This is quite a defining moment for me as publicly I have kept this part of my life quiet. I wrote this because so many people I have come across are being diagnosed with cancer. It is a frightful experience but it doesn’t have to be. I am writing this truthfully so as not to mask some of the unpleasant aspects of treatments but also to eliminate fear. Knowledge = power and is an important tool to employ when under attack.
Breast cancer can be a very confronting moment as is with any life threatening or chronic disease. It is how you choose to deal with it that can make your experience tolerable. Don’t get me wrong, it is justifiable to think this is too hard and I’d rather just die….. but some how buried in our lizard brain, our most primitive instincts begin to kick in. I chose to swim.
In the initial diagnosis you are left with anger and terror because it is fear of the unknown that you feel mostly. With fear, some real frightening thoughts cross your mind…am I going to die? Looking back now with those fears assuaged, I can think more clearly and objectively. The realisation which is not rocket science, is that we are all on borrowed time no matter what your situation is - we are all going to die one day - that is a reality.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing is it not? But at the time of diagnosis you are not given this wonderful third eye of wisdom. After the initial shock I decided that this was a chronic disease and not a death sentence. Hence I began a personal battle. It was not really a fight of David/Goliath proportions but rather a quiet steely defiance that took over. To describe this best would be to compare it to a journey something like the Camino de Santiago or simply known to the English speakers as the Way of St. James. It is a journey where you go back to the basics and learn more about yourself, being your strengths, weaknesses and capabilities. For some it would have the spiritual element attached but for me, I saw it as a journey of experiences - the good, the bad and the ugly.
My avatar is a reminder of when the walk began- back in the hospital chair at the diffusion centre taking in horrific chemicals that even the hardened drug addicts would shy away from. Every round of chemotherapy left me swollen, nauseated and unable to move around with ease. On top this, I had to take an extra cocktail of antihistamines to ward off major allergic reactions suffered as a consequence of my body trying to reject the absorption of Taxotere, the main drug used in chemotherapy for breast cancer.
In comparison to the chemotherapy, the lumpectomy was like suffering a deep cut but manageable with pain tolerance. The chemotherapy was tough because your body is being poisoned and trying to cope with being under attack. Then there is the continual blood samples needed to ensure that the body does not suffer from neutropenia, where your body’s ability to fight infection is virtually non-existent.
After four rounds of chemotherapy, I had a hiatus of three weeks before radiation therapy commenced. Some have much more chemotherapy sessions than this so I was grateful for small mercies. Before you commence the radiation part of your cancer treatment, you need to have a mapping session to determine the best angles to burn away any remains or traces of cancer cells. This is crucial and the most effective part of your treatment.
So I have been slashed, poisoned and burnt - a bit like a garden where invasive weeds take over and need a brutal regime to eradicate them. The radiation therapy was not so bad but it could leave you with substantial burns to the surrounding tissue near the surgical scar.
I was given some advice (non-medical) before I commenced radiation treatments to apply a powdery substance to the areas that were going to be subjected to radiation. Many people have used this method and swear by it like I do. I always exercise caution though when applying substances not used before. Apply it on an area of your body where it is not subject to friction such as the inner part of your arm or wrist.
The substances I used were simply pure white clay and jojoba oil. You may wish to add some lavender oil too but be careful with essential oils they can produce allergic reactions. The white clay is not that easily obtainable so ask around, usually a naturopath or health food store will know where to order it from. If you are having trouble ordering it, then I am happy to help you getting in contact with suppliers. I started with applying the jojoba oil and then applied the white clay with a large make-up brush. I did this religiously two weeks prior and four weeks after radiation. I did not suffer any burns or weeping sores. It may not work for others but I really swear by it. I think the white clay somehow absorbed some of the radiation and also provided a protective barrier to the areas that were irradiated. The jojoba oil is something similar chemically to our body’s sebum so no known skin reactions were noted with applying this either.
Another shock ensued approximately four weeks after radiation therapy. I developed another lump….. but this time thankfully it was only a seroma. A seroma is a pocket of clear fluid that can sometimes develop after surgery AND radiation therapy. This unfortunately was not advised by the radiation oncologist and would like to assuage any fears to others that are going through breast cancer treatments. But with any new lump discovered please make sure you get it checked out medically. It is better to feel relief than anguish.
Lastly, I would like to recommend a book that has been written by a Breast Cancer surgeon, FOR patients, carers or those wishing to have peer reviewed and thoughtful information, presented in a manner that is easily read and understood. It has equal amounts of medical jargon but it is written simply. The name of the book: Breast Cancer: Taking Control was written by John Boyages, MD, PhD. It is an excellent resource to have - it not only aided my understanding of cancer but has helped a few people since my diagnosis and subsequent “cure”. This book is available almost anywhere but I recommend ordering it from Amazon if you wish to have it quickly.
Here’s to good health and remember to have your regular medical check ups and scans it is necessary for the preservation and quality of YOUR life.