Yesterday, I turned 37, and today I received my final radiation marking the end of my active treatment for breast cancer. Compared to chemo and surgery, radiation was a breeze (just time consuming - every weekday for six weeks!) My skin irritation isn't nearly as bad as I anticipated, so I'll keep applying ointment and watching it peel for a few weeks as things continue to heal.
I've been declared "no evidence of disease" and my "active treatment" is over, but something I never realized before going through this myself is that my experience with cancer is still not over. I'll go for follow ups every 6 months for the next 2 years with each of my oncologists (medical, surgical, and radiation). I've started seeing a cardiologist because chemo seems to have slowed down my heart rate (nothing that any doctor seems too concerned about, but not normal for me, so something to monitor and hopefully regulate with medication). I may need physical therapy on and off to prevent lymphedema (swelling in my arm) because of the lymph nodes I had removed. In a week, I'll begin taking a hormone therapy pill, which can come with a variety of side effects. The goal is to continue taking it, or another version of hormone therapy, for 5-10 years to lower my risk of recurrence. After months of low exercise, it's going to take some time to get back to my "normal" self, and with the heart rate changes and some lingering shortness of breath, it could be a challenge.
I'm starting to understand why cancer survivors talk about "the new normal" after treatment. My body has been through a lot, and will continue to adjust and recover. I'm ready for this phase, and whatever challenges it brings, I'm grateful cancer cells aren't a part of it.
Breast cancer survivor.