It was four years ago today that I started radiotherapy. I was reminded of it as I drove to work this morning with views across a beautiful snowy landscape, because it was also wintery weather then.
When I was in the thick of treatment I kept a journal but was not prepared publicly to share all my thoughts and feelings and therefore I was not blogging then. This evening I've looked back at what I wrote and I can pull out some strands that run through. In some ways, that first radiotherapy session sums up a few of the strands.
One of them was the camaraderie of the waiting rooms. We all admitted to irrational (and some rational fears) at times and we talked them through, sometimes laughing together and at others discussing how we might cope with this. On my first day there were 3 women there for their last sessions and they were very willing to share tips and be encouraging. Throughout treatment I always had a book with me but in fact rarely got much read as there was so much chatting.
Linked to this is the strand of support I found online at the Breast Cancer Care Forum. The encouragement, the sharing of information and tips and somewhere to express worries and doubts was probably the most useful thing in helping me through treatment. Many of those I met there continue to be very important to me and although we have moved from the Forum and found another home we are still there for each other.
Another strand was the amount of time spent waiting. It was always better at the very end of the day, because the staff wanted to get off home so patients were shifted from one machine to another to fill in gaps in the schedule. Unfortunately waiting for late running appointments was a feature throughout hospital based treatment is still a feature of follow up - although the appointments I had while in the study all ran to time.
Then there was the difficulty of trying to fit in working during treatment. In theory this shouldn't have been a problem at this point because I'd requested treatment times at the end of the day, which would mean that I could go to work, on to the hospital for treatment in the late afternoon and then home. In practice it wasn't that easy. Firstly the dozy registrar I'd seen had messed up the paperwork so my appointments were all originally dotted around earlier in the day. Fortunately the much more efficient radiographers managed to re-arrange most of them for me when I went for my planning appointment. And that was another feature - in general the radiographers were friendly, kind and efficient.
Even worse administratively was the way in which treatment times and clinic appointments were sometimes changed at the last moment - which happened that first day. I'd got an appointment for 4pm and at 10.30am they phoned asking me to be there at 12.00 (and it was over an hour's drive away). In the end a colleague covered a meeting for me and I got there - only to find that they were running over an hour late and I wasn't seen until nearly 1.30pm!
It has been interesting to look back at that first day partly because it summed up the experience quite neatly - the good and the difficult. Much has changed in the last four years, but the strength and support of other women dealing with the same or similar practical and emotional issues continues to this day and is something for which I was and am extremely grateful.