Dealing with the cancer I had, is a four stage process.
Stage 1: surgery. Done!
Stage 2: Four rounds of chemotherapy. Done!
Stage 3: Fifteen zaps of radiation.
Stage 4: Ten years (yes, you read that right) of hormone treatment.
If you don't count the hormone treatment, I'm two thirds of the way through, with the worst of it over with. If you do count the hormone treatment... I'm not sure! I'm starting that in the next week or so, and I'm feeling a bit apprehensive about it. The oncologists are fairly blase about it, but I've heard some fairly grim accounts about the side-effects from women who have been on it... so we shall see.
The most immediate side-effect will be that it will keep me in menopause, which the chemotherapy started. It is what it is, and I'd rather go through an early and chemically-induced menopause than die of cancer, but I didn't like using the pill because I didn't like the idea of faffing about with my hormones; and I really don't like the idea of being on this stuff for 10yrs. I'm sick of hot flushes already, and it's only been a few weeks! Finding something that can help with menopause side-effects is going to be tricky, because most treatments for menopause issues involve either oestrogen or progesterone. As these are the hormones that were feeding the cancer I had, and that the hormone treatment is suppressing, putting them back into my body is a very bad idea! Unfortunately that leaves me with... pretty much nothing to help. I talked to the oncologist about it, and she suggested using a fan. I'm thinking that going by her empathy levels, she hasn't been through it yet!
Radiation is starting on 19 December. Fabulous timing, right?! The radiation oncologist (the shortened version of which is 'rad onc'... I told him he needed a better nickname.) wanted me to start treatment in early December, but I told him I wasn't available until 19 December. He looked a little surprised about this and asked why, so I told him that I have four kids (he seemed quite horrified at the thought of so many children), I've missed half a year of their school events, and I'm NOT missing the last few weeks of prize-givings etc for radiation! He mumbled a bit and did a few calculations, and agreed that I could wait till then. I then mentioned that Christmas was at the end of that week, and with holidays and things they would probably be very busy, and wouldn't it be easier for everyone if I just started after the new year? He was very decisive about the fact that no, that would not be a good idea at all, that waiting till the new year was pushing the timing out to far, and radiation WOULD be starting on 19 December.
Sigh... oh well, I tried!
So what does all of that mean? I'm getting 15 zaps of radiation. It happens in Palmerston North, and I have the option of either staying there, or traveling there and back each day (a group of my friends have told me they're happy to be my taxi if and when I require it). Radiation happens every day, apart from weekends and statutory holidays - they said that's to give my body a chance to recover, but I think it's at least partly because they want the time off! - so it's going to take about four weeks. The actual treatment should only take about 15 minutes each time, and doesn't hurt. Oh, and it doesn't involve needles, yay!
I have been told to expect skin burning - like a bad sunburn - and tiredness that will last for weeks after radiation is finished. But because everyone reacts differently, there's no knowing beforehand whether I'll just get slight burning, or whether my skin will break down and I'll need district nurses to change dressings etc (this was mentioned as a possibility), and whether I'll just feel a bit tired for a few weeks, or be completely exhausted for months (also mentioned as a possibility!). And then there's the fact that they try to angle the radiation so it won't hit my lungs or heart, but there's a chance that they might be affected too...
So yeah. Radiation is not like chemotherapy, but I'm also aware that it may not be a walk in the park.
Oh, and did I mention that after having a mastectomy, I found lying on a table naked from the waist up with my arms above my head, with medical staff watching through a glass window while other medical staff talked above me, drew on me, tattooed me and took photographs of the end result (all so they can make sure that the radiation happens in the exact same place, every time) to be actually quite traumatic?
It didn't hurt much, physically... but I'm not looking forward to doing radiation.