Back to (Radiation) Reality

My break between chemo and radiation has officially come to an end. Sad right? I think so too! The time I had between treatments, however, was truly amazing. I was able to visit tons of people, travel a bunch, eat an abnormal amount of frozen yogurt, and get new boobs! So, in other words, it was a complete success. To be honest, it is hard to get back into the grind of another stage of treatment. Just because radiation isn’t supposed to be pure hell like chemo was, doesn’t meant it is going to be super fun either. But I am still going to try my absolute best to make it as fabulous as I can.

So far radiation has been another interesting process. I had to go in several times prior to my actual treatment to get marked up. Basically, a girl would line me up with all these intimidating machines while I would rest in my cocoon (see previous blog post for details on the cocoon). After lining me up just perfectly, she marked my whole chest up with a Sharpie. I have all these dots and lines with semi-permanent stickers covering them placed all over my chest that make absolutely no sense to me. (One woman saw these dots/lines and told me how much she just loved my tattoos, and she was completely serious.)

My bare breast is literally the star of the show when I arrive for these appointments. I whip it out and it just sits there (looking ever so perky I might add), exposed, with all these women rushing around it, lining it up with the machines and the laser beams, and getting super close to it to place the perfect mark on my skin. When I arrived for my first pre-radiation mark-up, a lady who works there asked me if I wanted her to leave the room while I changed into my robe. Ha! I thought. I have been in a room, wearing little more than my underwear, in front of about ten medical professionals at one point. Stay for the show lady, I thought, because it is bound to get good. Modesty went out the window a long time ago…along with my first set of boobs. (I now refer to those boobs as the “trial pair.”)

On my third and final appointment before radiation was set to begin I walked into the serenity room like a pro. Serenity room you ask? Ya, that’s right. That’s what I said. Before I head in for radiation I am supposed to wait in this area…this serenity area. It is just like a spa until you walk in the back and are faced with a giant laser instead of a hot stone massage. There are changing rooms with robes for your convenience just like at the spa, and then the waiting area surrounds you with plants, flowers, fountains and soothing music. It is pretty nice. So, I was sitting there, alongside a woman in a neon orange jumpsuit (awesome), waiting for my last and final dress rehearsal before the opening show. I didn’t think my family and friends would understand the ridiculousness of the woman in the jumpsuit’s choice of attire that day, so I ever so covertly snapped a picture of her with my cell phone so I would have proof.

Ok, ok…back to me waiting in the serenity area. I was content. Not super worried about treatment yet. It was still a few days away. I had time to mentally prepare. They called my name and I walked back into the treatment room where there is this long table waiting for me with large radiation equipment attached. I was still doing fine. The two women that work in the back lined me up with the beams which took about ten minutes or so and I just laid there: arms up, boob out, staring up at the big red light that shines down from the ceiling. That is when I realized that the next time I would be on that very table I would be receiving radiation treatment. I was still fine, but a little less so after that realization. I was trying to talk myself down off the breakdown-ledge I was involuntarily creeping towards. No worries, Abby. You will be out of here in a few minutes. Keep it together.

The lady told me that it was all set up and they were going to take a few X-rays. Ok, I thought. This is totally doable. They started walking back to the room they hang out in while the treatment takes place when one of the women said, “Oh wait! I forgot to do one last thing!” I figured she was going to move me again or put another dot on my chest. But no, that is not remotely what was on her mind. She walked right passed me, I heard a click of a button, and then music started blasting throughout the room. And it was not just music, it was Adele, belting out another sappy ballad she recorded. The lady then began to belt out the song along with Adele and the words were sad (of course, I mean it is Adele), so then I got sad, and I found myself just laying there, unable to move, resting in my cocoon with the music surrounding me, crying because Adele was singing about some man that tormented her heart. Her pain was my pain. Unreal. After this unexpected pity party for who-knows-what, I was finished and allowed to go on my happy way until Monday (aka Radiation Round One).

Monday came all too soon. It was go time. No turning back now. I tried to distract myself in the morning by catching up on Brad (Pitt) and Angelina (Jolie)’s engagement. I am team Jennifer, so I grumbled to myself while reading about their plans to wed in their French Chateau. I want a French Chateau. Then I quickly got dressed and drove to my appointment with the radio blasting on high to keep my mind from wandering anywhere at all. Just don’t think about it and you will be fine. I got into the changing room and that is when I saw it. I was utterly appalled. Absolute disgust shot through me. But first we need to take a step back…

I lost the (long, thick, beautiful brown) hair on my head about three weeks after my chemotherapy began back in December. It was a traumatic experience, but after a few days I got used to my head and dealt with it. I didn’t really have a whole lot of other options. I also lost a lot of other hair on my body as well. Let’s just say that my Hispanic heritage shines through in my hair growth and I am a hairy beast. Well, I was a hairy beast. Before I even lost the hair on my head, I lost the hair on my legs. That was not sad at all, but I said goodbye to that hair with a wink and a smile. In addition to my leg hair disappearing, my armpit hair was gone, my eyebrows and eyelashes thinned, as well as my arm hair. I got very used to not having leg hair and I did not have to shave for over four months until just last week. Last week I noticed my leg hair was growing back! Of course it was. So, I shaved my legs for the first time in forever and I didn’t really have to shave again for another full week. Nice, I thought, I can get used to this!

During this time, I had not really checked for growth in my other hair-prone areas. I had become so used to being hairless that I never looked to see how the hair growth was coming along. Until, of course, I was in the changing room putting my robe on before my first radiation treatment. To put it one way, I don’t own a French Chateau like Brad and Angelina, but I looked like I could. My armpit hair screamed, “I am one of those totally lax French chicks that walks everywhere she goes, and smells like the earth and old leather, and I don’t care about anything, especially the state of my armpits.” I was horrified. I was about to walk into a room with four women where I would have to take off my top, and, wait for it, PUT MY ARMS ABOVE MY HEAD, where my hairy armpits are full-on exposed and basically in their face. There was no turning back now. I had no razor. They would see it. Wow.

The beauty of this horrific discovery regarding the state of my armpits was that it threw me entirely off my game. I had no time to be sad that radiation was beginning because I was too consumed by how grossed out these women were about to be when I put my arms above my head to get my treatment. I stared at myself in the mirror of the changing room and said aloud to myself, “Get it together, Abby, and for the love of God, shave your pits.” The moral of the story is that my hair-free days are coming to a close and with that comes great responsibility…to SHAVE.

To me, this is more than just hair growth. With every leg hair I have to shave and every eyebrow hair I have to tweeze, I see possibility. No, seriously, I do. It means that the end is near. It gives me renewed hope for life post-treatment. My life has centered on battling this disease for over seven months now. My hair growing back is just another reminder that this too shall pass. I just remind myself that everything in life is temporary: the good, the bad, and the in-between. I celebrate with the good, I deal during the bad, and I thank God for every day in-between (and I remind myself to shave).

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12 thoughts on “Back to (Radiation) Reality

  1. Oh that’s hysterical! I was actually waiting to hear that you too would be wearing the neon orange jumpsuit! The armpit hair totally threw me off! At this point in the game, sport those hairy armpits with gusto! Glad you made it through round one!!

    Hugs!

  2. You are so laugh-out loud funny Abby. Crack me up…you do, you know. I hope the radiation treatments go well for you. You’re still in my prayers, girl! When your hair is back to your waist, I still want to read your blogs. Good news about my sister…she will have 6 weeks of radiation, but they caught it very early. I’m so thankful. Thank you for your prayers. Love ya, still!–Cindy

  3. I sure got a kick out of your arm hair story. I can only imagine how horrific it must have been. Hair where you don’t want it is quite aweful. Hope your armpits are squeely clean now:) Thinking about you and praying for you!! Luv ya, Shells

  4. Abby you are such an amazing person! Your words and how you articulate are moving! 🙂

    One step closer my friend!

    Jessica Black

  5. Your comments about modesty reminds me of the old story about the woman who went to the doctors and they asked her if she wanted a sheet to cover her private parts. She burst out laughing and said ” I have had four children and hemorroids. My private parts went public years ago.”

  6. Abby, You are an amzing writer. I have followed your progress and you have been in my prayers. May God continue to be with you during your Radiation Tx’s. Say hello to your Mom and Dad.
    Stay strong and remain close to God.

  7. Abby, you are amazing. I just heard about your cancer, your amazing fight, and this blog. Your spirit and writing awe me. Keep on fighting and keep on writing! You’re in my thoughts back here in Columbus. All the very best, Debby

  8. Abby, Thank you for sharing your experience in ways that turns fear/tears into laughter. You are getting ever closer to being back to “normal” life again. Truth is stranger than fiction–someone actually thought you paid for the radiation markings (tattoos). Bet sometimes you feel like you’re a character in a TV show or movie.

    You help us to be thankful for things we take for granted. Tweezing eyebrows, shaving armpits are signs that healthy cells are growing again. Praying for you daily and sending warm thoughts and hugs thru cyper space.

  9. So funny! My radiation technicians assured me that they had seen MUCH worse when I expressed my embarrassment over my non-shaven status. Phew! How’s your skin and energy holding up? Here’s some good news… You might not have to shave them soon! On the radiated side my hair stopped growing. Wonder how long it will last? I have 2 more radiation days left. Sending you love as u power through this last phase!

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