two simple questions answered (kind of)

Are you cancer-free or nah? I haven’t made it super clear, because it’s just not that easy. As of today, I think of myself as cancer-free, but I will probably claim my survival anniversary as this Friday 3/18/16 when I have completed radiation. What made this all confusing was that when I had my first scans back in June of 2015, some areas “lit up” on the PET scan indicating that I had cancer in lymph nodes near my sternum and lymph nodes in my clavical area. These lymph nodes can respond to chemotherapy and radiation, but cannot be surgically removed (too dangerous). Since it appeared on physical exam that my axillary (arm pit) lymph nodes had reduced in swelling, the surgeon was hopeful that the chemo had done its work and killed the cancer in all the lymph nodes. That’s why she anticipated that I would wake up from surgery cancer-free. Unfortunately, of the 10 lymph nodes that were removed (from my arm pit), 9 contained cancer. I deduced that since the 90% of the lymph nodes that were taken out were cancerous, I could assume that there was a good chance the clavicular and internal mammary lymph nodes that were left still contained cancer. The key word to focus on is “contained”. Or, the official term would be “encapsulated”. So, even though I had cancerous lymph nodes, one positive thing is that the cancer was fully contained and had not escaped the lymph nodes. (This is when the voice in my head gives a limp “yay.”) These areas were treated during radiation and I have good reason to believe that this treatment worked to kill any remaining cancer.

Will I have scans and see for sure? Will I have blood tests? How do you know it worked? Ugh. This is the hard part. You wait and see. You wait to see if any tumors form near the scar. You wait to see if you get headaches or bone aches. It’s freaky. This is why being done with cancer treatment is somewhat more anxiety-producing than the actual diagnosis and treatment (in my experience). 

When I was diagnosed and in treatment, I was staring down the barrel of the gun. Yes, it was horrifying, but I knew where the gun was. Now, it feels like there’s screechy violins underscoring my life and the gunman is somewhere in the house…maybe. I’m nervous about the bad guy coming back to finish what he started. Luckily, I have faith that reminds me that the good guy is in charge, and I’m safe no matter what. “For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.” (Romans 14:8) Can I get an amen?!

So, YAY! I’m claiming cancer-freedom and UGH! it’s still scary, but I’m going to try to figure out what moving forward looks like and hope God blesses me with a long life.

Believe it or not, that was just the answer to one “simple” question. Moving along…

Can you PLEASE tell us what radiation is actually like? Ok, so it looks like this: 

 Note the strange pattern of redness. I have radiation burns. Like a sunburn. Some people blister. My skin has been awesome. I’ve been using a hard lotion that my friend Molly made me. I don’t know how she blends it, but it has shea butter, coconut oil and beeswax and I’m pretty sure that’s the reason I’m doing so well. The port surgery bruise and scar are kind of distracting. Scene stealers. Also, you can see how a big chunk of armpit is gone on my right, your left. It’s really red in there. That’s the worst of the burning. So, yeah, you can see how the clavical area was burned radiated. And how they radiated all the way to my sternum. The redness is around my back too. There’s a hint of blue near the center where they marked me with paint pen. No joke. Apparently it has staying power. The Sharpie comes off pretty easily. They mark me up every day. At the corner of the field–the center of my chest–you can see what appears to be a freckle. That’s one of my three tattoos. It looks less natural in person, but it’s small. The others are on my sides. All this to show that I’m glad it’s not tank top weather yet.

Radiation is the easiest of the three BIG treatments. I’m also on endocrine treatment (a daily pill to halt my estrogen production)–so that’s a fourth way to treat cancer. Five and six are diet and exercise which I did a lot better before cancer. Did I ever tell you about how my doctor said there are six ways to treat cancer? I can’t remember. Here they are: chemo, surgery, radiation, endocrine (hormone), diet and exercise. You’re welcome.

Back to radiation. Not only does it have the easiest side effects to deal with (who hasn’t dealt with sunburn??), but my radiation oncologist is the kindest doctor I have. The other day, I was telling her how I met Fred Armison and had a background doing improv comedy and so on and she said, “You have this whole other side of you!” And since we hadn’t ever really spoken about me outside of my treatment, I said lightly, “Yeah, I’m not just all about the cancer life!” She smiled, but her eyes filled with tears. I was thankful for those tears. I needed a little tenderness from a doctor. The team of radiation therapists who measure and mark me up everyday are so kind and fun. The ladies at the desk are so playful and kind. Kindess. I don’t want to overuse that word, but I can never tire of kindness. It has gone a long way these last six weeks to cheer me through the last leg of the race.

Hey, if you have any questions or need to reach me privately because you or a loved one has been handed a bucket full of lemons, email me at jennalemonpants at gmail dot com. Cool? Maybe someday I’ll revamp the blog and make it super slick and have a “contact me” section and change up this stupid font. But, until then, I’m happy to at least make myself a little more accessible and give you a way to reach me. Peace and have a sweet rest of your week!

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