I am a week and a half into my final chemo cycle. That means I had my last treatment a week and a half ago. As I expected my treatment was delayed because my white cell count was too low. So my last dose was the day before my 32nd birthday.
I've also begun the final stage of my treatment. After chemotherapy you get radiation. Chemotherapy is a systemic treatment. It is designed to catch any wayward cancer cells floating around anywhere in your body. Radiation is about treating the specific area that had the cancer. They blast the breast with radiation to kill any remaining cancer cells that weren't caught with surgery. The idea is that normal cells will recover from the radiation but abnormal cells, rapidly dividing cells will die. It sounds scary because we live in an atomic age and we have been taught that anything radioactive is bad. But through my cancer experience I have learned that there are vastly varying degrees of radioactive and that all types of radiation are not created equal.
For radiation therapy used to treat cancers they use an ordinary X-ray machine. They just use a stronger blast than they use to look at your bones. I went to the Vancouver cancer agency for my Radiation planning appointment. I was prepared for it to be gloomier than the Victoria cancer agency. The Victoria agency is brand new, and has lots of windows, so it's actually quite a nice building to be in. The Vancouver Cancer Agency is not. I felt like I was in a bad movie. Luckily I only have to be there for short periods of time.
For the radiation planning, they do what's called a CT simulation. It's not the same as a diagnostic CT where you have to drink nasty tracers and have things injected into you (which is good, because I guarantee my veins couldn't handle the stuff they put in me for my last CT). They just use the CT machine to get a 3 dimensional picture of the breast so that they can decide exactly where to aim the radiation. They take some pictures and then they actually mark your skin permanently with tattoos so that they can place the X-ray machine in the exact same spot each time. I will be going for 16 doses of radiation, every day, monday to friday starting in mid october. The length of the treatment is the reason for the use of tattoos. It's no big deal, they are just two pin prick sized dots. I don't know what I was expecting, but the tattooing process was very old school. They literally put a dob of ink on me with a Q-tip and then poked me with a needle. And they had to adjust the positioning slightly because of an existing tattoo. It takes them about a week to plan my treatments and then they will call me with my appointment times.
Being done chemo, I thought I would start to feel better already. I guess I hoped more than anything. But I keep being told that it could be six months or longer before I stop feeling tired and having moments of nausea. I find that I tire myself out easily and when I do that I feel a bit of nausea for a while. But at the same time if I get out and do things, enjoy some fresh air, have some fun - I actually feel better over all. So I am making an effort to get my life back in order and start getting out of the house.
I guess it'll be a long road to recovery.