A few years ago, after completing my cancer treatment I abandoned this blog. I did so for a few reasons. First, though I deeply appreciated all the supportive comments I received on the blog, in email, and on Facebook, when I hit bottom I found virtual support to be wanting. Second, I figured the aftermath of treatment would not give me much to write about. I was in a slog-and-rebuild phase. Third, the post-treatment experience has affected extremely personal body parts and I reached limits with what I was willing to share.
Literally, to make a very long story quite short: I am now beginning to experience serious side effects from the radiation treatment, and I’ve just learned that this is considered a progressive disease. The damaged tissue continues to deteriorate over time. So even though I’m still considered cancer-free, I don’t get to do a happy dance. Hearing this news was almost like being told the cancer is back. Do people die from radiation damage? Yes, they do. My damage level has been rated 2.5 on a 5-point scale—reason for concern, but not as catastrophic as the cancer. Theme song crescendos:
you think I’d crumble?
you think I’d lay down and die?
Probably. I’m so OVER being tough, I can’t tell you. This shit is depressing, right?
Well, imagine how it felt to hear that the radiation damage can be TOTALLY REVERSED. And WITHOUT DRUGS. And NO SIDE EFFECTS (if everything goes well). Nor does this treatment require a plane ticket to Mexico or Switzerland or Jupiter.
This magical process is hyperbaric treatment, which I’m getting at my local hospital. This all got started a few months ago when I went to see my oncologist about peeing blood, a condition called “radiation-induced hemorrhagic cystitis.” My cervix is also toast–melba toast. She said, “They’re doing interesting things with cancer patients over at the hyperbaric center. Want me to put you in touch?”
So I went to the hyperbaric center and talked to the main doctor there, a former navy submarine captain of undetectable age. He told me that he had done research on radiation-damaged patients in Seattle, and that 40% of them experienced full reversal of the damage. Another 40% experienced partial reversal.
How does it work? For unknown reasons, hyperbaric treatments trigger a hefty production of stem cells that go zipping through the body looking for things to fix. New capillaries grow in scorched radiation zones and tissues regenerate. After hearing all this I was walking on air for a week!
So the hyperbaric doc and my oncologist talked some more, and decided that I should get a cystoscopy before the hyperbaric treatments began, to get a baseline. Assessing the condition of the bladder is easier than assessing other organs, and hyperbaric treatment has been done a lot on men’s bladders, but rarely, if ever, has it been done for cervical cancer patients.
The cystoscopy was unpleasant, as you might expect. But my pee doctor was adamant that I see the live images of the inside of my bladder so that I can see the problem areas for myself. This, she said, is very important for visualizing the healing that needs to happen there. So the bladder lining had these little fiery red volcanoes that looked like they were spitting little clouds of blood. The lining itself looked kind of curdled instead of shiny pink. Afterwards I learned that this procedure is usually done under general anesthesia. Did I mention that I’m getting tired of being tough?
So far I’ve had two hyperbaric treatments. My ears cannot take the compression. My Eustachian tubes swelled and there’s fluid built up behind my eardrums. Ever have blinding ear pain when descending in an airplane, and then not be able to clear your ears for days? That’s what it’s been like for me the past few days. This afternoon I went to an ear, nose, and throat specialist to have my ears inspected, and to get little plastic tubes installed in my eardrums to equalize the pressure. Should be smooth sailing now.