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The Radiation Decision, The Long Road, The Badge of Honor

The Radiation Decision, The Long Road, The Badge of Honor

Living with Triple-Negative Breast Cancer
(#15 in a series)

It’s been four weeks since my last dose of chemotherapy and things are changing for the better. I’m beginning to enjoy the taste of food, just in time for those glorious summer veggies and fruits! I’m singing along with the music again, in my usual off-key style, a sure sign that my energy is increasing. With the chemo port now removed, it is the end of an era, one which I hope never to revisit.

Surgery is over; chemotherapy is over; the battle wages on. Phase III is about to be put into action. The radiation decision was not an easy one. Who the heck wants radiation? I certainly don’t. Unfortunately, the positioning and pathology of my tumor is cause for great concern. It is the consensus of my medical team that radiation is an important part of the overall plan to prevent recurrence or spread of the stage two triple-negative breast cancer.

As I head off into what I hope is the final phase of treatment, I understand the potential risks as well as the potential reward. I would never presume to tell anyone else what treatment they should choose. All cancers are not the same, and we each come with our own health history and personal stories that influence our decisions.

About Radiation Therapy
From the National Cancer Institute: Radiation therapy uses high-energy radiation to shrink tumors and kill cancer cells… The radiation may be delivered by a machine outside the body (external-beam radiation therapy), or it may come from radioactive material placed in the body near cancer cells (internal radiation therapy, also called brachytherapy)… About half of all cancer patients receive some type of radiation therapy sometime during the course of their treatment.

Radiation therapy kills cancer cells by damaging their DNA… Cancer cells whose DNA is damaged beyond repair stop dividing or die. When the damaged cells die, they are broken down and eliminated by the body’s natural processes.

The day I learned I had this aggressive form of cancer, my doctor said it was going to be a long, hard road. Was that ever an understatement! But the thing is, I feel stronger today than I did then. I’ve learned that a person can thrive even while battered by disease as well as its treatment. I’ve realized that breast or no breast, luxurious hair or bald scalp, my lifeblood comes from within, not from without. My spirit is none the worse for wear. I’ll always have that, no matter what the future holds.

I face the next five weeks of radiation therapy with a healthy dose of respect for the process, eager to hear another doctor say, “see you in six months.”

For those who have called me brave or said that my scars are a badge of honor, I respectfully disagree. I’m not so brave. To me, bravery is putting your own best interests aside for someone else or for the greater good. I’ve done neither. I didn’t volunteer for anything — I was drafted — and I’m just doing what I have to do. There are so many who carry much greater burdens than my own. But I have learned that I’m a lot stronger of will and of spirit than I thought, and that there is no shortage of supportive and caring people in this world.

If there is a badge of honor to be handed out, it should go to the nurses on the front lines of patient care day after day. In fact, I’ll hand out that badge myself — in an upcoming post.

Living with Triple-Negative Breast Cancer Series
#1 The Lump in my Breast: Meeting the Enemy
#2 Most Breast Lumps are Non-Cancerous: Would mine be?
#3 The Mammogram, the Ultrasound, and ‘the Look’
#4 The Biopsy and Breast Cancer Confirmation
#5 A New Twist: It’s Triple-Negative Breast Cancer
#6 Before the Mastectomy: Planning for the Future
#7 Mastectomy Day: What it’s like to lose a breast
#8 After the Mastectomy: Unveiling and Staging
#9 10 Odd Things to Say to Someone with Breast Cancer
#10 Cancer Battle Plan Phase 2: Chemotherapy
#11 5 Things I Love About my Very Expensive Health Insurance
#12 10 Simple Gestures of Kindness with Healing Power
#13 Half a Year on Chemotherapy and Taking Nothing for Granted
#14 Breast Cancer Treatment: Weighing Reward and Risk

Access all posts in the Living with Triple-Negative Breast Cancer Series

Author’s Note: This is article is part of a series chronicling my first-hand patient perspective of life with Triple-Negative Breast Cancer. Without being overly self-indulgent, I hope to convey the raw emotion that comes with such a diagnosis… and the process of living with and beyond it. Entries appear in Care2 Causes and in Care2 Healthy & Green Living. Follow on Twitter @AnnPietrangelo

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20 comments

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5:41AM PDT on Jul 25, 2011

Thanks for the article.

7:44PM PDT on Jul 18, 2011

All I can say to everyone especially to Dewey F.- this is not an amputation of a limb. Breast cancer - any cancer is a scary nightmare. I am coming up on a 3 year BC survivor anniversary myself, and Dewey it was not a simple decision for Ann, myself or anyone to LOP off their breasts as you have so eloquently put it. Personally,I have been organic since I was twelve years old. I work out everyday. Take vitamins, the whole show, and wham at 49 years old- there was a lump. My mother passed away last Sept. from lung cancer at 85. My dad died of lymphoma at 70. My husband who has had NO cancer in his family is a prostate ca. survivor-radiation and all. Seriously, do you think there may be a PHYSICAL response to environmental factors that trigger GENES to mutate, to turn on the factory of proliferating cells? I don't want to know either, but it is a real fact Jack. Ann has given people a tiny view into her personal room where some days the blind is up and some days it is down. Either way, the light gets in.
You go GIRL!

2:14PM PDT on Jul 10, 2011

Ann: This has been a wonderful series, but this week is different - my best friend has just been diagnosed with Cancer. Although hers is not Breast Cancer, several of your articles are helpful to me in knowing what to expect - and knowing what to do.
Bless you as you can get back to "normalcy", but without ever taking things for granted, something we can all apply to our lives!

6:17AM PDT on Jul 9, 2011

Keep up the good work.

6:29PM PDT on Jul 8, 2011

Have really enjoyed this series. It has been very enlightening and informative. I hope the radiation works. Thank you for such insightful articles. I am sorry you are going through all this, but may be very helpful to someone in the future. Thank you and God Bless.

5:10PM PDT on Jul 8, 2011

I've always planned to kill myself upon diagnosis of anything whose treatment entails prolonged or severe discomfort. Life (especially under our current global regime) just ain't that valuable to me. But then i don't have a family, else i'd be doomed to whatever life threw at me in the name of being there for them. Don't envy folks in that position a bit. But then i don't envy kids a bit either so it's only right parents have their cross to bear.

3:08PM PDT on Jul 8, 2011

Thank you for sharing your journey. You are amazing and always in my thoughts and prayers.

10:19AM PDT on Jul 8, 2011

Thank you for sharing your journey with us Ann Pietrangelo. Your writing is inspiring and heart warming. You are going into your last stage of treatment and your life will then start anew. Good luck and God bless .....

9:35AM PDT on Jul 8, 2011

Christa; You know it and I know it but You need to spread your story as most People Don't Know It...
The media is run by big pharma and by Medical associations that do everything they can to make sure that no one Knows it...
They are winning as the Media is run by the people whoi make money from killing people with Chemo...
It is unfortunate but that is the way it is...
So Spread your story as I will spread mine...

9:00AM PDT on Jul 8, 2011

Dewey, you speak right from my heart, chemotherapy and radiation do more harm than good. It has been proven that cancer can be cured naturally. But the drug companies and doctors would be out of business, therefore they don't want to hear about natural healing. More than 10 years ago, I was scheduled for a biopsy for a lump in my breast. I did my own research and cancelled the operation. I went on a raw vegan diet with a lot of wheatgrass juice and have never felt better in my life, and yes, I am still a vegan I am 79 and have more energy than people half my age.

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