The Finish Line

I’ve somewhat avoided this post for a few days, mostly because I was too tired to think and also because I didn’t know if I could do the specialness of this day justice.

October 20th was a day I had been anticipating for every single second since I began radiation treatments on September 11th. And it was no different when I woke up Friday morning. I started with my usual warm bowl of maple and brown sugar oatmeal and moved on to my list of morning tasks soon enough before I started getting ready for my final treatment.

In so many ways that morning felt the same as the rest. I had gotten into a routine over the last few weeks, but I felt nervous and honestly a bit torn. I knew I was about to move into a new phase of this journey and I had just finally gotten used to this one. I had finally understood what was happening in my body and accepted it for what it was. But on the other side of the moon, I knew that I would start the true healing phase and have to wait on my body to adjust to not being zapped every day and start to actually repair itself.

IMG_8192K.T. had taken off the afternoon to be able to come up to the office and see me after I finished which meant he was also at home to kiss my face and send me on my way. It goes without saying that he had been looking forward to this final day for as long as I had if not longer. I was planning to write him as soon as they called me to get ready for my treatment so he could leave the house and head down and make it there by the time I came out of my undertreat visit for the week. Mom instructed I wear something bright and cheery (eyeroll) and since I had insisted on wearing a black dress, this was the compromise. She also requested a picture before I left, so scorched face and two thumbs up…this is what she got.

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Around 3:15, my phone rang and they were ready for me. My friends followed me out to make sure they captured every moment and share in my excitement.  So for the LAST time, I changed into my gown and walked down this hallway into the 2nd door on the right and crawled up on the table, told them my birthdate, positioned my head on the neck rest, placed my mouth piece in, and watched as they lowered my mask to cover my face and snap into the table…one….last….time.

I listened for the usual sounds of the vault closing, the imaging starting, the table positioning me to line up with the treatment parameters, the 2nd round of imaging, and lastly I watched for the pistons in the TrueBeam to begin to narrow and calibrate into my dosage and treatment area.

img_1887.jpgAnd then it was over. I rolled off the table and gathered my bag of clothes like I would be back for more next week, but instead I had my mask in hand as well as that wretched mouth piece and I was never going to lie on that hard black table ever again, Lord willing.

Back in my “last day” dress, I headed around to the front and prepared for my last undertreat with Dr. Spencer and Dr. Nikolaev. Again, my friends followed me up there and took pictures of everything.

Vitals, skin check, ear check, instructions for skin for the weekend, and a whole goody bag of gauze, medical wrap, cuticerin dressing, and Lord knows what else and I was done with this monster forever. Time to ring the bell..but K.T. wasn’t there yet and I was NOT ringing that bell without him.

My friends walked back to our office with me to put down my things and drug me into the break room around the corner before heading back up to the front to meet K.T.. Except we never made it back up front. The door swung open and nearly the whole department was standing there in support of me and finishing 6 weeks of head and neck radiation to kiss Glanda goodbye, once and for all.

Now, I’ve said I’m not a crier (and that’s true aside from the last 3.5 months) and I honestly hadn’t felt emotional at any point in the day so far, but when I saw 50+ people crammed in our break room yell “congrats” at me, I lost it. People from every single department: physicians, residents, billing, check-in, dosimetry, therapy, social work, admin, and physics.  They had all come…for me. And right in the middle was my precious K.T., my parents, and my brother.

 

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Once I stopped crying into my dad’s hanky, I tried to take in every moment and every face that had come to celebrate me as I knew it was something to treasure. Never in my life have I had that kind of work support, and as promised, everyone in the room got a hug and a big thank you for being there. I couldn’t help it.

Last but not least, my superwoman cape from Emily was strapped to my back and the last hooray for finishing 30 fractions of radiation. I had earned my super powers! So we ate cake, opened presents, and celebrated as much as we could for a late Friday afternoon.

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And as I begin to wrap up this post, it’s really important to me that I express as much gratitude as possible to the people that were in the trenches with me through this. The people that dried my tears, listened to my fears, saw first hand what the effects of radiation were doing to my body, how the treatments stole my energy (and my weight), and comforted me with hugs, back rubs, and whatever else to soothe the emotions I didn’t always know how to deal with. The same people that encouraged me, checked on me, got me out of bed, made sure I was fed (the best I could be), made sure I was hydrated, lubed up with cream, and made sure my heart had time to share, and most of all made sure I was getting enough rest so that my body could recover the best it could between treatments.

To my selfless angel of a husband, our two little kiddos Fox & Stella, my parents and brother, my co-workers, my doctors and nurses, and my therapy team, I will never be able to thank you enough or repay you for the way you cared for me during these days of struggle and days of healing. As much as I hate cliches, I truly couldn’t have made it through without you…

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Dr. Spencer
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Dr. Nikolaev (Dr. Spencer’s resident through my treatment)
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My precious nurse, Laura

So Friday, October 20th finally came to a close. And while tired, beaten down, and emotionally drained, we made it one way or another. My parents came home with us and shared dinner in our home and helped us decompress from the day. But as I went to change into my Christmas pajamas (because Christmas is my favorite), I found this on my bathroom mirror…

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Valerie Powell: Lovable, hopeful, joyful, loving, beautiful, resilient, positive, faithful, funny, inspiring, smart, selfless…and HEALED (which lined up right below my chin when I stood to read them all through tears) The perfect ending to a very long awaited day.

I will never, ever understand what I did to deserve this man, but thank you, Lord, you saw me fit to be his wife. Thank you for knowing my heart and his, and for blessing our lives with absolute abundance. I wrote this verse on my whiteboard in my office before radiation even started, and the Lord has been faithful. For Friday, October 20th…there is nothing more to say…

“Now glory be to God, who by his mighty power at work within us is able to do far more than we would ever dare to ask or even dream of—infinitely beyond our highest prayers, desires, thoughts, or hopes.” – Ephesians 3:20