Things went back to normal-ish quickly, and my strength and energy came back as much as it had been before. I.e. I was not an Olympian, but ‘ok’. Ate too much and drank too much wine. Business as usual.
In early November, I got a reminder that I hadn’t finished the business of ending my pesky cancer journey when a letter from the hospital arrived. At my surgeon’s recommendation, although I could have further treatment through my private health care, he said that the best Oncology department was via the NHS at Southend hospital. Who am I to argue with the man who took the lump away and told me the shit hadn’t spread?!
The next piece of treatment was to be fifteen sessions of radiotherapy, right through the Christmas period and new year period.
I didn’t know much at all about radiotherapy, but what I DID know is that it wasn’t chemotherapy. Like a lot of people, I’m certain, the word ‘chemotherapy’ conjures up many images and thoughts. For me, it was all about the loss of my hair. I can recall, clearly, thinking about it in the office when Mr S told me I *might* need chemo. ALL I could think and care about was being bald.
Or rather, NOT being bald.
I can honestly say that at that point, I didn’t give a shit about cancer, the possibilities, the threat. You can’t take it all in when you’re given that much information. Or at least, I couldn’t! My brain tried to shield me by not allowing really serious thoughts to flood in. It then, simultaneously, tried to hurt me by focussing on why I shouldn’t and couldn’t possibly be bald.
The reasons my brain threw at me in an instant, were:
- Your nose is quite big now and that’s perfectly fine. Without hair, it’ll look gargantuan. Like an Empire State Building plonked on your face.
- The last time you tried on a beret, your nose looked colossal
- You’ve got a bumpy, lumpy head now and can feel the bumps through your hair. How do you think they’ll look uncovered? Will the bumps look like the craters on the moon?
- Your skin is pasty white anyway, how is the head going to be? Can anything be whiter than your legs?
- Your ears look standard now, will you be a ‘trophy head’ without hair?
- I think that was most of them, but it was only one or two seconds. Nice going, Kate-brain.
So, that’s why, although I knew eff all about radiotherapy, I was glad it was that rather than chemo. Very, very shallow and not at all ‘big-picture’ of me, but I’d be willing to bet that’s what a lot of people think when faced with the possibility of chemo.
Of COURSE, saving your life is more important and you shouldn’t give a shit about losing stuff that grows pretty quickly? But you do.
My first appointment arrived and, as usual, I misjudged the time it would take me to get there AND the amount of time and profanity it would take me to find a space in the car park. Luckily, I had allowed myself a serious amount of contingency, so I could sit in the waiting room, reading my book and calming my breathing and monkey brain.
That contingency was now out of the window, and I was practically running through the hospital. Not sure why I was bothered as one is never seen at the ACTUAL time of the appointment, but hey, I was brought up to *try* and be polite at least.
I showed the receptionist my letter, and she pointed in the general direction of some changing cubicles and told me to put on a gown and keep my clothes in a net basket.
The gowns were like the typical hospital attire, but did up at the front rather than leaving a gaping wind tunnel ‘area’ at the back. I realised that I hadn’t asked about taking my bra off, but thinking logically (I don’t often) about the area that they were likely to be focussing on, I decided to whip that off too. Kept on the knickers. Took the jeans and shoes and socks off.
When I summoned, although I wasn’t scared, the adrenaline was pumping ferociously, and I was incredibly nervous of the unknown. The two women and one man in the area with the huge laser-looking thing on the ceiling turned and stared at me. In my opinion, for longer than was necessary.
It was apparent that they were expecting me to do something.
As it was my first time anywhere near this sort of thing, I stayed rooted to the spot. In silence. They caved first, and one of the ladies said, “Aren’t you going to get up onto the table?”. I replied that this was my first appointment and their demeanours changed instantly and became a lot more caring. I have to say that they were lovely, but as the newbie, coming into that room, with three people staring at me, expecting me to know something, I was in a pretty stressed place internally. Outwardly, I was as cool as fuck, obviously. Ha!
They asked me to jump up on the bed and told me to undo the top of the gown. I did so and exposed both of the girls to the world. They checked my notes, confirmed it was the right boob that had been all naughty and then promptly covered up the left one without saying a word. They also told me that I didn’t need to take my jeans off next time.
It took quite a while setting up the machine in the right position with the right coordinates and presumably the strength and I’m obviously pleased accuracy was the order of the day. Once they’d completed that, they left the room to the viewing gallery. I was instructed to hold my breath several times as clicking noises emanated from the Death Star above me and they came back in, said we were done and that I could go. Just like that.
I got back to the car, sat there and yep, you guessed it, had a little cry. Not sure why at this point. Maybe I’d gotten so used to doing that after any hospital visits that I was working on muscle memory. Weird.
By the time I got home a chunk of about 2.5 hours had gone for what was a 2-minute ’thing’. But hey, it was fixing me, and I wasn’t ‘at work’, but working from home around the appointments. I reality, I was just staying in touch via email as my head wasn’t really in the game to be chatting to people about mundane rubbish.
I’d read on forums that there could be harsh side effects from radiotherapy depending on the area affected and so was curious to see if I could see anything different about it (other than the newish, but well healing scars). There wasn’t. I was almost disappointed!
After that first appointment, I got into a bit of a routine, but sadly not a clockwork one where I could do other stuff during the day as the appointments were between 10.15 and 13.00 or so each day. Depending on traffic, I couldn’t plan too much that was during the day. What amazed me during the process was how tired I became. How can you be tired from driving somewhere, parking, doing something for two-three minutes and then driving home? That was one of the effects of the radio for me.
Also, after nine days, I began to appreciate that my boob was, in fact, being cooked from the inside. I noticed that it was incredibly hot to the touch too. I’d read that some women had had their skin blister and peel and couldn’t see evidence of that and hoped that with six days remaining, I wouldn’t be as unlucky.
I wasn’t. It was okay. Just bright red and boiling for a couple of weeks after the sessions ended. Great fun. Less fun was doing this over the Christmas and new year period, but I did get New Year’s day off 🙂
My Right Boob. Really should have been a film about it. Bet it would have won Oscars too. Maybe not as good at painting as Daniel Day Lewis’s foot, but hey, far better looking.