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Making My Way

Yesterday, my youngest granddaughter called me. She had heard I was going to the hospital for an appointment. In a small voice, she asked, “Mimi, when Mum Mum went to the hospital, she died. Will you come home?”

Tears filled my eyes. Mum Mum was her other grandmother, and she died two months after her cancer diagnosis. My granddaughter misses her and brings her up often.

After a few weeks, which seemed like an eternity, my oncotype test score came back. This test determines how likely the cancer is to return. The lower the score, the lower the chance. My score was low enough 1) to predict a very low likelihood of return (although not a guarantee). and 2) it was low enough to eliminate chemotherapy from my treatment plan and send me straight to radiation therapy. Despite any difficulty radiation could cause, I was thrilled and full of hope.

The pathology from my surgery showed clean margins and no infected lymph nodes. So why radiation? Radiation pursues any rogue cells that might have escaped with the surgery and traveled into the bloodstream and kills them. The treatments are cumulative, and I’ve had four. The only thing I’ve noticed is fatigue, but it took me a few days to recognize the fatigue because the night before the first treatment I slept less than three hours. It took me two days to get over the lack of sleep. Now when I feel fatigued I realize it's possibly the radiation. the radiation.

Radiation therapy is a strange experience. It begins with an appointment where technicians take measurements and, in my case, mark the breast area with a sharpie and stickers, looking for the best radiation path to avoid the heart. Heart trouble following radiation therapy used to be a real possibility making this new marking capability invaluable.

Treatments are daily and the first visit was long. Subsequent ones are shorter. In order to receive the radiation, you have to first hold your breath. When they tell me to hold my breath, I scrunch my eyes shut (I choose not to look, although many patients do. They assured me that the different colored beams are not supposed to cause damage to the eyes.) and imagine scenarios that require I hold my breath, like diving to the bottom of my pool to free something from the drain escaping to the surface of the water before they say, “breathe.”

Friday was the seventh treatment and was much quicker than yesterday. I’m now one-third of the way through. The seventh treatment is typically when the discomfort of radiation shows itself. I’m keeping myself hydrated and the area moisturized, hoping to avoid as much of the treatment discomfort as possible.

The main thing I’m feeling is thankful. I’m thankful to have found cancer as early as I did. I’m thankful for the good prognosis and I’m only looking forward. So when my granddaughter asked me if I would come home from the hospital, I assured her I would return. “I have no plans to leave you, sweet girl,” I replied. “I’m sorry you lost Mum Mum. She had a different cancer, and it was awful for her. I don’t have that same type, and I’m going to try very hard to be with you for a long time.”

That’s my plan.



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