"Ring this bell
Three times well
Its toll to clearly say,
My treatment's done
This course is run
And I am on my way!"
There's a common custom, it turns out, in cancer centers across the country, to ring a bell when you're done with your course of treatment. The now-widespread tradition was introduced in 1996 at MD Anderson when U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Irve Le Moyne, a patient with head and neck cancer, installed a brass bell at the main campus Radiation Treatment Center.
It rang about half a dozen times during the six and a half weeks I was in treatment. It sounds cheesy -- it *is* cheesy, but I have to tell you, the first time I heard it ringing out when another patient finished their course of treatment, I got a little teary -- and every time thereafter. It's been such a long road, and it's just such a relief to be finally done.
I'm not actually done, of course. This is the end of the most intensive phase of treatment, the chemo + surgery + radiation. This process started in February with diagnosis, and is ending now. I have gotten off relatively easy on the radiation, although my skin did finally start to get raw a few days ago, and I am very grateful for the Silvadene burn cream they gave me today -- even though it's supposedly prescribed for preventing infection, not pain relief, for me, it seems much more effective than Aquaphor or even aloe vera gel for pain relief. Your mileage may vary. The skin issues should peak in another 5-7 days, and then improve from there, and mostly, I'm glad that mine don't seem likely to get nearly as bad as what some people go through, blistering and weeping and such. This is manageable, and soon it'll be over -- by 2016, I should be clear of it.
But I have most of another year of going in every three weeks for Herceptin (1/2 hour infusion, but the process takes about three hours out of my day), plus follow-ups with various doctors, plus mammograms, plus starting daily Tamoxifen pills at home. (Interestingly, the latter was actually free when I picked it up at the pharmacy today, completely covered by my insurance, which is a thing I've never had happen before. I guess the insurance companies think it's much, much cheaper than chemo.)
I would like to be really done. But this is a BIG milestone, and I will take it. I admit, I'm more exhausted than exhilarated right now; I think it hasn't really sunk in yet. But maybe now that knot of tension in my upper back will start to unwind.
Pictured below: my radiation machine, which I affectionately think of as Wall-E, the really pretty fake sky I stared at for so many weeks, my incredibly awesome team of radiation therapists (they were so sweet and chipper and young and adorable, I can't even tell you), and me, ringing the bell.