Saturday, August 3, 2019. A couple weeks ago I messaged Dr. Rugo and asked how soon after chemo ended before it would be okay to have caffeine, a beer and a pedicure. I was so happy to get the green light for all three with a word of caution about too much beer.
A year ago, I could have never imagined the me that sits here today. The me who would be so excited to have a cup of coffee. At that time I was contemplating retirement and imagining the things I would do in 2019 with all my free time.
If you had told me that instead I’d be on the other side of a cancer diagnosis, having endured too many chemo treatments, biopsies, sonograms, MRIs and various other tests;
That I would need a port and I would have surgery that would leave me with 5 fewer lymph nodes and a long scar under my right arm;
That I would get down to 84 pounds and lose all my hair not once, but twice;
Well…come on. Really? No way.
Yet here I sit, a different person than the one I was. This experience has changed me, as I knew it would. How could it not? And once again I am at a crossroads.
On Monday Steve and I met with a radiation oncologist Dr. Yang and her team for a consultation. Both Dr. Rugo and Dr. Ewing were recommending radiation. I don’t want to do radiation, but I felt I owed it to myself to at least listen to what they had to say.
The recommendation was for 25 treatments—5 days a week for 5 weeks. My Monday appointments would be later in the day to accommodate my 3-hour drive. I would stay in San Francisco Tuesday through Thursday. Friday appointments would be in the morning to accommodate my 3-hour drive home for the weekend. I would stay in UCSF housing near Golden Gate Park and take a shuttle to the hospital each day. The housing is not free, but rather pay what you can afford.
The radiation would likely begin the week of August 12. They gave me a week to make up my mind.
Pros. The chance of a recurrence in the next 2 to 5 years drops by 20% for cancer patients who have radiation after surgery.
Cons. There are quite a few.
- First, they did not have any data on the chance of a recurrence for patients who had chemo and radiation after surgery.
- The radiation would be under my right arm and in the clavicle area, and it would slightly overlap the area I had radiated in 1999 and 2000 (they try never to radiate the same place twice).
- It would also radiate the edge of my lung which likely had radiation exposure 19 years ago—you see where I’m going with this.
- There is an increased risk of lymphedema.
- There is a nerve that runs down the entire length of your arm from the clavicle that if damaged could cause paralysis (so if that area was radiated 19 years ago, they could not radiate it again).
- Finally, it’s possible there are no cancer cells in either of those areas and they would simply be radiating healthy tissue.
A decision. My immune system feels so compromised, it seems impossible to imagine enduring five weeks of radiation bombarding my worn out and tired little body. Physically and emotionally, I’m exhausted. I need a good amount of time to recover. Not like when I was 47 and did a 60-mile fundraising walk less than 4 months after my treatments ended. I need hair, to gain weight and a sense of normalcy. I need to relax and reconnect with my friends. This journey has been an isolating experience.
So. I’m not going to do it. I’m going to let the healing begin and discover what enjoying retirement feels like.
Just trust yourself, and then you will know how to live. —Johann Wolfgang von Goethe