I Finished My Radiation Treatments!

On April 12, I started radiation treatment for the leptomeningeal disease that invaded my brain and spine from my lung cancer. My treatment plan was for 17 sessions of whole brain and spine radiation. Yesterday I finished this grueling treatment plan!

After a quick visit with my radiation oncologist, I got to ring the bell to celebrate the end of my treatment.

Ringing the Bell to Celebrate the End of Radiation Treatment

My wonderful team at UVA took the best care of me through my treatments. I am so grateful to be treated at UVA where every single person who works with me is nothing short of amazing.

When I got home yesterday, thanks to some special friends, I had a few surprises waiting for me.

My friends, Terri and Nicole, had balloons and a gift tied to my door.

Balloons tied to a dutch door
Not my best facial expression! 🙂

My sweet friend, Kate, left a flower arrangement cut from her beautiful yard.

Woman Holding a Peony and Rose Flower Arrangement

What the Treatments Were Like

Many have asked what my treatments were like and how long did they take.

Like I usually do when I post a cancer update, I’m including pictures of me living my best life while I endured treatment.

Hiking in Smith Mountain Lake State Park with Sherman Skulina
Weekend hike at Smith Mountain Lake State Park. Note the rock wall in the forest, a remnant of when the land was farmed.

For each session, the first thing that happened was I nestled my body on the radiation table into a mold made of my body. The mold was very comfortable since it was custom-made for me. Then two radiation therapists used Sharpie marks on my stomach to get my body in the exact position for treatment.

When that was done, they then put the giant mesh mask over my head and shoulders and hooked it to the table. The marks were then checked again to make sure they were in the correct place.

Next, a CT was done of my brain. If I wasn’t in the correct position, I was adjusted and another brain CT was done. The process continued if necessary until my position was exact.

Woman in a greenhouse shopping for plants
Shopping for plants and carrying a strawberry purse that my grandmother made in the 1980s. My granddad made the wooden handles.

After the brain CT, a CT of my spine was done to check that my position was perfect. Only once did it take five CTs to get my positioning perfect. Usually, it took three CTs.

The actually radiation treatment was 14 minutes. When they were radiating my brain, every single time I smelled an unpleasant odor. I did not notice any odor during the spine radiation. Music was playing during my treatment which helped to occupy my mind.

Total time for the treatment was usually about an hour. It’s a three hour round trip for us to get to UVA, so each treatment was a long day. Many days I not only had treatment, but also had bloodwork and a doctor visits. Those days were especially long.

Side Effects

After my first radiation treatment, I had the worst side effects. Around midnight I woke up with a headache and feeling very sick to my stomach. I spent a lot of time in the bathroom that night throwing up.

The next day my amazing UVA team nipped those problems in the bud by prescribing a steroid and an anti nausea medication.

Woman planting Foxgloves in a perennial garden
Working in my flower beds gives me so much pleasure.

Another challenging side effect was loss of appetite and loss of taste. When I started my double dose of Tagrisso in the fall, I soon noticed that my taste buds had changed. Sweets no longer tasted good to the girl with the biggest sweet tooth. Once radiation started, sugar began to be repulsive to me. Even fruit doesn’t taste good to me now.

My appetite is slowly returning and I’m eating much more than I was. Food is medicine right now and I know it is important to fuel my body so that it can heal.

Woman holding a spring arrangement in a wooden box from a florist
Sisters who are former students surprised me with this gorgeous flower arrangement. It was waiting on my front porch one day when I returned home from treatment.

Other side effects have been fatigue, a fuzzy feeling in my brain, and hair loss. My balance also has been a bit wonky at times.

My hair started to fall out around week three of treatment. I currently still have hair but it is very thin. When I run my fingers through my hair or brush it, I lose quite a bit. I don’t know if it will all fall out but I’ve got my fingers crossed that enough will stay on my head to get by until it starts growing again.

Delay in Treatment

My treatment was delayed from April 29 – May 4 because my platelets dropped to a low number. The days off from radiation ended up being a relief to my body and during those six days, my body felt better and better with each passing day.

Purple Clematis Blooms
Purple Clematis

On May 5 my platelets were high enough to resume my treatments.

What’s Next

My bloodwork will be carefully monitored over the next few weeks and I’ll continue to see both my regular and brain oncologists on a regular basis. In June, I’ll have a brain and spine MRI and chest/abdomen CT to check on the state of this horrid cancer.

Thank You

I am so grateful for the support that I receive through my blog. Your support, prayers, and comments mean the world to me!

Dock, American Flag and dog at Smith Mountain Lake, VA

I am looking forward to summer and spending a lot of time relaxing at the lake.

111 Comments

  1. Thank you for the wonderful update Paula, you are my hero, anyone battling cancer is my hero! Praying that you are able to keep your hair as you mentioned and I love how you move on living, in the midst of all of the struggle, what a great encouragement you are to many, many people! I continue to pray your body has the ability to fight back, melting these cells away, boosting all the cancer fighting cells. Yuck with your change in taste, COVID changed that for me too, but sadly it did not take away my sweet tooth (sigh), perhaps that is God’s gift since cancer loves sugar. May you rest, restore, do the things you love most! You are so loved!

  2. I’m so glad you’re finished with the radiation. It sounds terrible. I think keeping active and doing things you love has probably helped you a lot. Praying for you, your husband and your recovery. Hugs.

  3. Yay! You rang the bell! I am so happy for you! Let the healing begin!
    You continue to be in my prayers everyday, multiple times a day. I am always blessed by your great courage, the gracious way you share yourself and your family, and the joy that radiates from you through your posts.
    🎈🎈🎈
    Suzanne

  4. UVA is the best medical center. Glad this part of your treatment is over and you’re looking forward to summer. I’m still praying for you and your husband as you walk together through this,

    1. I am 100% pleased with UVA and I’m grateful that it is only 1.5 hours from my home. I so much appreciate your prayers and support.

  5. Paula,
    I read your posts for several reasons…the decorating and craft ideas, renovations and work on the lake house, travel, gardening, your love of nostalgia and family treasures. But I am inspired by your strength and candid sharing of this journey. I am relieved this radiation course has been completed and pray for good results. I hope you have a wonderful summer and look forward to each update that you share. Blessings to you.
    Sherry B

  6. Continued prayers and courage throughout treatment and post treatment. You’ve endured a lot.

  7. I am happy you are finished with radiation, I will continue to pray for you and your family.

  8. So glad your treatments are over!! You are just so strong and brave. I can’t tell you how much I admire your strength and resilience. I continue to keep you in my prayers. My hope is that you keep your beautiful hair and enjoy these sunny spring days digging in the garden, crafting, watching sunsets on the lake, and loving on Sherman!!

  9. Hurrah, Paula! You made it through and rang the bell! God is good…Praying for many blessings for you this summer – feeling better with improved health, love of family and friends, beautiful weather to enjoy your gardening!

  10. My heart and prayers go with you Paula as you walk into summer and healing. Praying God restores you back to your very healthy self and energy. I’ve been so moved by your journey and your honesty.
    God bless!
    Jayne

  11. Now your body can start recovering from radiation and you know that things will get better because you had a trial run when you had to take time off at the end of April. Continued healing prayers.

    1. Thank you so much, MarthaMerle! You personally know how tough cancer treatment is and how rotten it makes you feel. I hope to see you soon!

  12. My thoughts are with you on your journey through your illness. You are one of many friends living with stage 4 cancer. Thankfully you are living in such a beautiful place that heals your soul during the treatments. God bless you!!!

    1. I am so sorry that you have many friends with stage 4 cancer. Cancer just plain stinks. I so much appreciate your support!

  13. how wonderful to see you ring THE BELL! thank you for spending your time & energy to share your journey.
    your flower beds look beautiful.
    Prayers & hugs,

    1. Thank you so much, CC! Gardening is one of life’s pleasures that I enjoy so much. My flower beds have been so pretty this spring and they bring me so much joy. I so much appreciate your prayers and support!

  14. Paula,

    So happy to hear that this part of your treatment is behind you! Continuing to pray for you.

  15. My brother rang that bell 3 years ago now and it was the highlight of that day for him and us, too! I am so glad you are done and can move on with enjoying some good weather, your beautiful lake house and whatever makes you happy!! i will continue with my prayers for you to continue to get better and continue to enjoy your life having this behind you!! You feel like family to all of us on here as we have followed you through this horrible journey with cancer and witnessed your resilience to continue living your best life through these difficult times!! YAAAY ON RINGING THAT BELL!!

    1. Thank you so much, Karolyn. I know it was a very happy day for your family when your brother got to ring that bell.

  16. Thank you for sharing your experiences with cancer treatment. My Mom went through treatments 30 years ago and she chose not to share how she felt. I wish she had, so maybe I could have better understood what she was going through. She survived the cancer and lived many more years to the age of 82. Hope your summer is filled with happiness and lots of beautiful flowers, and that you don’t lose your hair… but its just hair…. and it grows back. Prayers for you.

    1. Your mother was probably trying to protect you from what she was feeling. Hurray that her treatment worked and she lived a long life. My hair continues to fall out but I still have hair. Like you said, it’s just hair, and if I lose it all, it’s ok. It will grow back!

  17. I’m so glad you got through this treatment, Paula. It all sounds so grueling. It’s nice to see you living your best life despite having to go through that. I can tell you’re very loved by all in your community, not that I’m at all surprised. I’m praying for your continued strength and healing.

    1. Thank you so much, Crissy! I am so blessed to have so many friends who make me feel so loved and support me through all of my tough times.

  18. You are are a very special and courageous young woman. Keep up the good fight sweet girl. I think of you and pray for you often.

  19. Hooray! I am so glad you made it through your treatments, Paula. Your positive outlook amazes me. Sending you continued prayers and positive healing vibes!

  20. Paula……you are such a brave woman. I send you my best wishes for a happy summer. Your outlook is wonderfully positive.

  21. Paula I’m so happy that the radiation treatment is over!!!! You just eat up what you can, when you can. As many before me have posted, you are loved and being prayed for. The power of prayer is not to be underestimated.
    Many blessings to you and Mr. SP

    1. Thank you so much, Colleen! My appetite has improved and I’m having less trouble eating which is a great thing. Still struggling with a lot of things not tasting good, but I’m just focusing on consuming what is good to me now. I so much appreciate your prayers and support!

  22. Blessings to you! I had cancer 20 yrs ago & my hair fell out & food didn’t taste good. After the chemo stopped gradually my taste came back & so did my hair. The inconvenience was worth it! Hang in there!

    1. So glad that you were able to stop cancer with your treatment and continue to live your best life. My hair continues to fall fall out and it is ok if it does. I know it will grow back. Really hoping for my taste buds to get restored because it makes it tough to find foods that I want to eat. I so much appreciate your prayers and support!

  23. Im so happy your done your treatment. I pray for you every night before bed. I also have you on our prayer chain at church. Paula you look amazing. So pretty in your pictures. Keep living your best life. I know God is on your side and you are gonna beat this.
    Hugs and prayers

  24. Thank you for sharing your update. I will continue to pray for you!
    Hugs,
    Shelley

  25. You are so inspiring! I wish you strength as you move forward. You’re such a role-model for perseverance!
    Thank you for sharing your story and allowing us into your world.

  26. You made it! I’m so happy you are finally finished with your treatments. And seeing you work in your flower beds made me smile. I’m so glad you were able to be in your garden. It looks beautiful. I look forward to your updates and continue praying for you Paula. ❤️

    1. Thank you, Kim! Just like you, being outside in my flower beds is my happy place. I so much appreciate your prayers and support!

  27. I just discovered your blogs today. I am a cancer survivor also so I do understand some of what you’re feeling. I will keep you in my prayers and for good health. I think your attitude of living each day as it comes is wonderful. I think attitude can play a big part of living with cancer. I will keep reading.

    1. I am so glad that you discovered my blog! It’s wonderful that you are a cancer survivor. It’s a tough road to go down, for sure. I do my best to stay positive because being negative is not at all good for my mental health.

  28. Paula, I’m so sorry you’re having to go through this cancer journey. But please don’t worry about your hair. I had chemo and radiation so I knew I would lose my hair but you know what… it really wasn’t that bad. My hair had always been straight but when it grew back, it was curly and I loved it that way. When it grew down below my shoulders, I had it cut to just above my shoulders dreading losing all my curls but I still have some curls. But eventually I will have straight hair again. It’s been a bitter sweet journey but the best thing is that I’m cancer free now. Thanks to God! I felt the Lord’s prescense every day and I could not have made it through my journey without Him. I’m praying for you and I love you. Stay strong!
    Peggy Crozier

    1. I am so happy that you are now cancer free, Peggy! What a huge blessing for you. Thank you for your encouraging words about my hair. It continues to thin but I still have some. If I lose it, I’ll deal with it just like you did and then enjoy watching it grow back. I so much appreciate your prayers and support!

  29. You are truly an inspiration to all. May you enjoy your summer at the lake to the fullest. You and your family will remain in my thoughts and prayers.

  30. You have done an exceptional job!! You are the most positive person I have ever known, Even though there were probably days when you thought the treatments would never end. I so admire your strength and perseverance. I pray that everything goes very well and you are healed. God Bless you!!

    1. Thank you so much, Mona! It seemed to take forever to get through the 17 treatments and boy was I happy when they pulled me out of the tube for the last time. I so much appreciate your prayers and support!

  31. SO VERY HAPPY FOR YOU !!! Continued prayers for you….. enjoy the rest of spring and have a great summer !

  32. Oh sweet pea, congratulations for this amazing news for you ! You look wonderful and you will feel wonderful from now on. Of course, you attitude with so much hope and strength has brought you to finish your treatment successfully. God has blessed you immensely.
    Thank you for sharing this with us.
    Blessings always.
    Fabby.

  33. I am so glad that your treatments are over and you can spend more joyous time in your flower garden. Mint tea helps with nausea and I sates so refreshing in the summer. Also ginger tea works well for this same issue.

    1. Thank you so much! As soon as I read your comment, I made a cup of ginger tea and it made my tummy feel so good. When you were my beloved teacher in fourth grade, I loved watching you drink hot tea during the day. I remember getting Mama to buy me special hot tea and a tea infuser at the Rockfish Gap Country Store so I could drink hot tea just like you did. I have the best memories of 4th grade and what a great teacher you were.

  34. OMG! Paula – I am so happy to hear you have finished your treatments. I can’t imagine how grueling this must have been. Hopefully, your body will bounce back and your appetite will steadily increase. I pray for you each day and will continue to do so. BTW – Your flower garden is beautiful! Those Iris are stunning.
    Have a wonderful, restful weekend. 🙂

    1. Thank you so much, Lynda! My flower beds have been such a pleasure for me this spring and it brings me so much joy to be outside tending to them. Every day I am feeling a bit better which is very encouraging. I so much appreciate your prayers and support!

  35. That’s wonderful, you ring that bell!! I hope you feel stronger each day and are able to get out in your garden or to the lake to enjoy some time with your guys this weekend. Thinking of you and praying for you every day, my friend. You truly are amazing.

  36. So happy you’re done! Now off to enjoy your flowers and your summer with your family!

    Prayers continue for your full recovery!

  37. Paula, I’m so thankful your treatments are completed. Cause for celebration for sure. continuing to pray for your full healing. What a journey cancer is.

    1. Thank you so much, Jackie! I so much appreciate your support and prayers. With each passing day, I’m feeling better and better.

    1. Thank you so much, Ann! I am so blessed to have the lake house to enjoy. It is definitely my happy place.

  38. I’m so glad you are finally finished with your treatments, Paula! I truly believe you are one of the strongest persons I have ever known! Your ability to handle your current situation with such dignity and grace is such an inspiration to all of us. Please know that you remain in my daily prayers and I wish you the most that life has to offer. May God bless and protect you!

    Hugs,

    Tee
    ps…I’m still praying for a miracle. xo

    1. Thank you so much for your kind comment. I so much appreciate your support and prayers. Miracles can happen and I’m also praying that one will happen for me.

    1. Like you, I am embracing life and doing my best to enjoy every minute of every day. I so much appreciate your support.

  39. So exciting to see you ring the bell, Paula! I know it’s a huge accomplishment after everything you’ve been through. It’s so sweet of your friends and students to leave you gifts, balloons, and flowers. I know it means a lot. Thank you for taking the time to put together these posts. Your creativity has inspired me for ages but watching you go through all of this with such grace has made me appreciate you a million times more. Adding my prayers to the others and cheering you on as you continue to recover and heal. Big hugs, CoCo

  40. Paula, you are a trooper to go through all these treatments and still have a smile on your face! All the flowers are lovely and it is so nice to receive these sweet gifts from dear friends… <3 I'm glad you are beginning to feel better. I am amazed at how you are able to keep hiking and still getting out there! Major determination and stamina… Anyway, I am sooo very glad you are doing well and please know your post is our top story at Share Your Style #304 this evening (followed by your grandmother's 100 year old china cabinet). <3

    Love and many hugs and prayers,
    Barb 🙂

    1. You are wonderful to share my post at Share Your Style. Thank you so much. I am feeling better and better with each passing day.

  41. Paula, I am so very sorry you are suffering through this ordeal. But, I admire your courage and determination to go on living your best life every day. Thinking and praying for you.

    1. I so much appreciate your prayers and support. I am slowly but surely feeling better and better with each passing day.

  42. Hello Mrs. Pea. You are so strong and I know that God sends his angels to be all around you when you are going through your treatments. Your name is at the top of my prayer list and you are in my thoughts many times a day. Sending love and blessings. Love you. God bless.

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