I have just spent two blissful weeks away from Cancerland. Away from sterile hospital corridors and acrid smelling chemo chairs. Away from blood tests, cell counts and horrible side effects.
Away from being sick. Away from Oncology everything.
Leaving Cancerland has been the best.
Two Wednesdays ago, straight after yet another infusion of Herceptin and Perjeta, we hightailed it to the airport, hopped on a plane and flew far away from cold, old Melbourne. And, despite my concerns, neither my bionic boobs nor my husband’s new metal shoulder set off the airport security either – phew!
For a whole, delicious week on the Gold Coast, we did nothing but bask in the glorious Queensland sunshine (Winter up there is 23 degrees, Melburnians!), play countless games of ‘Uno’ and ‘Pick-Up Sticks’ with our children, and order BIG at the hotel buffet. We rode on rollercoasters, lounged by the pool, read books and had deep, soaking bubble baths.
We even did this:
Yep. *Insert big fat sigh of content here*
How great are holidays!
I must say that this one was extra special. The last six months have been completely ruled by my treatment regime and we haven’t had the chance to get away together. The emotional toll on us as a family has been high, too. There have been lots of tears, and many times where Jay and I have been too drained and distraught to pick ourselves up cheerily and be proper parents. Thanks to the warmth and love of wonderful friends and family, we have somehow managed to keep an even keel through the darkness, even if perhaps a little wonkily at times.
We had all but resigned ourselves to a year spent pretty much house-bound, when at my very last chemo appointment we discovered something shiny: a surprising two-week break in my treatment schedule before the onslaught of radiotherapy. My husband booked us a mini-break then and there just in case my doctors changed their minds!
And that week away was EXACTLY what the five of us needed: time to switch off, slow down, and just hang out. Time to swim away entire days, order room service midnight feasts, cackle uncontrollably on rollercoasters together and eat fairy floss for lunch.
It was a time for pure release.
Our holiday helped me reset my sails, and prepare for the next step in my treatment arsenal: radiotherapy. Since coming home, I’ve had to snap back into Cancerland pretty quickly.
The first appointment for Radiotherapy (affectionately called ‘rads’ by those in the know), was to front up for a CT scan, measurements, and – wait for it – TATTOOING!
Yuh huh. Never thought I’d be the type to get any ink done, myself, but after my first rads appointment, I emerged sporting four brand new tatts!
These small, freckle-sized tattoos are placed in specific spots on my chest and side to help the radiologists line up the machine precisely each time I go in for treatment. They ensure that the radiation is delivered to the exact spots in my chest and armpit where cancerous cells were discovered six months ago, to ensure it zaps them away for good.
For the next six weeks, I will head into the radiation oncology area of the Epworth hospital every day. Treatment itself takes about twenty minutes, but the set-up can be painstakingly slow and uncomfortable. The technicians are fastidious with their work. They measure everything carefully, to the millimetre, making sure I’m in the exact same position every day. They line up my tattoos with funky red lasers and fuss around until they’re all completely satisfied.
So far, I’ve had three doses. Besides a lot of buzzing, beeping and whirring, I feel nothing at the time of treatment. As I progress, I will probably see the area of my right breast and underarm become inflamed (a bit like sunburn). It may blister and peel, but should heal up quickly once treatment finishes.
The scary side of radiation is the list of potential long-term side effects it brings with it. The radiotherapy treatment for cancer involves doses that are thousands of times higher than the radiation you receive from your average xray. Due to that radiation exposure, I will have an increased likelihood of lymphoedema in my right arm, a greater chance of developing leukaemia or a second cancer sometime in my future, and the chance of some scarring to part of my lung. While it’s hard not to get bogged down in scary stats like these, I’m focusing on the here and now, and ensuring we do everything to kill every last Breast Cancer cell in my body.
Here’s to fewer cancer cells, and many, many more holidays!