Grateful, Plus the Curse of Cancer Treatment

Photo: LaserGuided, Flickr
Photo: LaserGuided, Flickr

I’m a grateful girl. Really, I am. In fact, I can’t even put into clear and concise words how very thankful I am for the breast cancer treatments that have kept me alive for five years. If I even try to put my thoughts into words, I promise you tears will stream down my cheeks. I’m about to turn 40 on Sunday, and WOW, I wasn’t sure I’d make it to that age, what with birthday No. 34 followed by such fear and uncertainty.

Just so we’re clear: I am so. very. happy. to be alive and writing this. I’m simply amazed by what medicine has done for me.

I’m amazed by what medicine is doing to me, too. Five years later, and it finds a way to make me a little bit miserable. Right now, actually, a lot miserable.

I’m covered in red, itchy, drive-me-crazy bumps on my shoulders, chest, back, and areas around my armpits. It happens every year, and it’s called something like UV Recall. Years after treatment, the sun reacts with my skin and the poisonous drugs, and the remnants of radiation, and sunscreen (I’m not sure about what order this all follows or if it’s one or several of these factors), and my skin pays the ultimate price. You’d think I’d have figured it out after all this time, but I haven’t, because sometimes (like last year at the beach), nothing bad happens. I find a sunscreen for sensitive skin, lather it from head to toe, and I’m just fine, maybe even a tiny bit tan, which is a treat for a fair-skinned gal like me. Other times (like this year at the beach), I find a sunscreen for sensitive skin, and, well, the bumps begin — just a few here and there, then some more, until they’ve climbed all over my body, making me more and more wacky by the day.

“Are you not so happy?” Danny asked me today.

Gosh, how I’m trying to be happy, plodding along through these summer days like everything is fine. But it’s not. I’m itchy and scratchy, showers hurt my skin, clothing bothers it, too, the Florida heat (it’s been like 100 degrees here lately) agitates every inch of me, and well, no, Danny, I am not so happy. (Add head cold to the equation, and you might imagine how poorly I really feel.)

The end is near, I know. The bumps will dry up and slowly disappear, and I will do what I always do — slink into the shadows at the pool, sit under an umbrella at the ocean, hide under the bimini of a boat. It’s no fun to be the mom always seeking shade and avoiding fun in the sun. I guess that’s why, year after year, I keep trying to jump waves, and find sea shells along the seashore, and splash in the pool — because I want to think cancer treatment won’t keep plaguing me. But it does, and it probably always will. And that’s just how it is. The very thing allowing me the pleasure of birthdays is torturing me, too.

OK, I’m getting a grip here. This skin ordeal is short-lived. It will consume about a week of my life (couple more days to go), and then I’ll move on. Maybe I’ll even be free and clear by Sunday, when I blow out 40 candles and celebrate another year of life.

See, I’m grateful. Really, I am.

Note: If you caught this post just as it published, you got a glimpse of what I look like. But the photo I put up at first has been taken down. It’s just too icky, and while it’s definitely educational, I decided to shield you from the yuck. And me, too. Looking at the mess in the mirror is enough. Online is just too much. And so I give you: flowers, pretty flowers.