Friday, July 21, 2006

Radiation Graduation

Today was the 28th and last radiation session. I took Josie and Toby with me, along with two home-made cakes for my radiation team and cards from the kids and from me. The kids waited outside in the waiting area while I was in the treatment room and entertained the staff and other patients.

It really felt like a graduation of some sort. I felt a bit sad that the routine I’d gotten used to for the past six weeks was coming to an end, but excited that I was finally finished with the treatment. There was a party mood in the treatment area -- the kids were running around and laughing, I was hugging the ladies on my radiation team and saying farewells and good wishes, then we all gathered around for a group photo.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a new patient, a woman about my age, with an unsmiling, almost angry set face, sitting in the waiting area. I could almost hear what she was thinking: “What’s all this commotion? Why are there kids running around in a cancer center? Why are the radiologists socializing when they should be looking at their computer monitors and tending to their patients?” The last bit, I could sympathize with. Because the computers are outside in the open treatment area, I was afraid that the staff were not paying careful enough attention to what was happening to the patient inside the treatment room. I felt bad about this woman and wanted to apologize to her, but I had kids to round up. I hope she learns to smile. If not, she has a very long and hard journey ahead of her.

Graduation ceremonies are called “commencements” for a reason. This is the beginning of my life post-cancer. I’ve done the chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation. Now comes the hard part. Waiting. Waiting and hoping that cancer doesn’t come back. I assume I’ll be going for regular check-ups for the rest of my life, and each one will be a breath-holding, fist-clenching nervous wait for the test results to show that I’m still cancer-free.

I still have Herceptin every three weeks until next January, so I guess technically, I’m still on chemotherapy. But it feels like I’ve gotten past the main parts of the treatment. I celebrated by having a tiny sip of champagne at dinner -- the first taste of alcohol since last December. It was nice, but more symbolic than anything else.

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