on Monday, i had something tremendously thrilling happen. i got tattoos.
Note, this entry will contain descriptions of what might happen to me on radiation. it’s gross, but i won’t go into too much detail.
it may not be obvious for everyone, dear readers – but likely for a lot of you, as most traffic is in via facebook or twitter, and i post pictures there – but i am heavily tattooed. i have a full sleeve on my left arm, and my upper right arm is covered, with a large snake-thing on my right forearm. they are brightly coloured and they are large. it’s probably one of the first things people notice about me when they see me. i like my tattoos a lot, and the fact that i was due to get my left arm finished on the day i started chemotherapy is something i’m pretty bitter about. one of my favourite things is when i tell nurses that story; they all respond by telling me that i’ll get it finished one day. i appreciate that, even if it’s possibly not true.
but: i had radiation-planning-day on monday. as it stands with my treatment, i have one round of chemotherapy left – on tuesday next week, and coming off on wednesday. then, my bev, irena and 5FUCKYOU* journey is over. it’s unlikely i will be put on the same combination of chemo drugs again, as it’s likely those have maxed out on their usefulness. i get a few weeks break, and then, on the second week of January, i start daily radiation (five days a week) for five weeks, with chemotherapy tablets every day. in preparation for this, i had a CT scan (yep. another one) and tattoos placed in order to set up where the beams will be placed, and a long talk about the horrible things that are probably going to happen.
my radiation is in my pelvic region, targeting my rectum and the general area. from what my radiation oncologist told me (NEW DOCTOR! i love her, she has a beautiful giggle) pelvic area cancers have a high risk of reoccurring, and the radiation substantially reduces this risk. radiation treatment will have no impact on my life expectancy, because that’s all down to my secondary cancers – another rectal/bowel cancer would be a pain in the arse (HAHA) but very unlikely to kill me unless something went horribly wrong. so the radiation reduces this risk.
in some ways, starting this is really exciting. until i had the go-ahead from my liver surgeon, they were not going to plan it, or do it. if my liver was inoperable, there would be no reason to remove the bowel cancer, or irradiate the area, because i would be, without a doubt, terminally ill, and starting less aggressive treatment aimed only at making me comfortable for the last year or so of my life. the liver surgery means that my doctors will continue the aggressive treatment regime.
in most ways though, radiation scares me. not as much as chemo did – by all accounts, radiation is nowhere near as invasive or uncomfortable. it is painless, it doesn’t damage your liver like chemo does, and it won’t make my sweat smell gross, give me mucous issues etc. i will still have some of it from the low dose maintenance chemo, but the mere fact it’s not being pumped into my veins is more exciting than it should be. radiation, when administered, is painless. it is quick – i am in and out in fifteen minutes. those two things are good.
not so good is the fact that my pelvic region will get burned. yes. i have to have regular salt baths to try and prevent skin breakages and minimise blistering. i already have a great deal of discomfort with my body – the idea that i will soon have burns in a particularly sensitive region is really, really not something i am looking forward to. i still struggle to negotiate the feelings i have around my body. they are not as acute at first – nothing really is now. but it’s there, and hard to put into words. knowing that soon, i’m going to be faced with extensive skin blistering scares me. there’s as always a chance that it won’t happen, and i’ll come out of it with skin undamaged. but urghghg.
i’ll continue to have bowel issues – which i sort of laugh in the face of. i have had life-long IBS. I SCOFF AT YOU, RADIATION. do your damn worst. i also will start menopause because the radiation destroys the reproductive organs. i am not at all bothered by this – i’ve already started discussing weight bearing exercises with my amazing personal trainer (again, if you need a personal trainer in canberra, please let me know – my dude is the best). HRT will be discussed at the end of it; Alex and i will now be able to share HRT drugs. the couple that takes HRT together stays together, right?
funnily enough, changing how i’ve dressed, and thinking about clothing has really helped me not feel so negative about things. it feels trivial and dumb, but knowing i have things that i like to wear for when i’m covered in wounds and scars makes me feel less scared of the whole business. i am now calling my look bo-ho-bo. a bit bohemian. a bit hobo.
the tattoos were, by the way, underwhelming. a blob of ink, followed by a single prod with a hypodermic needle. it was like getting a DYI tattoo. only, when friends & i did some excellent tattoos one night, we did it in half darkness, with our shirts off (i can’t remember why our shirts were off – it wasn’t sexual, but just a need to be without shirt) a LOT of goon, and some ink in a beer bottle lid. i now have a semi-colon on my ankle to remember that night by, and the chopstick with a sewing needle tied on with some thread. don’t try this at home kids. if you ever go to a sexual health clinic for a free check-up (which all responsible adults should do from time to time!) it’s the ONLY thing they will tell you that you are stupid for doing. protip.
*those are the nicknames i have for the three chemo drugs i’ve been on. i’m guessing no one is particularly interested in the technical names.