Monthly Archives: September 2016

Blessed | Grateful | Alive

If you asked me on 1 February how I thought I’d feel after my last round of radiotherapy, I probably wouldn’t have known how to answer you.  Actually, I might have said lucky.  But today, I feel so much more than lucky.  I feel blessed, thankful, happy and I feel very, very grateful.

I’ve written many times about feeling grateful – but as I celebrate the end of the ‘therapies’ – chemotherapy and radiotherapy (hooray!), the overwhelming feeling I have is that I am thankful and grateful.  What for? Everything.  Catching the cancer in time, my surgeon/ oncologists/ physio/ counsellor/ nurses, my family, my friends, that I was given strength and courage to get through the last seven months, that I live in such a beautiful part of the world (with a spectacular coast line and marvellous sunsets), my resilience, my health and, most importantly, my life.

Sitting in waiting rooms and hospitals teaches you that life is short.  So short that to be anything other than happy now seems to me to be a bit of a waste of time.  I have to say, if you’d asked me in January to describe how I felt, ‘happy’ wouldn’t have sprung to mind.  But now, I try to find little things that make me happy everyday.  I also laugh a lot more than I used to, mostly at stupid things… something I’m going to have to learn to control when I return to my corporate job.

Speaking of corporate jobs, I’ve also realised that mine really used to define me.  And in fact, pre 1 February, if you asked me to describe myself, probably the first thing I would have said is ‘lawyer’.  But the reality is that’s not a descriptor of me at all.  That was simply my job, all consuming as it was.  I wouldn’t now describe myself as a ‘lawyer’, and in fact, after the last discussion with my oncologist, my job really needs to become the least defining aspect of my life.  Doctors orders are not to work full time going forward and to lead a very healthy life.

For me, a healthy life is about so many things.  Eating well, exercising regularly, being happy/ calm/ relaxed and having faith.  I don’t often write about faith and religion, but I really do believe that phrase, ‘without faith there is no hope’.  I have gotten a lot of strength and courage from faith and prayer this year.  Not only my own praying, but the prayers of so many people.  And for all the prayers that have been said, I am grateful.  From our friends here in Perth, to those abroad including my Mum’s orthodox friends in the States who convened a prayer group with us by teleconference (prayer in the modern world!), I feel very blessed indeed.

To everyone that has sent me well wishes, prayed for me, sent cards/ flowers/ gifts, dropped in for cups of tea, listened to me whinge, sent positive vibes, exercised with me, invited me for lunch, made me laugh, cooked me dinner etc., thank you!  You have no idea what a difference it makes to what can be such difficult days.  Opening a card from a friend on the other side of Australia, receiving a beautiful gift from friends abroad, a random delivery of flowers, or even a walk outside in the fresh air, it all makes the days more bearable.  Which brings me to my very last point, if one of your friends or loved ones is ever having a difficult time and you are wondering what you can do for them to brighten their day, there are so many options other than flowers.  Here are a few thoughts:

  • invite them over for brunch or lunch (or go out if cooking isn’t your forte!);
  • buy a gift voucher to one of their favourite (or your favourite!) stores for some shopping therapy – think David Jones, Mecca, Big W, Dymocks, Myer;
  • deliver a box of fruit and veggies or juices for a few days;
  • deliver something for dinner;
  • buy a gift voucher to a day spa;
  • offer to drive them to medical appointments;
  • drop in for a cup of tea;
  • offer to get outdoors and go for a walk/ play tennis/ play some park basketball [ask my sister Thalia for any other tips on fun outdoors activities – she’s very good at thinking them up!];
  • send a cleaner over, or just head over and wash their dishes/ do the vacuuming/ pick up the washing;
  • babysit, if they have children…

The number of things that you can do to brighten someones day are endless.

For now, it’s time to let my body recover and to get as healthy as I can before starting work.  Oh, and to lose those 5kg that my oncologist ordered me to lose… off for a walk and an appointment with the exercise physiologist and dietitian!

Until next time, have a fabulous week.

Krissy xx

Radiate me

As I approach the end of my radiotherapy treatment, it occurred to me that other than mentioning my treatment, I haven’t said very much about it. To be perfectly honest (unlike me, huh?), the four weeks of treatment have flown by so quickly, a blur of early mornings and moisturising, that I haven’t had a chance.  But if you want the down low on radiotherapy, buckle up.

img_2343My radiation treatment has required me to undergo 25 sessions of radiation.  One treatment every week day for five weeks.  I opted to have my treatments at 8.30am so that they wouldn’t interfere with my day.  Whilst the radiation fatigue is now starting to make it a little difficult to get out of bed and out of the house by 8.10am each morning, on balance, I am still glad I opted for mornings as that has meant that radiation really hasn’t interfered with my daily routine at all.

But lets talk a bit about the daily radiation routine.  Once I arrive at Sir Charles Gardiner hospital (‘Charlies’), I quickly strip down and put on the ever so glamorous three armed blue gown, collect my pillow slips (one to line the metal bed I lie on and one for ‘modesty’) and patiently wait for the excellent staff to call my name so I can get started.

And while I wait, I chat to all the other people who are having radiation, or their partners/ mothers/ fathers/ carers.  Of all the time I’ve spent waiting for treatment this year, I think the time I spend in the waiting room in the radiation oncology department at Charlies has had the biggest impact on me.  I have met (and observed) so many different people having radiation – there are toddlers, young children, teenagers, people in their early 20s (my radiation oncologist also treats kids so they’re always around), middle aged and elderly people.  From the paediatric cases, to the 22 year old boy who has had tumours in his knee/ thigh/ groin/ lungs and whose cancer they are growing in mice to determine the best way to treat an unusual cancer, to the man in his mid 50s who just bought a farm and now has terminal throat cancer (and was never a smoker), to the woman who has had breast cancer four times in thirty years, there are so many stories.  And let me tell you, every discussion, every observation, every smile from someone who is having a tougher day than most could imagine, is a reminder about how precious this life that many of us take for granted is.  I keep saying it, but if you’re ever having a bad day, just go and sit in a hospital waiting room and really have a look around you.  And then you will count your blessings.  I certainly do.

Then they call my name.  Into the radiation room, I lie down on the metal table where the nurses align me perfectly in preparation for the radiation.  No movement allowed once aligned (seriously, no moving!), I lie and wait for the painless zaps of the radiation.  The only signal I have that the radiation is happening is the flicker of two lights and the distinctive sound of ‘bzzzzzzzz’.  The radiation machine moves around me seamlessly and within a matter of minutes, I am finished.  Back out to the change room, remove the temporary markings that have been drawn on during alignment, moisturise and go home.  And that’s really it.  Until the evening when it’s time to moisturise again before going to bed.

 

img_2339

I have been having external beam radiation therapy – basically, a machine directs radiation at my chest wall and clavicle (where my cancer once lived) and surrounding tissue with the aim of killing any cancerous cells that may be lingering.  Whilst it is completely painless, there are some side effects.  The only side effects I have encountered are a bit of fatigue, the feeling of having a lump in my throat (thanks to the radiation targeting my clavicular lymph nodes) and some redness on my chest wall and clavicle.  I will say, my skin reaction has only just started and as the nurses tell me, that’s pretty good going given I only have four treatments to go.  How red you ask?  See for yourself.

I am so grateful to have gotten to the end of radiation with so few issues.  I do feel very fortunate indeed and thank God daily for helping me get through the treatment.  I’m also thankful to the women I have met in the support group I attend at Breast Cancer Care WA for sharing their tips on getting through radiation.  The most useful tip for me, which I am now passing on to you, was to use calendula cream immediately after radiation and emu oil to moisturise each night.  I overlay those with a healthy dose of vitamin e cream.  It’s super important to moisturise as you don’t want to break the skin at all.  Calendula cream is herbal based and used to treat burns, rashes etc.  Emu oil is very good for any sort of inflammation.  So far, I think they’ve been helping.  PS, don’t tell the nurses at Charlies about my use of anything other than sorbolene cream.  It’s all they recommend, but frankly, I don’t think it’s good enough.

Oh and finally, you might ask why after having all my treatment as a private patient, I opted to have my radiation treatment in the public system.  Two reasons – one, there is a significant out of pocket expense having radiation treatment in the private system and after all the bills of the year, it’s a cost I could really do without.  But more importantly, after meeting with two different radiation oncologists, I chose the oncologist that was best for me and she just happened to be at Charlies.  Dr Mandy Taylor is really wonderful – very knowledgable and able to answer all my questions with great confidence.  I feel like I’m in very good hands with her and that is so important.

With four radiation treatments to go, I can finally see the treatment finish line ahead and while it’s been a very long seven months since my surgeries back in February, I am looking forward to giving my body a proper chance to rest and heal.  In the meantime, I’ll continue with yoga, walking, pilates and cooking to get me back into tip top shape.

Krissy xx