When my doctor told me I had cancer, I was shocked and terrified to the point of paralysis. I was only 66 at the time, and up to that point, I had lived a healthy life. My husband and I were enjoying an active lifestyle in retirement, working out, traveling, and watching our grandkids grow up.
And then, out of the blue, a routine mammogram revealed that I had breast cancer—putting all that at risk. I hadn’t even experienced any symptoms. And to make the emotional impact even harder, my best friend was battling cancer at that time…a battle she lost, sadly.
Hearing the word cancer in the same sentence with my own name was just shocking. Honestly, I was numb with a strong fear of the unknown while I also tried to stay positive.
I then remembered that a friend of mine who grew up in my old neighborhood was now a cancer researcher at a Boston hospital, so I reached out to her. That same day, I received a return phone call from a nurse practitioner at the hospital. She described my cancer in a level of detail I hadn’t heard yet. She was honest and comforting, and told me my cancer was treatable, that I would need a lumpectomy and radiation therapy, and that I would be fine.
Those words changed everything. I grabbed onto them, and they gave me strength. I will admit I was wide-eyed and terrified the first time I went to the hospital for my treatment plan consultation. Thankfully, once I met my treatment team every single person who interacted with me was warm, positive, personable, and knowledgeable. I was able to relax as I knew I had made the best decision for myself and put myself in my surgeon’s and radiation oncologist’s hands.
I met with my radiation oncologist a few weeks after surgery. I knew this was the next stage of my treatment plan and would be an added layer of assurance to complete my recovery. Like all the physicians I interacted with, my radiation oncologist was calming, empathic, confident and knowledgeable. She explained the differences between the traditional 6-week treatment plan and the revised 3-week plan. After careful consideration I felt comfortable with the 3-week plan. The experience of getting my target tattoo was painless as was the actual treatment. My only responsibility was to lie still and at one specific point to hold my breath since the treatment was going over my heart. Although my skin has a good amount of previous sun damage, I suffered little discomfort. The first week I was symptomatic free. By week two I developed what I would describe as a prickly heat rash which intensified as the treatment continued. It was itchy, hot, and uncomfortable, but with the help of Calendula cream and knowing that this was a means to a better outcome, overall it was a piece of cake. The rash subsided quickly once treatment ended. I hope to never need treatment again but if I do it will be without fear of radiation.
Today, after surgery and radiation therapy, I am cancer-free! Cancer is life-altering in every possible way. I now have a new way of being in the world that is not about the terror of cancer, but about the care and comfort of my experience from my doctors and treatment team.