Sometimes you just can’t explain it. I should be thrilled. I should be excited. I should be beaming from ear to ear. Instead, as I left Dana-Farber this morning, I just cried my eyes out.
Strangely enough, I felt just fine going in. It has become such a part of my daily routine. I wake up at 6:15, have a little something to eat and then shower. I don’t put any lotions or deodorant on because I’m going straight to radiation. I get dressed for work except bring my bra and necklace in my bag because I know I’m going to have to take them off as soon as I get to Dana-Farber, so what’s the point of putting them on? I walk out my door by 7:20 and pull into the Yawkey Center garage by 7:35. As a radiation oncology patient (who they know is normally in and out), I get to park myself in the valet area. I say hello to all the valets, go down a floor to P2, and walk through the very cool gene display. I say hello to the folks at the radiation oncology desk, scan my pink card to check myself in and head on in to change. I quickly swap my jacket and shirt for to hospital gowns: the first open in the back and then one over it open in the front, like a bath robe. I stash my stuff in a locker and typically by the time I close it, I’m called in.
The very friendly staff make small talk as I leave the top robe on a chair and go to the center of the room to lie down on the small metal table, covered in a white sheet. (Picture Frankenstein.) I slip my right arm out of the gown and pull it down to expose my right breast. A round pillow is put under my knees and I raise my hands back above my head, but with a slight bend at the elbows. I shift my chin up and angle my head to the left. I become dead weight then. There are people on either side of me chatting away, as they use the six tiny tattoos on my chest to align me exactly with the machine. They tug the sheet if they need to move me or push my body, but I am not to do anything. I freeze from that moment on. Once they have me where they want me, they leave me alone in the room with the music and the machine. Today it was soothing soft rock, love songs – I think because it was all women. It can be anything from classic rock to Michael Buble. One day, I left singing songs from Grease, the musical.
Along with the music of the moment, the giant machine whirs to life. Typically it will start on my left side so I have a perfect view of my right breast and the red beams in the reflection. For the first 10 or 15 appointments, I pretty much kept my eyes closed the entire time. Heck, it was embarrassing lying completely exposed on a hard table with your arms raised over your head, your scarred fake breast the center of attention and your muffin top pouring out over the top of your pants or skirt – especially with young, cute men on staff. And add to it that you’re not allowed to move at all the entire time. I was so nervous at first that I would have a jerk reaction – or that I wouldn’t be able to lie still in that exact position long enough. My heart would start beating so fast, and my breathing got heavier, I was afraid even that would mess it up! But it soon became relaxing and I looked forward to those few minutes alone in the room, music playing, the humming machine and me.
Lots of people gave me different advice about what to think about while I laid there:
- God healing me. I love that one, and would often at least start there.
- Nothing – clear my mind. I tried really hard to do that. Never lasted long.
- Focus on healing and forget work. Again, I really tried hard, but it was typically work that ruled my mind, even there.
What actually consumed my mind more and more each time was how to tell this story for others who will go through it. How to help make it easier for them. And how lucky I am.
Before I can think much more, the machine finishes its rotation, the whirring ends with a click, the doors open, and the friendly staff return. “All done – you can put your arms down now, Amy.” They lower the table, I cover myself back up, hop off, scurry to put the second robe back on and we wish each other good days. I go back to the changing area, finally put on my deodorant and then lotion up the now raw, red and even a bit blistering breast and underarm. I get dressed, touch-up my make-up, grab a bottle of water and wish the reception staff well. I go back to P1, pay my $5 to park (thank goodness it’s under an hour) and head off, typically arriving to work about 8:15.
Today was a tad different – I had to get Nick, so he could drive me to work and take the car. And of course today was the day that as I left the hospital, I had to hold back the tears. They flooded out as soon as I closed the car door in the garage. I hate crying in front of people so I had to get it all out before I got 10 minutes down the road to my apartment to get Nick.
So what the heck is with the tears? I guess tears of relief. To be done, and to be ok. I am so thankful to have made it through these last 10 months relatively easily. (Mainly thanks to my incredible support system – my strong family, loving friends and supportive work colleagues.) I know it could have been so much worse in so many ways. And the bottom line is I’m here and healthy and on the road to being me again.
Just writing that line makes me start crying. I know I’ll never be the same person I was. I know I will continually wonder in the back of my head if the cancer is going to suddenly appear elsewhere in my body. I know I will never look at my body the same. I know I will never again say I hate my hair, no matter what it looks like. I guess in a way, I’m still mourning the old me, who disappeared on April 30 when I had the double mastectomy. And just as I was getting used to being The Cancer Patient, really getting the hang of it, the biggest chapters (chemo and radiation) are ending. I guess I feel a little lost and have to figure out who I am now. I want to be the old me but know that’s a lost cause. No use dwelling on the past, so I will now get to work on Amy version (almost) 39. The new, hopefully improved, healthier and happier version. Who has an extra hour back in her day now that radiation is over. I am going to put it to good use…