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After Radiation


The month following radiation flew by. To my thinking, January was one of the longest months I have ever experienced in my life. In its wake, February and the first week of March passed quickly, with each day easing the lingering effects of January’s radiation treatment.


For me, that included healing skin on my chest (featuring the weirdly tanned radiation pathway across my chest and the accompanying radiation rash), fatigue, and the unenviable brain fog. The last two symptoms cost me almost a month of doing anything that required considerable thought. I couldn’t focus. Writing a coherent chapter became impossible—no matter how hard I tried—forcing me to miss a deadline for the first time.. I hate when I must beg for more time because that affects others’ schedules.


In March I began taking an aromatase inhibitor and have been gauging my body’s reactions. Many undesirable side-effects accompany these, in varying degrees, for roughly a third of those who take them. I’m staying positive. These aromatase inhibitors (https://www.komen.org/breast-cancer/treatment/type/hormone-therapy/aromatase-inhibitors/) are often called oral chemo by the pharmacies and insurance companies and block the production of estrogen, the cause of my cancer. I’ve learned a lot about estrogen over these past few months. My doctors want me to take it for 10 years, to minimize the risk of getting a repeat of the cancer, or a different one originating from this one.


So far, things seem manageable. Six months ago when I had just begun this journey the mountain in front of me seemed insurmountable and Breast Cancer was something to be feared. All my life I feared it and for good reason since several members of my extended family had it. Some died. Pressed to have genetic testing, I took it two years ago, and the results showed I have none of the BRCA mutations known to cause breast cancer or ovarian cancer. I never missed a screening mammogram. And when I was called back (usually because of dense breasts), I scheduled the diagnostic test, which was always negative. This gave me a false sense of security, leading me to believe I was unlikely to get it… until I found myself with it.


Breast Cancer (since my diagnosis) seems everywhere, now. How did I not see this before? In my circle of friends, six people have been diagnosed (that I'm aware of) with breast cancer since my diagnosis six months ago. That seems like a lot—and in my former world of “that sort of thing only happens to others”—it would have overwhelmed me. Now, I realize it is reality.


I spoke with a friend two days ago who had just undergone a double mastectomy. She, too, has dense breasts, which seem to be a common denominator. My friend and her husband count themselves as lucky as she had eleven tumors. She is right, though. She is alive and healing, and she will beat this.


Along with everyone else struggling to get past breast cancer, we hope our outcomes and struggles contribute to the continued study of new cures for this beast.


Breast cancer is a serious threat, and one best not ignored. There are many types, but there is hope. And vigilance increases hope. Don’t put your screening off by even a month. If you haven’t already scheduled your breast exam for 2023… do it now. Don’t wait until October. No one wants an October surprise!


Hugs,

Anna

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