WHAT I THINK I LOOK LIKE
Feb. 16th was the fourth day of a five-week treatment of radiation therapy to shrink the breast tumor and sterilize neighboring lymph nodes. The chemo shrunk the cancer very well, but there is still a mass. Because I am so small breasted (ahem) the medical team would like to make the mass as small as possible before doing a mastectomy on the affected breast.
The funky high tech radiation machine looks like something out of my recently published science fiction novel! I lay on a table, right arm in a support above my head. The technicians line me up, then quickly leave the room. The machine unfolds and rotates, making subtle buzzing and appropriate science fictiony noises. Low dose beams of ionizing radiation are focused on my bad parts.
To answer the constant questions by concerned coworkers, family, and friends:
- No, I will not set off a geiger counter.
- Yes, my skin will be affected around the tumor and nodes area. After a number of treatments, the skin will likely be red and sore, like a sunburn.
- No, my boob doesn't glow in the dark.
- Yes, it's safe to hug people.
- No, I'm not supposed to remove the X-marks-the-spot sticker above my boob.
- Yes, the "dot" tattoos are permanent. These were marked on my body to help the techs line up the affected areas up each day I visit the machine.
EACH DAY, MON-FRI, I GO TO RADIATION TREATMENT. For five weeks:-/ REMOVE SHIRT AND SLIP ON A PATIENT'S GOWN...
Nothing noticeable yet...
Radiation isn't stopping me from creative work. Am nearing the completion of a painting of Mitzy the super friendly dog:-)
Day Fourteen of Radiation:
I'm still working as much as possible in the store, pushing myself because of the financial ruin cancer has caused, and juggling long daily drives to the clinic. Getting dizzy and weary of all that hectic running about, so hopefully will drop some work hours soon.
The treated area is slightly darker in color and itchy in some spots. There is a tender, swollen area in the armpit and the radiation oncologist believes it is fluid build up (opposed to being an infection). It's mildly annoying. They will be doing a cat scan on it tomorrow, so will see.
Yes, was given a CAT scan to see about the pocket of fluid build up. Yep, it's fluid/lymph related. The scar tissue in my breast area is preventing proper drainage. It grows more painful as it inflates with fluid, so the breast surgeon will see it tomorrow. Odd how a bunch of harmless water can cause so much discomfort!
Today I also received my weekly chemotherapy treatment, a "light duty" biological targeted therapy to help keep the cancer at bay and prevent anything from spreading. (Herceptin) Many people can handle this medicine with little trouble according to what the docs and nurses tell me (and what I hear from other patients). I'm one of those sensitive types who do feel some effects. At the day of infusion, I feel dopey and slow, and get a headache. My stomach turns and it's difficult to think of eating anything. Mostly, I drink a LOT of water. Luckily, the next day I feel better and proceed as normally as someone in my situation can.
TOILET PAPER PANTS
Later that night, while I was reeling from the chemo treatment, I failed to catch an embarrassing blunder. All that water I was drinking repeatedly sent me to the girl's room. I fumbled about, taking care of business. After that, I slowly meandered past a busy restaurant and through the hotel lobby at the marina I'm staying at. Providing moral support and being a good friend, Neil was walking along with me. When he stepped behind me, he noticed a long flag of white flapping over the butt of my black pants.
"Ah...you have toilet paper stuck in your pants," Neil said, keeping a straight face.
I reached around and felt the paper. Neil checked and made sure it was completely removed. At least it was a clean piece! Fighting an awful sinking feeling, I wanted to shrink and disappear.
After slouching in embarrassment, I realized I shouldn't feel too badly. A few hours ago, I'd just gotten zapped in the chest with ionizing radiation and was then infused with a highly regulated toxic drug. I had an excuse.
DAY 17 OR 18...I LOST TRACK...
The seroma will resolve on its own, the docs continue to reassure me. Advil helps with the inflammation and it's hurting less, probably finally being reabsorbed. The skin in the treated area is dry and itchy in places, but lotion helps with that. It's also darker, like a weird tan. And the radiation is working!! The tumor is shrinking:-)
Friend: "How are you doing?"
Me: (Wiggling right arm) "I still have my senoma. And my skin itches."
Friend: "I thought you had a truck?"
Friend gives me a funny look.
Me: "Sedona I mean...in my armpit."
Friend: "Sedona? Arizona...Oh! You mean seroma. A seroma. Does it hurt?"
Me: "Uh-huh, but the swelling's going down finally."
Friend slowly nods in sympathy.
Me: "I need a drink."
The bad boob has a semi permanent X-marks-the-spot sticker for daily radiation. It reminds me of my, uhm, "rebellious" punk rocker days in the '80s. The Dot tattoos aren't visible in this unflattering pic. You can see the Port for chemo IV injections on on your right; it's that unpleasant lump under my skin below the clavicle.
Almost done! Skin in treated area is red and peeling in places, but the seroma continues to shrink. It no longer hurts unless I press on it. I still walk with my arm held out a little. So far, the most significant and noticeable side effect of radiation was that painful seroma- something most people don't get during this treatment (it usually happens after surgery.) The nuked skin is itchy, but doesn't hurt. It looks pretty gross though.
END OF RADIATION (Mid March, 2016)
Made it, but still feel a bit like the photo below...