Shifting Gears – Treatment Mode to Recovery Mode

It’s almost two weeks since my final radiation zap. My skin looks less and less like a severe sunburn and more like I’ve spent a day in the sun but forgot to replenish my sunscreen. Pink, rather than an angry red.

As instructed, I still treat the skin the same as if I was getting radiation daily. Moisturizing lotion several times a day, plus no rubbing the skin with towels or any other abrasive material. I’ve also been drinking lots of water to stay hydrated. I was very lucky that I never got the dreaded itchy skin – which would have meant using the prescription corticosteroid cream. That cream thins the skin, so it’s a last resort. Apparently 90% of radiation patients get the itches, so I consider myself lucky that I have managed to avoid it. The skin is still quite sensitive, and it’s a bit tighter, so movement is slightly restricted. But, overall, I’m optimistic it will be back to normal within a couple of weeks.

Normal. Now there’s a concept that hasn’t been a daily part of my life for a few months. So much of 2015 was focused on things that were far from normal. Admittedly, I’ll be building a new normal going forward. I’m grateful to my gifted team of cancer specialists at the BC Cancer Agency for giving me the opportunity to do so. I’m looking forward to defining my new world. Running towards health, rather than running away from cancer.

Now I get to focus on recovery. I meet my medical oncologist this week to see what that path looks like. One guaranteed component is an aromatse inhibitor drug called Letrozole. Taking this drug daily for the next five years will help block estrogen-based tumours from forming, reducing my risk of recurrence by over 40%. It comes with its own set of side effects, so I’ll be discussing the benefits vs side effects of this drug with my oncologist.

Other things will likely include learning which foods have estrogen hormones – things like soy, flaxseed, tofu, black cohosh, milk thistle, dong quai, evening primrose and others – and making sure they are not in my diet. Alcohol is likely on the no go list, too, as an increasing number of studies show it is a cancer contributor for breast cancer patients.

We’ll see. All things in moderation. Some things – like soy – not at all. Onwards towards health!

ps – I just finished reading Furiously Happy. Loved this book! I gave it to a friend in early December for her birthday, and was so entranced by the dust jacket I got a copy for myself. I’d never heard of Jenny Lawson or her first book. It was only because the book was on a display near the front of the book store with a very weird cover that I saw it and bought it for my friend. I loved it. Birthday friend not so much. I found it hilarious. Birthday friend not so much.

This description from the dust jacket is what made me buy it, first as a gift and then for myself. Did I mention I loved it?

“Some people might think that being ‘furiously happy’ is just an excuse to be stupid and irresponsible and invite a herd of kangaroos over to your house without telling your husband first because you suspect he would say no since he’s never particularly liked kangaroos. And that would be ridiculous because no one would invite a herd of kangaroos into their house. Two is the limit. I speak from personal experience. My husband says that none is the new limit. I say he should have been clearer about that before I rented all those kangaroos.

“Most of my favorite people are dangerously fucked-up but you’d never guess because we’ve learned to bare it so honestly that it becomes the new normal. Like John Hughes wrote in The Breakfast Club, ‘We’re all pretty bizarre. Some of us are just better at hiding it.’ Except go back and cross out the word ‘hiding.'”

Furiously Happy is about “taking those moments when things are fine and making them amazing, because those moments are what make us who we are, and they’re the same moments we take into battle with us when our brains declare war on our very existence. It’s the difference between “surviving life” and “living life”.

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