Nine months into cancer treatments, almost exactly eight months since my diagnosis on December 15, 2010, my husband and I are finally free of disrupted schedules.
I finished 20 radiation treatments (total of 36 centigrays) on Wednesday to the entire left chest area, from armpit to collarbone and below the breast. Originally 28 were recommended (50.4 centigrays). My skin started out as stark white, except above the bathing suit line. Then with each zap of treatment, it got pinker and pinker and pinker in a distinct trapezoid shape, then red and rashy. I felt burned. Every shirt and top felt too tight. My skin was smothered, day and night, in Aquaphor and a radiation cream called Miaderm.
I must have a lower pain tolerance than I previously imagined, because the concept of receiving even one more treatment, after my skin had become sensitive to the touch and turned a flaming red, was unbearable. It struck me, as I drove in on Thursday, that the treatment offered to me was voluntarily accepted. I don't have to take it. I could just walk out and quit right then and there. And I hate to justify quitting. I finished the NY Marathon in 1999 with a quad muscle that tore in the 11th mile because I knew that quitting would cause me too much shame. Dealing with pain to reach a goal builds character and, at least in running races, it prevents you from having to do it twice.
But last Thursday, I did it and quit. I drove to Sloan Kettering, talked to the nurse, teared up, and told her I was afraid of more treatments. She didn't talk me into it or out of it, and didn't really say much of anything, except to remind me that she had warned me that the skin would burn. Yet the fact that she warned me a month ago had nothing to do with how I felt last Thursday. So I followed my conviction, threw in the towel, and I left. I know that I may have reduced my risk somewhat by the radiation but did not completely eliminate the risk. I reasoned that I was in the "grey area" to begin with; one oncologist recommended radiation to reduce my risk of recurrence to the chest wall, and the other said there wasn't enough medical evidence that it was necessary for someone in my shoes.
This probably would not have been an action I would have taken seven or eight months ago, when we were nervous and scared of the consequences of the diagnosis and were ready to do anything. I have been aggressive: bilateral mastectomy, reconstruction, the more aggressive of the chemotherapy treatments offered to me, 5-years of Arimidex, and radiation. But now, after having gone through so many different treatments that set my health back, my patience for being a patient has reached its limit. I have done a lot to prevent a recurrence, and I don't think it's a sign of weakness to not do absolutely everything. Especially when it hurts that much.
So that's where I'm at in terms of treatment. Released from treatment, with my 5-year supply of Arimidex. It's been an interesting 9 months. Hopefully I'll be looking back on this in 45 or 50 years and realizing it was a long time ago and hopefully I will realize that we (my husband and I) made the right treatment decisions.
Thanks for reading.