Saturday, February 16, 2008

Radiation: The end is near

Sorry for the spotty posting. Radiation has been kicking my butt, and I haven't felt like doing much of anything other than sleep. Fortunately, my last treatment is on Monday. I don't know about you, but I like my Elisa done medium-well. I now have a dark tan in my armpit, and a dusting of tiny blisters on my chest. Compared to other patients, my skin is doing great. One woman, who looked to be in her late 20's, told me that her incision had opened and was infected. I asked her how long it had been since surgery, expecting a relatively recent date. "In August," she said. She had sixteen cancerous lymph nodes, so they decided to give her a second blast of chemotherapy, before starting radiation. She looked drawn and frightened, her baldness covered by a bandana.

Late twenties sounds awfully young for breast cancer, but I have discovered that it's not that uncommon. Nia*, a woman who has her appointment right after mine, is only 33. We both had time after our treatments last week, and lingered in the waiting room. She overheard me saying to a nurse, somewhat bitterly, that HIV can be managed better than cancer. The nurse countered "well, we need give you a pep-talk, and then maybe you can feel more hopeful!" No, she's right, Nia said. She's an oncology nurse herself, and the daughter of a woman who died of breast cancer at 29. Her mother was diagnosed when she was 25, and had a metastatic recurrence barely a year after her mastectomy. Nia has two young daughters, both terrified that this could lie in their future. To make matters worse, her long-time boyfriend broke up with her two weeks earlier. "He stood by me through surgery and chemotherapy, so I couldn't believe it when he ended it." Her eyes filled up. "I'm so tired of people telling me to be brave. They don't have to go through this." We are both near the end of our treatment, and now the waiting begins. Waiting to prove a negative, to not have it come back.

Another patient, Barbara*, said to me "Every time I get a headache, I wonder-is it in my brain?" In a way, isn't it, already? The young woman wearing the bandana had the same facial expression one sees in photographs of war refugees: the fifty yard stare of deep trauma and hopelessness. I've been there, and will probably visit again. The only solution for me has been anger, a deep burning rage. Why do they have to wait until a bone breaks before diagnosing metastasis? Unacceptable. Why are young women getting breast cancer? Completely fucking unacceptable! Why isn't there a cure? WHY ISN'T THERE A MOTHERFUCKING CURE?!!

*Names changed

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