This coming Thursday it will be 24 years since I had my final radiation treatment. Twenty four years is probably about twenty years longer than I expected to be walking this beautiful Earth. Thinking back on that time in my life, I am struck by the paradox of how rapidly yet how slowly the events unfolded. It was too fast for my mind and emotions to process, yet dealing with all the side effects made it seem like it was taking forever.
I recently cut my long hair off because I was sick of the bad dye job in my hair, and was also sick of having to put it up to keep it off my neck. Quite frankly, long hair is a heat magnet, I live in a hot climate, I am menopausal and a walking hot flash, and I already am in possession of the world's most active perspiration glands without the long hair. So off it came. I had forgotten about the two different textures that my hair has. The hair that did not fall out during my radiation is thick, coarse and mostly straight with very slight wave. The hair in the area where I lost my hair is very curly (when it is short), finer in texture and also thick. Which makes styling my now short hair kind of an adventure. Hair gel is a gift from the universe, as it helps my two opposing hair types look like they actually belong on the same head. I also did not realize just how gray my hair has become, now that all of the dead dye job has been eliminated. I like my salt and pepper hair. I like it a lot!
By this time, 24 years ago, all I could eat was mashed potatoes and gravy, washed down with cans of Ensure. If you ever need to do liquid nutrition, I suggest avoiding the strawberry flavor of Ensure. It tastes like chemical ass. I am actually very surprised I can look a plate of mashed potatoes and gravy in the face, for as much as I was eating them back then. Some people, while going through chemo and/or radiation develop an aversion to whatever it is that they were able to keep down. That certainly is not true in my case. I still love mashed potatoes and gravy.
I also remember being told, before the last series of radiation treatments that I would probably be infertile, since my ovaries would be in the field of radiation. I am still laughing about that. I am also so very grateful that the doctors were 200% wrong about that (100% each for my two wonderful children).
I am often reminded of that time by the changes my body and mind has undergone. The scars on my neck from the original biopsy (not nearly as bad as they could have been because my Otolaryngologist had training in Plastic Surgery), my long abdominal scar (from stem to sternum), the 10 India Ink dots tattooed on my abdomen and back (to aid in lining up the lead blocks), and my very macabre sense of humor. Thank God for laughter, which got me through until I could really allow myself to cry. I know the grieving process after such traumatic events can be lifelong (because one can only take it in small doses at a time, and it is really hard to get your mind around when your body is utterly failing you like that). But the overwhelming theme in my life, especially after the cancer, is gratitude. Really striving to be and live gratitude for my life, my family, and my circumstances. Not always very successful. But practice gets me closer to perfection, especially with gratitude. I don't hate my scars anymore. I don't necessarily like them, but I have accepted them as part of me, and even sometimes as badges of honor for the battles I have fought. Every day I live is a gift from that hard won war.