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Chemotherapy affected my brain in ways that I was never told about.
It was June 11, 2011 when I was diagnosed with stage 3B lung cancer, I was 49 years old. Cancer does not run in my family. I had no symptoms and was shocked when I received the diagnosis.
I had gone to my personal physician for pain in my right side, thinking that it was from exercising. He ordered an X-ray and with the results, he sent me to a pulmonologist. The pulmonologist then ordered a PET scan. The results showed I had a shadow in my left lung, so I was sent to a surgeon for a biopsy, which confirmed I had lung cancer.
I was immediately sent to both a medical and radiation oncologist. Because the cancer had spread to the right lung as well, I could not get surgery. So, I went through six weeks of chemotherapy and radiation. Fortunately, I had no side effects; in fact, I didn't mind that I could eat anything I wanted and still maintained my weight. I'm a Weight Watcher and had lost 100 pounds prior to my diagnosis, so it was great that I could enjoy foods I never would have eaten otherwise.
A year later, I was diagnosed with brain cancer after having a seizure. No one had told me about the risk for brain cancer, and it was then that I learned about the blood-brain barrier. Chemo is a poison that kills both bad and good cells in the body, but the head has a barrier to keep poison out of the brain.
I underwent whole-brain radiation and that's when I lost my hair and started wearing different hats. Wigs were not my thing. I was teaching Junior Achievement in elementary schools at that time. I had a second grader ask me why I wore a hat (not knowing that I was bald). I said it keeps my head warm. He replied that his dad wore a hat too, because he was bald.
I continued to have metastasis along my cancer journey and was treated with only radiation, no more chemo. My oncologists said my body accepted radiation well and apparently, I did. After a few more bouts of cancer, including another lesion on the brain, I have been cancer free for five years now.
I continue to get CAT scans and MRI scans two to three times each year to be sure nothing is new. One of those MRIs showed fluid in my brain — another thing I wish I was told could happen. Again, with the blood-brain barrier, it also doesn't let the fluid drain that was created by the lesions being destroyed by radiation. Therefore, I had actual brain surgery to release the fluid and gather some of the surrounding cells which were biopsied at the same time. Happily, nothing showed any cancer.
I had a lot of support from my family, close friends, my Weight Watchers members (as I am a leader of classes and had to get substitutes during my treatment) and definitely from the Supreme Being above. I never cried, never doubted that I would get through everything that came my way, never questioned why this was happening and totally trusted my doctors. My attitude was and is always positive.
I learned a lot along my journey, unfortunately, by being affected with different areas of metastasis. That is the main thing that I wish I was more up to date with the possibilities of what could happen. However, I am overwhelmed with the fact that I'm still here and kicking! Any advice that I could give to anyone affected by cancer is that a positive attitude means everything. I'm coming up on 12 years since my original diagnosis and looking forward to many more years cancer free.
This post was written and submitted by Gayle Sellers. The article reflects the views of Gayle Sellers and not of CURE®. This is also not supposed to be intended as medical advice.
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