• Zoe

Zoe's Story: Radiation and Celebrations (Week 43)

Radiation was so much worse than I had expected.


The last 10 months have been a daily reminder of just how much I took for granted prior to getting my cancer diagnosis. I miss my health and I grieve the body that I had always taken for granted. I totally underestimated the effects of radiation on my body and mind. With chemotherapy, it was an ache I cannot explain. A pain and nausea so consuming, I had no idea where it was coming from. Radiation was different; I knew exactly where the pain was coming from. I had burns, blisters and swelling covering my back, abdomen, and chest - and there was simply nothing I could do about it.

The radiation was accumulative and whilst the side effects in the the weeks passed, the symptoms were severely debilitating. The redness, pain, and irritation that comes with radiation are excruciating. Even the fatigue was comparable to my hardest days on chemotherapy. I honestly had to remind myself that I was not going to die because of these treatments, and this is all saving my life, but I had to dig very deep to get through the pain and exhaustion day-after-day.

I was jubilant when I finally walked into the treatment room for my last session on June 15. As always, I was greeted by the incredible team of women that have taken such great care of me and lifted my spirits everyday throughout the last eight weeks. I will be eternally grateful for their compassion and most importantly their passion to heal me.

I am so proud of this body of mine and I have developed an entirely newfound love and respect for myself, having successfully completed months of treatment including surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. I have never been prouder of my strength, determination, and perseverance.

It has however become evident that the last 10 months are by no means the end of my cancer journey. It has also become evident that the next phase in my treatment is perhaps the most important. Without endocrine therapy, I will almost certainly be dealing with a reoccurrence. Endocrine therapy slows or stops the growth of hormone-sensitive tumors by blocking the body's ability to produce hormones or by interfering with effects of hormones on the breast cancer cells. As I have HR+ (hormone receptor positive) cancer, endocrine therapy is imperative to my longevity. I will for the very first time in my life be taking a cocktail of life-saving drugs. In July, I will start taking Letrozole (hormone-based chemotherapy) thereafter Zometa (Zoledronic Acid) used to treat bone damage. The last drug is Abemaciclib (Verzenio). You will remember me talking about the CDK 4/6 inhibitors the new drug that many believe to be a game changer in the treatment of advanced cancer. In fact, Abemaciclib was designated as a breakthrough therapy for breast cancer by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in October 2015. Abemaciclib is used in the treatment of advanced or metastatic breast cancers. It was developed by Eli Lilly and it acts as a CDK inhibitor selective for CDK4 and CDK6. I am hoping this drug gives me another 50 years.

Cancer is a hair-raising, white-knuckle roller-coaster ride. Just as you think you are coming to the end of the ride, you are suddenly jerked sideways around another bend only to find you are once again gripping on for dear life down another unknown path. Just this week I was diagnosed with Lymphedema. It is not uncommon for woman who have had surgery to remove diseased lymph and lymph nodes followed by radiation to develop Lymphedema; I was just hoping that I would not be one of them. The lymph system is a network of lymph vessels, tissues and organs that carry lymph throughout the body. It is the highway of the body. Lymph a colorless watery fluid travels through the lymph vessels and carries T and B Lymphocytes (white blood cells). The network of lymph vessels collects lymph from different parts of the body and return it to the bloodstream. The lymph nodes store white blood cells and helps fight infection. Lymphedema occurs when lymph is not able to flow through the body the way it should. There are many risks associated with Lymphedema including the risk of infection, swelling and potential loss of use of the limb. This diagnosis was not a surprise to me, as my right arm barely fits into long sleeved clothing, but I was completely floored when I was told that I needed surgery. A lymphovenous bypass or lymphaticovenular anastomosis is a new technique. During LVB surgery, the surgeon uses a microscope and small surgical tools to connect the part of my lymphatic vessel that is not blocked to a nearby vein. This allows the lymphatic fluid to get past the blockage and flow away from the affected limb and area.

I am meeting with my surgeon in July to schedule the surgery once all the imaging has been done. Kyle Yikuan Xu, MD is a well-respected specialist in his field, and I am confident he will be the perfect surgeon for me.

So many priceless life lessons come from the deepest fear and pain. I have learned that people are so incredibly beautiful and KIND. I have learned that life is made up of moments that con