Hi there #teamklb,
I have completed 24 of 25 days of radiation so far. I am 96% percent done and will finish tomorrow 3/16. I'm super excited to be finished with this final cancer killing step. First: poison, second: slash, and last: burn (thanks Lilani for that apt description). For the past week and a half, my skin has been IRRITATED. The physical radiation burn has my skin red and hot (no surprise there) and my underarm is really angry. No shaving for a little while, so I'll be a bit stinky :-(.
My left breast (no cancer, no radiation in that breast) had a small red dot on it two weeks ago. I'm hyper vigilant now, so when it was still there the next morning, I called my plastic surgeon. They had me come in that day just to check. He said to me, "was it your bra?" I almost laughed. First, I don't need to wear a bra, so why would I? For the first time in about 20 years I haven't needed a bra, so I'm NOT wearing a bra. Second, I'm going through radiation and therefore I'm avoiding all things that would irritate my skin any further. Third, I would have thought of that, I'm not your average idiot patient. The surgeon said it would be extremely unlikely for cancer to regrow in the skin of the non-cancer breast. He said to watch it and he would check on it during my regularly scheduled post radiation appointment at the end of the month. He asked for my surgeon to be available at that time as well in case they need to biopsy it (not an exciting prospect, as the initial biopsy was one of the more painful part of this whole cancer bullshit). He also suggested that I have my radiation oncologist look at it during our weekly appointment. He looked at it this week and thought it was nothing to be concerned about (it was almost gone by the time I saw him). So it appears it was just a skin lesion. Phew.
There was a woman in my Living Strong Living Well class that just recently lost her battle to lymphoma. On our first session we simply went around the room and introduced ourselves. I thought, I'm good, I'm not going to cry when say my name, my kind of cancer, and what I value about myself. I was good. Until Paulina spoke. She was fairly young, probably near 40. She said that she had lymphoma and was looking for a bone marrow transplant, but wasn't having any luck finding someone. That's when I remembered that I was lucky to have had Breast Cancer (sounds weird, I know) and that's when it got me. She continued talking and mentioned that she used to be Zumba instructor. That really got me. When I was diagnosed, most people mentioned something about the fact that they couldn't believe I had gotten Cancer because I was so healthy. Clearly Paulina was a really healthy and active person too. Cancer doesn't discriminate. Then it was my turn and of course, the composure that I had, was gone. I quickly took my turn and through a choked up voice said that I valued my positive attitude (...irony...). We didn't see Paulina too much through the weeks of the living strong living well classes. But she was undergoing treatment still, so people have missed classes here and there. I didn't think too much of it. Then on Monday, our trainers informed us of her passing, and said it was a few weeks prior. That was the last time that I remember seeing her, was a few weeks ago. It hit me harder than expected, since I really didn't know her. That night I made a donation in her name to the leukemia and lymphoma society. It got me thinking, when she signed up for this class, I'm sure she didn't know that she would be dying part way through the class. I'm sure that, like me, she thought that this would be a good way to regain the strength that she lost during cancer treatment. I can't imagine what those last week were like for her and her family. And although I don't know her family, I'm sending healing thoughts and love their way.
This has also got me thinking about those first dark days after my diagnosis. Before I knew exactly what I was dealing with (stage, whether it had spread, how long I had to live, etc.) I had decided in my mind what I would do if the news wasn't so great (lucky for me I got significantly better news). Many of you know of my goal to see all fifty states before I turn fifty. Well, I decided that if I was going to die soon, I was going to sell off all my stocks and cash in my investments, and Jim and I were going to road trip across the country so that I could see all fifty states before I died. Obviously we didn't need take that plan of action. I'm very thankful for that.
I've been back to work for the past three weeks now, still working 50% (from 7:45-11:30 every day). It has been, well, a lot of things. 1) Great. I've enjoyed working again and I like my class a lot. It was supposed to be a year a challenging behaviors, but some of those kids have moved. Not going to lie: super stoked about that. I like staying busy and teaching and so that part has been really great. 2) Exhausting. I go straight from work to radiation and then come home and nearly always take a nap or rest. In hindsight, I probably should have stayed out through radiation (Jim is enjoying telling me that he told me so). My Breast Cancer friend, Liz, says that's it's kind of strange because even though it doesn't seem like you're doing much to your body when you are going through radiation, you really are. Liz is very wise. 3) Very strange. It's kind of like I've been in a time warp for the past 8 1/2 months. I know the world carried on without me, but no place is it more apparent than at work. In some cases, like the garden club, it just continued right along (yay!). In other cases, like volleyball, it wasn't going to happen if I didn't come back right at this time. No blame or judgement, it's just an observation and a twilight zone kind of feeling. All these things that happened while I wasn't around and normally I am around for all of it, it just feels strange. 4) Challenging. While my long term sub did the best he could, and I appreciate him very much, he had to start the year off for me without knowing how I normally do things. In a more perfect world, a long term sub takes over the year for you when you already have your procedures and routines in place. Then the kids can help out by letting him or her know how you do things and the structures are already in place. So having to reteach all of this and sort of undo things is frustrating because I would like to be teaching. 5) Appreciated. Everyone has been so kind and caring in welcoming me back. My Braly family really is the best.
I'm still going to my Nutrition school and in the past few classes, cancer has been covered. This has me thinking about the causes of my cancer even more. Here are my main thoughts: Obviously the BRCA1 mutation puts me at a huge risk for Breast Cancer. The gene is on my fathers side of the family (he was one of 11 and there are tons of cousins, the exact number I'm not sure of). I'm the youngest grandchild on that side, so for me to be the first person to find that gene, makes me think that other lifestyle factors caused the cancer to happen so early in my life. From 8/2013-12/2013 I was taking Hormone Replacement Therapy. (Backstory: my migraines happen much more frequently during my menstrual cycle, like everyday, so they are clearly tied to the fluctuations in my hormones, so my neurologist had me wearing a hormone patch during the week of my period for that time frame). The estrogen in the patch, estradiol, is linked to Breast cancer (straight from my lectures in school). Even though my cancer was hormone negative, I believe there is still a link. I was also on the birth control pill for the better part of a decade. One in eight women get breast cancer in our society and how many of them have been on birth control for lengthy periods of time? If I were to have a daughter, I would not want her to take birth control ever. Wrap it up. I know, it feels different, but so does cancer. My point being that prescriptions have side effects and the FDA isn't looking out for us. Big pharma creates a drug and then designs a study to prove its effectiveness and safety to submit to the FDA. Does that seem backwards to anyone else? I sure hope so. Moving along. Antibiotics. How many courses of antibiotics have you been on in your lifetime? If you're like me, it's more than you can count. If you're like my friend Sarah, it is one time, in her wholelife. (That really got me questioning the amount of antibiotics that I've been on.) I've been on them at least once or twice per year since I was about 18. Also, when I was 17ish I went to my dermatologist for acne. She put me on amoxicillin. I was on it for well over a year, but I think it was more than two years. I literally wiped out the colony of bacteria in my digestive system. That colony of bacteria is your first line of defense for everything. I'm not saying antibiotics caused my cancer, but I do think they contributed to my body's inability to fight the cancer. Obviously, these are my opinions and I'm not a doctor. Duh. But my point is that I think western medicine and doctors played a large role in my cancer. If I could go back and change my actions to avoid getting cancer, I would do it in a heartbeat. I can't do that, but maybe I can influence you to think twice before doing some of these things too. [steps off soapbox]
Since my birthday is on Wednesday and I finish cancer treatment on Monday, I will be in a very celebratory mood this week. Just nine months ago, this is a birthday that I wasn't sure I would get to celebrate. I'm pretty stoked that I get a thirty-second year of life.
Feel free to wear pink tomorrow on the last day of radiation.