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