter (or entire section? separate book) such as Cancer Cookbook or Culinary Concoctions for Combating Cancer or some less-allitertive title of your choosing 😉 I am sure you can do better than I. Besides your wonderful openness and positive attitude, the most amazing part of your tale — and most distinct form my personal experience — was your focus on food for avoiding and/or combating cancer and just being able to enjoy it during your treatment. I lost 15% of my body mass prior to diagnosis while eating normally (which clued me in finally that I had something serious was wrong after not connecting the dots on the 5-6 other symptoms I had been experiencing for a year) and then another 15%% during the chemo itself.

    I almost cut/pasted this into a private email due to its length, but there may be (hopefully) things here that others can benefit from, so I´ll post it “as is”.
    all the best, Bryan

    • Thanks so much, Bryan! There was a post a few weeks back that I think I portrayed the overwhelmedness in (maybe radiotherapy week four?) but it’s tough because I don’t want to moan too much in my blog. People only want happy news and people don’t read sad news! Plus there is a line in terms of what’s personal and what’s public! Generally I’m doing fine, but obviously I cry a fair amount too!
      Good suggestion on the food thing… I should’ve included a photo of some alkaline cooking I did yesterday, but I just thought today’s blog was already too long. Nevertheless, I’m cooking more than ever and eating more than ever so for sure there’ll be more food posts at a later date!
      And of course I will keep up the blog.
      Thanks for the support and hope you’re well!
      PS No party planned so far, but I’ll try and have one at some point!

  3. Lisa Dawson says:

    The other day, I pulled a muscle in my shoulder (decided in my wisdom I didn’t need physio after my surgery last year as it all felt fine) after picking up my handbag (hmm) with my ‘bad’ side arm and became hysterically convinced there was something more sinister going on. Even though I’ve now finished my treatment (aside from reconstruction in May), I think there will ALWAYS be that fear. Like you, I have a future of Zolodex, Tamoxifen and already booked mammograms ahead of me but I feel SO lucky that I was diagnosed when I was. On 9 May it will be a year since my fated hospital appointment and sometimes I still pinch myself to believe it. Am totally with you on the hair front – the Lush shampoo bar seems to be doing the job (am taking pictures every week as a diary…) but have been faintly traumatised by the fact it hasn’t come back long, blonde and highlighted yet (I think I had even fooled myself over the years haha!!). Have really loved reading your blog, it’s been great to read your progress alongside my own experience. Love too your connections with other women in the same situation as us through their blogs and websites. Thank you Laura! x

    • Hi Lisa, thanks so much for your message, sorry I didn’t reply sooner. Yeah we’ll always have that fear but having the mammos booked in is definitely a good thing because as long as we’re under the doctors’ care, at least we’ll kind of feel someone’s looking out for us!

      My hair is growing quite nicely now, I can’t stop running my fingers through it (well, not through it, but along it!) I’m not sure if the Lush soap is doing anything but it’s nice to use something. I also just spent 50 quid on a thing from Boots that’s supposed to strengthen eyelashes and eyebrows. I have no idea whether it’ll encourage them to grow but at least if it makes the existing ones stronger, that’ll be a start! Roll on a year’s time when we can compare our lovely long hair and brows etc!!

      By the way the blog does not end here. I am working on some new entries so watch this space and thanks for reading up until now! xxx

  4. Adriana says:

    Hola genia!!!! Felicitaciones por tanto remar aguas arriba!! Ahora, a descansar y planificar cosas placenteras. Sabès? en tu blog he escrito cosas que nunca habìa contado. Creo que me ayudaste a madurar y sanar temas que siempre estaban en mi cabeza y no podìan salir. En tu blog tuve la oportunidad. Cada uno es como es y cada cual necesita caminos distintos para encontrar alivio.
    Te admiro por tu capacidad para poder contar con tanta claridad tus vivencias aùn cuando estabas pasando por los momentos màs duros. Sin duda todo esto merece compilarse en un libro.
    Acordate de los aros de perlas…esa fue mi manera de celebrarlo.
    Te mando un beso enorme!

    • Me alegra mucho saber que te haya ayudado de alguna manera con mi blog, Adriana! Me ayudaste mucho tambien! Espero que nos podamos encontrar uno de estos dias pero no se cuando…
      Estoy trabajando en otros blogs asi que no te vayas, por favor! Mi pelo ya esta creciendo super bien.
      Besitos, Laura

  5. Facing Cancer Together says:

    Woohoo for you and making it through treatment! I’m amazed at the number of injections you listed – it’s making me look back to my treatment days, wondering if I had about the same amount. But anyhow, may the hair grow back evenly and your energy return soon. Life after treatment has its challenges without doubt, but it’s good as well, and you’ll see that for yourself. Congratulations! ~Catherine

    • Thank you Catherine… Yeah I had 50 injections of the drug that I took for 10 days after each chemo and there were definitely at least 30 other blood tests and other injections on top of that! It’s probably more like 100 needles but who’s counting?! My veins have fortunately had a little chance to recover now. It’s nice not having to go to hospital every day.
      Hope you are well! Take care xx

  6. Ros Bowles says:

    Hi Laura, I have been following your story and salute your bravery and the way you have shared this with the wider world, without self pity but with guts and truth. It has been very moving to read about your journey and I am sure that writing about it will have helped many fellow sufferers enormously. The value of sharing with those who really understand cannot be over-rated. With love, Ros.

    • Hi Ros, I didn’t realise you were reading, so thanks for commenting and letting me know! I am still going to continue with the blog as the journey doesn’t end with the end of the cancer treatment so keep looking out for new posts and take care! Laura xx

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