It's Jan. 6, 2014, and the past seven days have been the most momentous week yet of The Process.
First, I've now completed 28 of the 37 (75.7 percent!) of the radiation treatments and only have nine more to go. I'm down to single digits and not only can see the light at the end of the tunnel, I'm actually starting to see that light get much brighter on a minute-by-minute basis.
Second, tomorrow's treatment will start what people in the radiation biz refer to as the "cone down." That's when the radiation is aimed just at the part of my body that was most affected by cancer. That means it will be focused on the lower right part of my jaw where the lymph node was removed. I'll be getting the same daily dose of radiation as before, but the field will be more narrowly focused.
Third, there's my eating, which in spite of the fact that I still can't taste anything, has somehow gotten much better. Yesterday I ate three full meals (at least by the standards of the past six weeks). None of them were a five-course fine dining experience. But after a main course of meat loaf (my mother would be so proud), I was able to eat some fruit for dessert and had a relatively leisurely dinner with The BTW.
It was the closest I've come to normality in months.
So where am I with two weeks of radiation to go?
My weight loss has stabilized after only about seven pounds. I'll probably lose another pound or two while I wait for my taste to kick back in, but eight pounds over eight weeks of treatment plus another month or so of recovery is actually quite good, especially when you consider that I've lost mostly fat rather than lean body mass. Given the way I look, my body seems to like the change.
My stamina is excellent: absolutely no sign of fatigue. My firm was closed on New Year's Eve so I was took six spin classes over the past eight days rather than my usual four. And the last class yesterday was my best of the series by far in terms of both speed and resistance.
I still don't have a sore throat or any trouble swallowing. In fact, the only new side effect that's making me a bit uncomfortable is that the skin on my next and upper back and chest is itching and pealing from the radiation, as if it were sunburn.
I'm using Burt's Bees Miracle Salve multiple times a day to deal with it and that is helping greatly. I'm also taking Aleve for the first time in weeks to deal with some of the mild discomfort the radiation burn is causing.
One of the most challenging aspects to dealing with side effects of the radiation is that they change throughout The Process. That's not really surprising; after all, the impact of the radiation is cumulative and it takes time for some side effects to show up.
The skin issues I'm now experiencing were not a concern three weeks ago. My eating became less of a problem at the same time my skin was starting to be a pain...or an itch. And some of my earliest side effect concerns such as a sore throat that would make it painful to swallow never showed up at all.
For now, let the cone-down begin.
This is a continuing series of blog posts by Stan Collender about his experience fighting cancer. "The Process" Stan is describing began last August.