Eleven years ago today, I had my last radiation treatment.
For my particular cancer, remission and cure are measured from the end of chemo, so medically, today’s end of treatment is somewhat irrelevant.
From a practical standpoint, I didn’t have to get up to go get radiation every day before work. I’m very much not a morning person, and my job is already too early for my happiness, so daily 6 a.m. appointments didn’t enhance my quality of life.
There’s not really anything about cancer that enhances your quality of life.
From a health standpoint, radiation is really bad for you, and I was glad to end my intentional exposure to it.
As a result of having had radiation, I am at substantially higher risk of many other cancers.
As a result of having had chest radiation, I am at risk of my heart and/or lungs hardening or shrinking and not really working any more. Or possibly, as stated in my consent form, “requiring surgical correction.” And “increased problems after surgery” … because I had radiation.
But that’s way down the road. Fifteen or twenty years. From when the treatments were administered. Not so far down the road now. And a lot of road after that.
Honestly, I don’t think about it often, because at this point, there’s not anything I can do about it, as far as I know.
Science either hasn’t worked on or hasn’t figured out how to minimize long-term side effects from radition. Heck, science couldn’t even tell me if it was safe to breastfeed my kid after having had chest radiation. (I did.)
The job of the cancer treatment is not to have the end result of a long-lived healthy person. The job of the cancer treatment is to have an alive person without cancer.
So why would we worry about not-cancer side effects? Especially long-term ones? As long as you don’t have cancer, you’re good.
It makes me angry.
Don’t get me wrong—I am grateful that the people who took care of me were able to rid me of a football-sized tumor in my chest and that for 11 years and counting, I’ve been able to live a nearly side-effect-free life.
I’ve watched friends die from this disease. I’m acutely aware that from the lot of unlucky people, I’m one of the lucky ones.
But I’m angry that this procedure—which was prophylactic; the chemo is what took care of the tumor—is so dangerous and is administered without a second thought.
This is part of what’s wrong with Western medicine. It’s reactive. We have a problem, we fix it with drugs or surgery or both. The solution causes other problems. We fix them with drugs or surgery or both. And on and on.
We don’t re-establish health—we create repeat customers.
There’s nothing proactive.
Culturally, what we do know to help us be proactive is mocked or dismissed.
Diet is an enormous contributor to all of our health problems: cancers, heart disease, autoimmune diseases, and on and on.
Stress is an enormous contributor to all of our health problems.
Environmental pollutants—pesticides, plastics, exhaust, crap that makes food cheap and “tasty,” crap that makes cleaners marketable, crap that makes our faces and hair look the way someone else told us they need to look—are enormous contributors to both our health problems and our planet’s health problems.
But we’re too busy or too shamed or too invested in convenience and “progress” to worry about those things.
I am grateful for the efficacy of the treatment I had. I am grateful that it is friendlier on the body systems than treatments that came even just 15 or 20 years earlier. I am grateful that so far, chemo brain has been my worst long-term side effect.
I take joy in being cancer-free the second-best way.
(The best way, of course, is not to have it in the first place.)