Keeping Promises


My radiation treatment usually happens every day at around 7:30 am. I’m a morning person so once I got used to it, the time suits me fine. It’s easy to find parking at the hospital, and I enjoy the drive with my windows or sunroof open on warmer mornings. It’s also great having the rest of the day to focus on work and life.

This morning, the machine was having technical issues so my treatment was delayed. It meant I ran into the social worker who checks in on cancer patients, even though I usually come and go too early to see her. She asked how I was doing and we chatted for a bit. I talked about the thrush, and said as much as it really SUCKED, I thought it did me a favor. She was surprised and laughed, but I meant it sincerely.

Going into treatment, I made certain promises to myself. When the thrush hit, I broke some of those promises. It’s much better to realize that now, when I’m still relatively healthy, than a couple weeks down the road when the treatment is hitting me harder. Thrush felt awful but it was a bump in the road. I let it take me off track. Here are the promises I broke during those four days, and I’m not going to let it happen again:

I didn’t check my mouth every day. At the start of radiation, the nurse gave me a dental mirror and told me to check my mouth every day for spots and sores. When my cheeks and tongue started to feel odd, I assumed it was the radiation effects kicking in, and didn’t check. I would have caught it much earlier and saved myself a couple days of discomfort.

I didn’t maintain my calories. I’ve mentioned the lecturing about weight loss during treatment before. It’s partly because they would have to remap the cancer in the scans since my body shape would change, but mostly because the loss of too much weight is linked to a longer recovery period (and sometimes even to less successful results). I knew going into this that it would be challenging to maintain my weight. It would take more than 2000 calories even without the effects of radiation and chemo, which are supposed to substantially add to your body’s need for fuel. But when the thrush made it hard to eat and drink, I didn’t push through it. I kept swallowing, but I didn’t make 2000 calories a day. As a result, I’m now down a little over 15 pounds in the past couple weeks. Starting yesterday, I’m keeping careful track of calories and making sure I at least hit the minimum maintenance marks. There will be many years to lose weight the right way after I get done with treatment, and cachexia (wasting away during cancer treatment) is not going to be my diet plan!

I didn’t check my temperature. I’m supposed to be checking my temperature every day to watch for infections brought on by the immunosuppression of the chemo. So far, my blood counts have been perfectly normal… but I still should be checking every day.

I didn’t give myself enough rest. I thought the thrush made it hard to sleep, but it turns out this really is the radiation treatment kicking in. I wake up with a dry burning at the back of my throat every couple hours. For three days in a row, I got about 4 hours of sleep. It wasn’t until the fourth day that I remembered my promise to give my body a chance to heal, knocked myself out with some Tylenol PM in the middle of the day, and finally caught up.

I stopped finding time to meditate and create. Something about dealing with the thrush made me forget the things I promised to do to help myself stay centered. Between feeling crappy, low nutrition and lack of sleep, I lost the thread and had more emotional ups and downs that I’d been having before. Starting yesterday, I use any weird hours I’m up (like now… hello 4am Saturday morning!) to write, make art, play a game, meditate, or do something else that I enjoy.

The bottom line: lessons learned, and learned at the right time. I feel like I’m getting back on track now, and better prepared for the back half of treatment, which starts this week. Here’s to getting week four under my belt!

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