Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Eyes on the Prize

July 10th.
July 19th.
These are important dates. July 10th is when I will be done with radiation, done with all this cancer stuff, done with being a patient, and (fingers, toes, limbs, hairs, and minds crossed) done with all this cancer shit!! Except the follow-up for, you know, the rest of my life. But done!! Let the return to normal begin.

July 19th? Yeah, that's the day I'm thinking is the blow-out celebration of, well, all of the above. And I'm thinking big summer barbecue...not that we have a yard that accommodates that, but those are just details. Food, drink, friends, fun, no fatigue. That's the goal.

Okay, so that's the happy stuff. There are a few things I need to do between now and then. Just a few. I met the radiation oncologist today. Nice facility and it really is pretty close to my office. I liked the staff and I liked the doctor. So I think this will work out. The facility is pretty nice too, sort of calming. But I did get my first glimpse of why some folks find radiation psychologically tougher than chemo. For one, some of the patients are delivered by ambulance. There's reserved ambulance parking out front. Two spaces. And two of the patients I saw there were in wheelchairs. (Okay, and I'll tell you this part too-- when I was searching for the picture that I used in yesterday's posting...I came across a picture of a young girl getting radiation to her brain for a brain tumor; the picture came from the family's blog and I got sucked in and read it. She died at 15 years old.) Radiation is really serious and some people have really really serious stuff going on. My breast cancer seems to just pale in comparison. I feel a little like I'm in the emergency room for a common cold. Only, you know, more serious.

Turns out I'll get 33 treatments. 30 to the entire breast and then 3 that they call a "boost" to the specific tumor area. That's right, I get a "boob boost." (The doctor said in all her time doing this no one had ever called it a "boob boost." How is that??? It's so obvious!) And it's just not as good as it sounds. At all. Before I start, I need to get a CT scan--that will be next Tuesday. Then Thursday I get yet another blood test. (Insert weekend of debauchery here; and now you can see why.) After the Memorial day weekend, I go in for a "simulation" radiation session. They will mark me in 3 spots with "tattoos"--yeah, tattoos. And yeah, permanent. Just three little dots (apparently they will look like freckles...sure, sure they will) so they can line up the radiation exactly the same each time. The tattoos aren't on the breast. Which is kind of a relief, although I suppose those would at least be more hidden. They are sort of across the rib cage, right above the waist. I'll keep you posted on that, but suffice it to say I have no tattoos currently. I don't even have pierced ears. I'm kind of a wimp (yeah, that's funny now; but it's true). I'm not liking this part.

The day after the simulation session (so that will be Wednesday, May 27th) I start the radiation. And I go every weekday for 33 days. 33. Days. Which gets me to July 10th. Yep. Every day. Every. Single. Day. Until July 10th.

And here's how it works: Basically, each patient has the same time slot. So I will go at the same time every day. I'm thinking 9a.m. or, um, 9:15. That way I can be radiation girl, and then head into my office and be Lawyer Lady for the rest of the day uninterrupted. You know, after I stop at Starbucks. When I come to the oncology center I just walk in, make sure the receptionist sees me so she notifies the techs that I'm there, and then I go into the changing room area, slip out of my clothes (waist up), don the ever-fashionable hospital gown (open to the back), put my clothes in a locker and then sit and wait out in the little waiting area until the tech comes and gets me. Which shouldn't be too long, since they schedule appointments 15 minutes apart. Apparently the whole appointment takes only about 15 minutes. The radiation itself is very quick, most of the time is spent aligning me. See, I lay on this table thing, arms above my head, holding on to a bar, while they position me to the exact spot. Then they leave the room, zap me, and that's it. I return to my locker, get my clothes, get dressed and get to work. It sort of reminded me of a spa--without the eucalyptus and well, any other luxury. The way you walk in, greet the receptionist, change clothes, use your locker, and then head out to a little waiting room to wait for the masseuse/ manicurist/ facialist/ radiation tech to come get you. They even had a water cooler (I'm supposed to drink a lot of fluids during radiation. Shots anyone??)

And then of course there are side effects. Of course there are. Although in my consultation the nurse went through a whole list of questions about my health and what I'd experienced in chemotherapy. And jeez, once I listed out all of the side effects I had experienced, it seems the radiation can't help but be a breeze by comparison. See, from the things I've heard and seen, this may surprise you, but my chemo experience wasn't that bad. I was still working, moving about, going out, etc. Lots of people have it worse. Still, when I had to keep saying "yes. yes. yes." to all the "have you had....[insert horrible side effect]" it seemed pretty nasty. (Bear in mind, my general impression is that chemo isn't as bad as I thought it would be!). Okay, so, the things to know about radiation therapy:

1. Yeah, they call it "therapy."
2. I have to stop the anti-oxidants and vitamin supplements that were so helpful during chemo. Radiation is an oxidant. And in order for it to work...right, I can't "anti" oxidant it.
3. I see the doctor every Thursday. Every Thursday! (Take that chemo oncologist "Absolutely not" woman!!)
4. Fatigue is common (especially with chemo preceding radiation)
5. bone pain can occur
6. the skin in the treated area (right breast, in case you really haven't been paying attention) will get dry, and "burned" --like a sunburn. On my entire breast.
7. I'm to wear loose clothing, no under wire bras, cotton preferred;
8. No temperature changes! (no ice packs--which I can live with; but no jacuzzi??? Again??? They're killing me. Expect me not to leave the jacuzzi over Memorial Day holiday weekend)
9. no lotions, deodorants, creams, ointments etc. But I can and should use Aloe Vera on the treated area.
10. Treatment area may not be exposed to direct sunlight. (Okay, so no topless sunbathing. I and my neighbors can live with this. But the "treated area" includes a part of the chest normally exposed when wearing a bathing suit. Oh, right, they suggest I wear a t-shirt when swimming or out in the sun. Because I'm not attractive enough these days. Maybe I'll wear socks with my sandals too.)
11. No shaving the underarm. But apparently that's okay since the hair won't grow there during the radiation (as it hasn't in two months of chemo).
12. Breast may swell and become painful.
13. Sexual desire or performance may change during treatment. (they don't say what the change might be; we're totally hoping for the best here!)
14. I will not be radioactive (so good to know).

And then they give a bad news/good news post-treatment note: The breast may be smaller (the bad news) and firmer (the good news!) after radiation. I'm sure that's just going to look totally normal--one bigger, flabbier breast and then one little perky one. Great.

Then when I get through all this (party, party, party...hey, it helps to keep my thoughts on something happy in the future), I still have lots of follow-up. I'll be at UCLA every 3 months and at the radiation oncologist two to four weeks after and then every 3 months or so as well. You'd think I had a serious disease or something! Sheesh. Have I mentioned that I'm really squeamish and generally can't handle pain, doctors, needles, hospitals, blood, or pretty much anything medical? Maybe I have to start using the past tense. I couldn't handle those things. Until I could.


  1. Good synopsis, girl. I do remember those days myself-not too bad after the first visit.Almost done:)

  2. Teresa,
    Don't be afraid of the tattoo thing, I have 2 (got both after I "knew better"), its not that bad. Fred's dad got those dots on his butt and had to lay in a butt mold of his own butt everytime he was radiated for his prostate. :) Kinda funny is a cancer humor kinda way.

    Kathy G


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