And I'm Done

Pretty sure you could see that smile from space.

Forgive me for the long interval between updates. Honestly, I just had my head down, putting one foot in front of the other to the end of this summer. And now, it's like, "Hey, where did the summer go?" (Funny how that happens.)

But just like that, I'm done with breast cancer. April through the third week in August, start to finish. I had my last radiation treatment on August 18. I have some follow-along check ups but everything went as planned and honestly, as smoothly as possible.

Which is not to say it wasn't hard.

It was FREAKING hard.

It's just that most people have it so much harder.

The thing about cancer, for me anyway, is that it was just like re-entering the atmosphere. Everything non-essential just burned away.  Any emotional baggage I was carrying, or preconceived notions of limitations, or negative self-judgment just...went away. It ended up being really empowering.

(Which is how I started online dating, actually. But that is another post. Or an entire book. At any rate, some really hilarious stories.)

It's difficult to explain how it works, but the cot slides in under the big orange circle, and the whole machine moves and rotates around. They raised the table and lined me up under these lights and then the machine moved to shoot me from two angles. Periodically, they use the same machine to take x-rays. (Yea! More radiation!)

Radiation was tougher than I thought it was going to be. The fatigue was otherworldly, for one thing, but also, my skin HATED me. If you are facing radiation and trying to prepare yourself, this is what I learned:

1. The fatigue is real and cumulative. I wish I hadn't taken classes during my treatment. Not only was I tired, but I had some significant brain fog. I know you're not going to listen to me about putting everything aside while you go through treatment, so if you find yourself unbelievably tired and wondering where your mind went, embrace the idea of BulletProof Coffee. I know it sounds kind of gross.  It saved me and my 4.0.

2. Get really proactive about your skin.  Use ALL of the products they give you and then when you can barely stand to have clothes touch you, spring for the Miaderm with Lidocaine. Be prepared for the area that is irradiated to turn red and then a deep brown. It's a little disconcerting and reminder that you're kind of being cooked from the inside out. (It's especially unnerving if you are getting radiation for breast cancer and the last time you laid out topless was in seventh grade, and even then, you tanned BOTH breasts.) (But I digress.)

3. Let your friends help you. People really do want to help.  Let them bring you dinner or take you to lunch.  If they offer to run errands for you or come throw in a load of laundry, let them.

4. Surrender to what your body needs. Plan now to eat the healthiest diet you can imagine. I read a lot of books that talked about optimal nutrition during cancer treatment. I gave up sugar (mostly) and I introduced some very lean protein in the form of wild-caught fish because my body was craving it. (I decided I needed to let go of my staunch commitment to veganism in service of my health.  This was a difficult decision for me, but I think it was the right one.) I used grocery delivery services when I didn't have the energy to go shopping. This was not the time to cut corners. You're going to need a lot of rest--the fatigue is no joke. When you have to cancel plans, let your friends know why --they will understand. Recognize that this isn't the time to take on new projects or push yourself physically. Your exercise routine and everything will still be waiting for you when you are done healing.

5. Make friends with the people in the waiting room and the staff at the center. You're going to see them every day for however long it is, and it's so nice to see smiling faces cheering you on every day. Plus you get a little invested in everyone's stories.

6. Do something fun to celebrate the end.  You've gone through a big ordeal. Your body has been through something big. Try to acknowledge how valiant and strong you were to make it through that violent assault, and celebrate each milestone. I put out a call to my friends on Facebook to wear tiaras with me on my last day of treatment and y'all, my friends showed up so big! It was fun and funny and whimsical and lovely and every time I see those pictures, I am overwhelmed by gratitude. I still smile when I think about it.  (Also: tiaras are the bomb.)
I couldn't actually find a tiara, but I found this fake diamond comb thingy at Michael's.
I have a lot of pictures of people wearing tiaras on my behalf and I was going to post them all but couldn't figure out how to do a collage so they weren't all as big as life. I will never forget it, though.


ccr in MA said…
Hooray and congratulations!
Kimos said…
Thanks for posting all of this, Barb. We're getting ready for Geo to enter that world and I'm so frightened. His is liver that has metastisized to his bones. Hope we're ready.
Kimos said…
On the more positive note - and what I THOUGHT I was going to write the first time, when we were at TX oncology, a woman was there who had gotten her final all clear. The staff rang all kinds of bells and everyone in the waiting room cheered and cheered. It was so uplifting.
Becky M said…
I was SO happy to read this! Congratulations!! You're a warrior. ❤️
tanita✿davis said…
Whew! Congratulations. I have another friend just beginning stage 1 of all of this, and will definitely share... and remind her to moisturize, esp. bc browning from the inside out is giving me shivers. Thank you for saying it is hard, and then showing us how it's done anyway.

Cheers to you!!♥
Lomagirl said…
That's wonderful, wonderful news. Hurray!
Unknown said…
You read euphoric which makes me smile with delight! Well done for getting through it all. I love the forward motion of your life right now. Glide on dear one :-)
psam ordener said…
I a so glad for you. May you never have to deal with this again. Wear your tiara often to remind you that you are strong - you are invincible - you are WOMAN!
Brian P said…
Congratulations and blessings to you dear friend. I/we'll continue to pray for you as you heal and move on to the next adventure
Rosie C said…
Sorry for this late response!

Congrats Barb!
Love and more love,