Breast cancer lesson 125: Active treatment is like a roll of toilet paper. The closer you get to the end, the faster it goes

2014-07-16 16.19.06

Today was a big day. One last weigh-in. One last meeting with the oncology nurse (who loved her pink heart). One last chemo blood test. One last trip to the hospital pharmacy. And, one whistle-stop tour through the world of radiotherapy with an oncologist, my mum and two work experience students.

For me, the word radiotherapy means end. Yes, I will have to take hormone therapy drug Tamoxifen for ten years. But, when I walk out of the hospital on the last day of radio, active treatment will be officially over. And, just knowing that that day is no longer a day buried far in the future, is a fantastic feeling.

Radiotherapy is radiation treatment, designed to damage the body’s cells in a specific area. In my case, there are two specific areas. One is the chest wall and the other is the area above the collarbone where more of my lymph nodes are currently hiding. The two treatments are going to be run side by side, which means only 15 days of blasting! WOOHOO!

It does feel in many ways that they are saving the best treatment for last. For starters, the PICC line is coming out on Friday, so there won’t be any drugs involved. Secondly, the list of side effects is contained to one sheet (I think the seven-page chemo consent form will be imprinted on my memory for life). The main side effects are skin reactions and tiredness, both of which I would take tomorrow if it meant I could taste, sleep and not have to watch toxic drugs travel through a tube into my veins.

There are, of course, a number of other less common side effects that can present themselves even years afterwards. These include breast swelling, chest tenderness, the creation of scar tissue, rib fracture, breathlessness and, yes, more cancer (extremely rare as you can imagine). But, the benefits (risk of recurrence reduced by two thirds) make the risks more than worthwhile.

The appointment was an interesting one, with everything explained in full for the benefit of the two work experience students (and me of course). We started by talking through the treatment, the fact I have to have a planning session with a CT scan and some tattoos (the rebel I am!), followed by a ten-day wait before treatment can start. We then tested out the radiotherapy position (basically arms in the air) and had a good look at the area. The oncologist was very complimentary about my new boob (thankfully this part of the appointment wasn’t open to the 16-year-olds!). She even thought I was looking pretty symmetrical! I’ll take that!

No course of cancer treatment would be complete without the obligatory ‘banned’ list. And, unsurprisingly, there are a few comforts on there that are about to be taken away (should be used to it by now). Here’s a quick run down:

1)     No hot water when washing and no long soaks in the bath (that’s a shame now I have learned how to blow up my inflatable bath pillow)
2)     No shower gel, bath oils or bubble bath in treatment area (lovely!)
3)     No rubbing with a towel (ok, patting it is)
4)     No talcum powder (no real loss)
5)     No shaving under the arm (there’s no hair there anyway at the moment!)
6)     No perfumed moisturiser on the area (Doublebase or E45 is recommended)
7)     No tight-fitting clothing (what will I do with all those boob tubes J)
8)     No under-wired, lacy or tight bras (surgery sorted that out long ago)
9)     No swimming (the opening of the Olympic pool so close to my house still hurts me)
10)  No sun exposure for a YEAR (probably a good thing given my tendency to go red just looking at the sun)
11)  No hot water bottles (I think I should be ok in August!)

One radiotherapy planning appointment, one CT scan, three tattoos and 15 blasts of radiotherapy stand between me and the end of active treatment (please note the distinct lack of needles or scary tubes). That is, once I have navigated a little thing called THE LAST CHEMO on Friday! Wish me luck!

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