Friday, August 13, 2010


After 11 months and 11 days, two biopsies, 2 mammograms, 2 PET scans, 3 MRIs, 18 rounds of chemo, a major surgery, and 28 radiation fractions, I am officially DONE with active treatment.

Obviously, the reward is sweet: remission. It means no daily trips to Seattle, no weekly visits with the doctor or weekly pokes for blood draws and port accesses, no more medicine cabinet full of antiemetics, pain meds, acid reducers, and muscle relaxers. However, it also means that for the first time in 49 weeks, I am doing absolutely nothing in terms of killing cancer cells or preventing their return.

For as happy as I am to be done with treatment, I am nearly equally as scared. A lot of cancer survivors really don't like being referred to as a fighter; that cancer is some kind of battle to conquer and beat. It implies two things: that we, as sufferers of this disease, had some sort of choice in the matter; and that those who succumb to cancer didn't fight the battle hard enough. Obviously, neither of those is true. However, I kind of feel like the allegory fits me and my military background better than most. I was at war with a disease. I fought it with the support of my medical cadre and the love of my family and friends.

The battle is over; the enemy is gone. But the carnage remains. I come off of the front line with my head held high, exhausted from the fight but still proud. I have suffered wounds...some are visible, some not so much. I know that time will heal both, but I will forever, both physically and emotionally, wear the scars of a breast cancer survivor.

Remission is a sweet, sweet word, but I'm not sure I'll ever be cured.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Thank you, Christopher Hitchens

I stumbled across this fantastic piece by Christopher Hitchens, "Topic of Cancer" in the September issue of Vanity Fair . His eloquent description of the emotions associated with diagnosis of cancer and physical symptoms of the first couple of rounds of chemo is spot on.

In other news, only FOUR radiation fractions left until my treatment is officially o.v.e.r!!!!!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Not for the faint-hearted

I just started my fourth week of radiation today...I have eight fractions left, and then I will officially be DONE with active treatment and in remission!

I met with my radiation oncologist at my weekly appointment on Thursday. At that time, my underarm was an interesting shade of blackened red, but the skin was still intact. She actually said she was impressed that my skin has held up so well through all she's put me through (I guess that was a compliment?!) She told me she'd stop the bolus (YAY!) and also gave me silver cream (and described it as Neosporin on steroids!) to use if my skin breaks open. Sure enough, by Saturday, it did. There's some lovely fresh pink skin poking out under the charred mess over it.

I took a picture just to have it, and figured I'd post it here in case you're curious about what a radiation burn looks like. It's not terribly pretty, so if you're squeamish or faint-hearted, do not scroll down. I guess the good news is that since I don't have much feeling under my arm from my surgery, it actually hurts a lot less than it looks like it would!

My underarm after 20 radiation fractions: