My Radiotherapy Countdown

While everyone else is opening their advent calendars and counting down to December 25th I have another countdown.  December 17th will be my last Radiotherapy session and will see the end of my Cancer treatment for this year! I’m just thinking I should have done my own Advent calendar – I think I’ll write a big “17” on the fridge door and open it on my last day to find a nice cold bottle of bubbly waiting for me!!

With less than two weeks to Christmas day this will probably be my last post before the holidays. Christmas started a little earlier than usual for us this year.  We went to see Santa at the end of November (basically because I left it too late to book our Santa tickets!) and our decorations also went up before December for the 1st time ever! This year we went to Christmas Island in Rathdrum, Co Wicklow to see Santa.

It was our first year there and the boys loved it.  They got to see Santa again at the start of December at AIBs Santa day so they have him well versed in what they’re looking for – all they need to do now is make sure they stay off the naughty list!!!

AIBs Santa day

Uncle Mikey and Auntie Leanne gave the boys homemade Advent Calendars to help with their Christmas countdown (I think Auntie Leanne might have to get most of the credit for these though!).  They are so excited coming home from school/crèche each day to open a new number and see what’s inside – Adrian and I were particularly happy with the toy whistles (thanks Leanne lol!!!)

On November 13th, two weeks after my last chemo session, I had my planning appointment for my radiotherapy.  This involved meeting with the consultant, having a CT scan to determine the exact area needing treatment, getting my treatment dates and some “tattoos”. Unlike my husband who has had to tell the boys that the marks on his arms and legs are because “some bold boys drew on me”, I have never had a tattoo (thankfully I never went through with the dolphin one I wanted many years ago!) Now, however I technically have 3 (one to the side of each breast and the 3rd in the center).  These are 3 drops of blue ink placed on the skin with a needle, the marks are permanent but luckily each one is only the size of a freckle so hardly qualifying me for tattooed lady status!  These marks are used during treatment to help line up the radiation equipment accurately.   My treatment plan is for 20 Radiotherapy sessions (each day, Monday to Friday) for 4 weeks.

The weekend before I started Radium, one of my best friends, Kathy, came down from Belfast to visit me with Alex, her handsome (and very well behaved) one year old. We had a lovely catch up and even managed a “few” glasses of bubbles when Alex went down to bed.  We’re all grown up and sensible now (winking emoji!!!) so there was no dancing around the sitting room at 3am this time round! I’m sure we still have a few more of those nights in us yet but for now it was the perfect catch up with an amazing friend! (love you honey!!)

I started my Radiotherapy, on November 20th, exactly 3 weeks after my final chemotherapy session.  The sessions themselves are quick and easy (thanks to the Radiation therapists who are all lovely and amazing).  This is my very unscientific description of what is involved!  As one patient is receiving treatment another is called and is given a gown and individual changing room (keeping the whole process running like clockwork).  As it’s my breast area being treated I just need to strip off to my waist and wear the gown open to the front.  Once the room is free I’m called and brought in.

I lie on a table with my arms placed over my head resting in stirrup like supports.  The radiation therapists then make tiny adjustments to my position (arm up a little, bum down a little, boob over a little – you get the picture!)  to ensure I am in the exact position for my treatment.  Once I’m ready to go the therapists then leave the room to administer the treatment.  This is when I always seem to get an itch or tickle somewhere on my face, just knowing I can’t move a millimeter!  I wasn’t sure what to expect during the treatment – I thought I might see a “laser beam” to the area being treated but the only indication the treatment is taking place is a loud buzzing sound.  It only takes a few minutes and is totally painless (you don’t feel anything).

I need to be really careful about what I’m putting on my skin in the area being treated at the moment and there are only a few products they recommend.  I’ve continued to use the Elave shower gel and Aqueous cream as my moisturiser.  I can’t use my normal deodorant so Crystal Rock deodorant was recommended to me and I’ve been pleasantly surprised by it and am finding it better than I expected.

I also can’t shave under my right arm (thankfully the hair hasn’t really grown back here yet so I’m not rocking Julia Roberts’ 1999 red carpet look!!).  I’ve continued to use my tan but avoiding the treatment area for the few weeks.  I started to develop a slight rash under my right breast in the second week of the treatment, it has now intensified and is spreading up closer to my collarbone.  It’s not painful, but it is red, itchy and irritating with a slight burning sensation at times.  This should ease off in a few weeks so in the meantime I just need to keep applying the aqueous cream (I can’t put anything else on it) and no low or sleeveless tops for me over Christmas! Just as well I returned the sparkly boob tube (lol).

The toughest part of the last few weeks has been the continued lack of sleep.  I’m wrecked – but what’s new, I feel like a broken record at this stage, I’m nearly embarrassed saying I’m tired when anyone asks!!  I really don’t know whether the tiredness I feel is a result of the treatment or just my boys – I’m presuming it’s a mix of both.   I’m actually getting to sleep a bit easier but haven’t had a chance to test out the staying asleep part because Aaron is still coughing through the night.  Last week saw us into our 7th week of sleepless nights and with Adrian in a new job it’s been a bit of a nightmare so I finally brought him back to the doctor and thankfully came away with an inhaler which he’s been using for about 6 days now.  He’s still coughing but we have noticed an improvement so I’m keeping fingers and toes crossed that it works and we manage to catch up on some sleep before Christmas.

I had my graduation for my Leadership and Executive Coaching Diploma two and a half weeks after my last chemo session.  It was a great night and a lovely catch up with some of the college gang with lots of well-deserved bubbles and laughs.

I started a new course last weekend, a diploma in “Mental Health and Well-Being Coaching”, again with Kingstown College.  So more reading and assignments ahead to keep me out of trouble but the topic is so interesting that I’m looking forward to getting stuck into some of the books (not so much with the assignments!). I made some great friends throughout my last course and I seem to have been blessed with another amazing group for this one and I am really looking forward to getting to know everyone, learning more about resilience and well-being, putting some of it into practice for myself and then using what I’ve learned to help others.

Some Christmas reading!!

I’ve managed to catch up with my work colleagues a few times over the last few weeks through different events which has been lovely – some more academic and work related events e.g. the EMCC Coaching Conference, others not so academic e.g. our team Christmas lunch which was great fun with a few cocktails and loads of giggles!  They’re a fab bunch and have been a great support to me and really helped me feel like I’m still part of the team while I’ve been off.

Work Xmas drinks / Christine’s work Hen!

Alec turned 5 this week – scary!!! We had his party at the weekend (I’m just about recovering!). This is the first year he’s had a party in Dublin.  Given the time of year (and the size of our house) a party at home wasn’t a realistic option so we used a local hall and had a bouncy castle, music, football, pizza, popcorn, sweets and cake.  The kids had great fun and left all hyped up on sugar (sorry mums and dads!!).  Both boys loved it – Aaron was delighted to finally be invited to one of the parties and was chuffed with himself when we told him he was the special guest! We ended the day, all tired and happy watching Home Alone in front of the fire.

It’s been another busy few weeks and I feel like I’ve been on the go constantly.   Before getting my treatment dates I had hoped that I’d have a few weeks off in December and start my treatment in January but now that I’m nearing the end of the Radium I’m glad to have it over and done with.  I’m back in with my Consultant on January 3rd to get me started on the hormone tablets but besides that January will be a month of getting myself back on track – building up my fitness levels, focusing on my college assignments and starting the new year as I mean to go on – creating new habits that allow me to work smarter rather than harder while prioritising my well-being and a healthy work life balance (a bit of practicing what I preach really!)

While one part of me wants to kiss (or kick) 2018 goodbye, another part is grateful for it.  It’s not the year I thought I’d have, it hasn’t been easy but there are still plenty of reasons to say it was a good year.  Like many people, I’ve always been very critical of myself and my inner critic was always loudest in a work context. While I still have a long way to go, 2018 has shown me what I’m capable of and given me a strength and dare I say “confidence” I could not have envisioned at the start of the year.  I’m hoping I can use this to hush my inner critic and to be a braver, more assertive, resilient version of myself.  More than anything though, this year has taught me to be grateful for what I have, not to sweat the little things, to make the most of out of life, celebrate the little moments and just have fun and enjoy it!

Happy Christmas and New Year! xxx

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