I have seven breast cancer treatments left. Seven. Two more radiations of the whole breast area, then five of what the radiation oncologist calls “boost” treatments in which just the tumor site is radiated. After the two more of the general area, I’m hoping that the tape burn wounds will heal. They are healing some but are still painful and a little oozy. I’m getting some burns in other places from the radiation itself, but with only seven more treatments, maybe they won’t be too bad. One more full week of treatments, then two days next week. . . . and I’ll be through with the long journey of breast cancer and its treatments – and my healing will take a new path.
I’ll probably still be dealing with side effects for a little while, and the node-removal site is swollen again, so who knows if I’ll need to have it aspirated again. A friend said in an email to me that the tape burns were a minor setback. I think that perhaps people don’t realize how difficult and pain-filled a cancer journey is. I can’t think of a day that I’ve not had pain during this journey that began in September. Sometimes it has been a low-level pain. Actually most of the time the pain hasn’t been intense. But there has been pain nonetheless. Adding intense pain of skin that was torn away by a bandage, something that never should have happened, and saying that’s minor – well, that seems insensitive to me. But I suppose if you’ve never experienced long-term pain and illness like cancer, then a tape burn can seem like no big deal. That pain is minor in that I can continue with my plans, driving to and from Savannah, being with friends, going to the Four Bridges Art Festival this weekend. But I’m weary of feeling pain when I stretch out my arm, or when I try to find a comfortable position for sleeping, or when I take a shower. I’m weary of the pain comes with my applying silvadene and aloe vera to the burns. I’m weary of pain caused when my blouse touches the tape burn wounds.
I’m weary of pain, period.
However, the countdown is getting me closer and closer to the last day of pain-imposing treatments. I can see the time that has passed during treatments when I look at these roses outside the Fuller Cancer Center. They were blooming when I got the diagnosis and bloomed through my first round of chemo. Though I didn’t have any of the first round of chemo at this center, this is where I’ve had all of the blood work during my treatments. And my surgeries to put in the port and to remove the tumor and nodes took place at the surgery center in this same building. I saw frost kill the roses and their being cut back in the winter as I went through the second round of chemo. And I’ve watched these roses bud and bloom during my radiation treatments at this cancer center. These roses are a testament to cycles and seasons and birth – budding and blooming, followed by frost – and death. Again and again the spiral of life and death. Of which we are all a part. Cancer has reminded me of that, not in a morbid way, but in a carpe diem way. I don’t pass these flowers when they’re blooming without stopping to smell their fragrance. Because I’m not assured of any day or any rose’s blooming.
I’ll complete my thoughts today with another photo of the roses, a closer shot, because their transient beauty is a reminder to me that, even though I’m very near the end of cancer treatments, I’m not to take any beauty, any fragrance, any redness or birdsong or sound of flowing water or cat’s meow or glint of sun on an ocean wave or lawnmower’s hum or baby’s sigh or friend’s hug for granted. All I really have is now. I can look forward to no more pain, to living life free of cancer, to traveling and working and spending time with friends and family and meeting new friends and renewing old friendships, but I know that that future may or may not manifest. And that’s okay. Because now I have these photos and the memories of red knockout roses that I stop and smell as I go into a building for cancer treatments. And I sit now at my computer with the cat on the floor grumbling every now and then, and I am pain-free for this moment. I think of seven more treatments. I am alive on this Sunday afternoon in a neighborhood of spring greenness, and I hear children’s shouts and a lawnmower as it cuts off. I breathe in and out. And that is enough. More than enough. That is fullness in this very moment.