Itís over. My last day of radiation. Iím finally through with the special soap, creams and deodorant. Through with having to juggle my work schedule and daily radiation treatments.

Mostly Iím glad to be through with the tape over my eight bright-blue markings indicating the target area for the radiation. The first thing I did before leaving the hospital on my last day of radiation was rip off those nasty stickers protecting my blue marks.

Now I can wear a dress to work again since I donít have to Ďstrip above the waistí anymore. I wish I had a strand of Mardi Gras beads for every time I took off my shirt and threw my arms over my head the past three months.

Yes, I rang the brass bell in the radiation reception area, signaling it was my last day. But I didnít want to. I just wanted to walk out and close that chapter. Everyone keeps congratulating me, but I didnít do anything except show up for 33 days. Itís not like I had a physical therapy regimen and a goal that I had to work toward.

And it certainly wasnít anything like what chemo patients have to go through. Friends gave me flowers, wine, a special lunch. Instead of thinking of it as congratulations, I should think of it as them joining me in celebration of this part being over. I just want to forget this ever happened and proceed to the next chapter of my life.

Wellness

I am a runner. Sort of. Never that far, just a mile or two, but nearly every afternoon after work, for 10 years or so. Itís not something I particularly like. I just like being outdoors. It became a habit when we got our dog, but the routine continued even after her death last fall.

But just after my diagnosis this summer, I found myself with a lot of nervous energy and I actually wanted to run, even getting up early to run before the heat of the day set in. I couldnít sleep anyway. I was waking up early, my mind racing with thoughts about the upcoming surgery and medical bills.

But it was a different type of run. Faster. Instead of running toward a wellness goal, this was almost desperation, trying to run away from any more sickness trying to catch up with me. Not only the running, but I kept active in other ways, rarely sitting down to read my favorite summer novels. I couldnít sit still. It reminded me of the nervous, stressful energy I had when I was in college, just before exams. Doing anything, even cleaning the apartment, instead of studying.

Now that Iíve been through all this, I find Iím encouraging (nagging!) my husband to get healthy. Eat healthier, drink less, exercise, get a skin cancer screening. Because how ironic it would be after all Iíve gone through, that something should happen to him to prevent us from having many more years together.

Dragon boat racing

Finally, something to look forward to ó dragon boat racing.

My husband saw the ad announcing an eight-week Cancer Survivor Wellness program ó Dragon Boat Racing. Itís something Iíve wanted to do for two years ever since I heard about the annual fundraising event each May. I was so excited. Finally, something to look forward to.

When I was diagnosed in May, I didnít want to look back at this summer as ďthe summer that I was fighting cancer.Ē Now I could make this be the summer that I was on my first Dragon Boat team.

The first practice was about one week into my radiation treatments, and my doctors were hesitant to sign my medical waiver. They wondered if I would be too fatigued or if I would perspire too much and make my radiation area markers disappear that were all over my chest.

So I told the doctors how important it was to me. I was told I could have small tattoos on me instead of the markers. I gave this serious consideration until I realized that after my treatments were done, the tattoos would remain and be a constant, daily reminder to me of once having had cancer. So I opted for the stickers. Already nasty after only a few weeks, but at least temporary.

The first two practices, no one talked about their illnesses. I wondered if there was an unwritten rule that when survivors get together for an activity that they donít talk about their medical histories. It turns out we were just getting to know each other and the stories started coming out in the subsequent weeks.

I thought I was doing fine emotionally until I met one woman whose breast cancer came back this spring, after 10 years. Is the worrying ever really ďoverĒ? Or is it always in the back of the mind? How long before you donít worry about it every day?

Debbie Ponton

Charleston