Chapter 36: Thankful for turkey, thirty three, and #takethatbenedict

It’s been awhile, and a LOT has happened in 2 months. I kept wanting to write but couldn’t quite find the right timing to do so.

I think today is about as great a day to update as any. It’s Thanksgiving Day and just so happens to be my 33rd birthday as well. What a great year for my birthday to fall on Thanksgiving, right? The last time it was on Thanksgiving was 5 years ago and WOW, was life very different for me then.

32 was a pretty remarkable year, perhaps the best year yet. And I believe I predicted that a year ago in my birthday post, however I’m not sure I realized how remarkable it would truly be.

At that point I was already on the path to creating the most vividly amazing new life, and I am not sure I could have imagined how vivid it would be. There were super super hard and dark times, but those only served to make the bright times even more bright. Like total instagram-Clarendon-or-super saturated-filter bright. Or perhaps an Amaro filter–super bright and bluish in the middle, and dark along the edges…but you can’t really appreciate the bright blue middle without the dark edges. Can you tell I love Instagram, and can you tell which filters I like the best?

But seriously–wow. I have learned on an entirely unforeseen level what love, compassion, patience, kindness, courage, fear, sadness, pain, perseverance, and hope look and feel like.

It’s hard for me to retell the story of everything I’ve been through because it has been so damn convoluted that I inevitably leave out the good, juicy parts from time to time. I always seem to forget parts like “that one time I had titanium rods in my chest that I actually managed to break.” Those rods served a very important purpose for all of 2.5 months, but they are now a distant memory. As is the fear, worry, and ability to tell myself the crunchy, clunking sound in my chest was anything but a broken rod. 

I wrapped up 28 radiation treatments on November 8-Election day-and it is totally true that my final treatment was somewhat overshadowed by the drama that went on in this country that day and night. Despite that, I did my best to stay focused on what was undeniably the most positive thing to happen in this country that day. I got a diploma from the Northside Radiation Oncology department and no–they did not actually have a bell for me to ring. A woman who had been undergoing radiation for breast cancer alongside me finished at the same time as me, and she was in tears as we hugged and celebrated together. There really is nothing like the unspoken bond you have with other cancer patients. You don’t even have to talk to each other. Everyone has a different story, diagnosis, treatment plan, and prognosis, but there is a silent, beautiful spirit of empathy and “I totally get it” that radiates (pun not intended) between patients at the cancer center.

Radiation itself was totally not a big deal aside from the nuisance of having to go to the hospital every stinking day. But at the same time, the time I was there was kind of peaceful. It was a guaranteed 30 minutes of no phone, no interaction with anyone other than the radiation therapists and George, the radiation machine (I did decide on that name), and I had to be so utterly still during that time that I could pretty much hear my heart beat. I found myself constantly marveling at the technology, wanting to ask the radiation therapists about 50 million questions about “the way it works.” I found myself getting used to the machine, learning its “ways”, and in turn I felt like its sophisticated monitoring system also got to “know” me. I would curse the machine when it would cut off mid-treatment or be “too picky” about how I was (or wasn’t) holding my breath. If my chest wasn’t held to a certain size (IE it was too big or it was too small), the machine would stall, then sometimes cut off. There’s safety in knowing that it wasn’t delivering harmful radiation to tissues that didn’t deserve it and was able to detect changes down to the nanometer in size, but I still always took it a little personally when it would cut off.


(Flashback to my previous post about breath holding during treatment and also–sidebar –the version of myself from 5 years ago finds that statement incredibly ironic and humorous).

Being at the Cancer Center also earned me lots of great people watching and meeting. I got to know the other women with whom I would wait in the waiting room. Some were more sad, more nervous, or more at peace than others. For some this was definitely not their first radiation rodeo. One older woman offered some great advice on which particular skin cream to use to protect from skin breakdown. The nurses were the, so compassionate and patient. Many were definitely the “bend the rules because it’s the kind thing to do” (totally love that). One of the nurses was shopping for a dress to wear to her son’s wedding and took my very millennial advice to shop from Rent the Runway. Dr. Williams always asked if everyone was being nice to me, and I’m still not sure if he asked every patient that or if it was just me given the rocky start I had to radiation in the first place.

All in all, other than a little mild “sunkissed” skin, I didn’t suffer any ill side effects. They had me on a little bit of medication to prevent candida esophagitis (my favorite condition ever), and I will continue that for a few more weeks. They say it takes up to 6 weeks (sometimes longer) to get out of the woods for present or potential side effects.

Soooo….from here I guess I’ll address the questions that are on everyone’s minds:

  1. Did your hair fall out with radiation? Nope, generally speaking for most people, radiation does not make anyone’s hair fall out.
  2. Were you really tired? Not really. My energy level was good throughout treatment. About mid-way through I was finding myself totally pooped by bedtime, but I had also just gotten through a bout of a mild virus or flu (unrelated to radiation). So all in all it was pretty good!
  3. So are you cancer free?  I don’t know yet. We all sure hope so!
  4. What’s next? I get another CT scan on December 5 and see Dr. D’Amato (my oncologist) on December 6. I see the vascular surgeon on December 9 to check in on my blood clot and (*FINGERS CROSSED*) see if I can get off of the blood thinner I have been on since May.
  5. What did you do to celebrate the end of treatment? Have a nice date night with Daniel and we got a new car. Yay for Lizzy the Nissan Leaf!
  6. Are you going to have a crazy huge party? Sure why not? I wouldn’t mind a nice cocktail here or there on occasion, though I do have to get off the antifungal meds and the blood thinner before I can do that. Just a few more hurdles.
  7. What are you doing with all of your new freedom? Life isn’t much different. I’m doing my best to NOT fill up my time and just sit back and enjoy the freedom and treatment-free life as much as I can. It’s really been over 2 years of medical drama, after all.
  8. Are you back to work? I have been inching back to work for a while now and it is going very well, but I’m also taking some time to enjoy the fun life of freedom!

Speaking of freedom Daniel and I are busy planning an exciting trip to New York next week. I’m teaching in a course on women’s wellness/female athletes on Saturday the 3rd, and we are spending a few extra days in the city to have fun. I’m SO pumped! It’ll be my first trip since January.

But even more exciting than that is the big trip we’re planning for late winter to NEW ZEALAND and FIJI! I can’t even contain myself.

So that’s about it. I am, without a doubt, more than grateful than I ever could have imagined for this entire experience. It may sound crazy, but the gifts it has brought me have far outweighed the pain, sacrifices, and ALLLLLLLLLL of the times I’ve had to patiently (and sometimes not so patiently) wait for answers or treatments to come. It has all be totally worth it.

So here’s to 33, Thanksgiving, and #takethatbenedict. Stay tuned for scan results and updates!