Archive | October 2012

10/26 update

Holding my “CONGRATULATIONS” balloon               from a co-worker

Woo hoo is all I can say!  I am an official “rad grad” having completed my last radiation treatment.  It was a bittersweet day as I was certainly glad to be done with radiation but sad to be saying good-bye to another part of what had become my new “normal” for seven weeks and seeing the same faces daily.  My radiation therapists could not have made the whole experience any more pleasant.  It had become something to look forward to instead of dreading on a daily basis.  I spiced up the last week bringing them little presents and surprises and on my final day they “sang” Pomp and Circumstance as I walked down the hallway one last time.  One of my fun surprises was putting little post-its on me with arrows telling them where to zap me.

“Alien” cupcakes I made  to celebrate the end of radiation

 

 

I am fatigued from the cumulative radiation but my strength will gradually come back.  I need to continue to moisturize my breast for another month and the skin should return to normal from the dryness and burning.  I guess I will not have enough of that Crisco type lotion left after all for frying any chicken!

 

I am now officially finished with my “countdown” whiteboard on my fridge

I will still continue with my once every three weeks infusion of herceptin until May 2013.  My nails did not end up lifting up completely or falling off but they are very fragile and brittle and break easy.   They are half dead and bumpy but will gradually grow out.  My eyebrows are growing back and I actually have to tweeze them as they consistently grow in places I don’t want them to.  My hair is growing back as well but it will be a long time before it is long enough and full enough for me to be comfortable to go without a wig or a scarf.

The heart that was given to me

 

Upon “graduation” the radiation department gave me a gift from a group of children that paint plaster hearts for the rad grads with a card from the child.  I thought it was very appropriate that on the heart that was given to me the child had painted the word “Faith” along with some flowers.  There is no way that I would have gotten through any of this cancer ordeal without my faith.  Without faith there is no hope and if you are hopeless you have nothing to live for.  Hebrew 11:1 says, “The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see.” (The Message)  I believe it’s only with faith that you can have the fight to be a survivor with a cancer diagnosis or any other trial you may be going through.  Life has to be worth living in order to want to fight to live it.  My prayer for you is in Romans 15:13, “I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.” (NLT)

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T minus 7 treatments

When I think of a rocket about to launch the first thing that comes to mind is countdown.  When the countdown is finished the rocket takes off and leaves the ground with the help of boosters.  I am nearing the end of my radiation countdown but my “boost” comes before the countdown is finished.   I’d like to think of my boost as help to the finish line of this phase of my treatment.  So you ask what is my boost?

The first five weeks (26 treatments) of radiation were directed to my entire breast given in the form of photon beams. “A photon is the basic unit of light and other forms of electromagnetic radiation. It can be thought of as a bundle of energy.”  http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Therapy/radiation  “The boost” for me is an additional 7 treatments just to the area where the lumpectomy was performed. This is given with electron beams that cannot travel very far through tissue.  At first I thought by a boost there would be an even stronger dosage of radiation delivered (like those on the rocket) but it is  just radiation targeted to the surgery site alone.  For these boosts I  now  lie on my back on the table exposed to the room!  I had a new pattern drawn with those infamous sharpie markers again, this time on the front of me to make a cut out mold on a plate that  goes on the machine when I get treated.  A light shines down  through the mold and I am positioned until the light shines directly on my breast where they have drawn with the markers.  This makes sure only the lumpectomy site is getting radiated for these last seven treatments.

This is a funny little going away gift I made for my favorite radiation techs!

I am thankful the end is in sight as this has been a daily, Monday to Friday, part of my day but it has been nice meeting and talking with the other women in the waiting area on a regular basis.  I have to admit that I will miss my radiation techs as well.  They have always put a smile on my face and we enjoy teasing each other.  I am thankful that I have had only minimal skin irritation or burning and discoloration and did not have to take a break from my treatments to heal. My burning was stage 1 and hydrocortisone cream has helped with the itching.  “Crisco”  lotion applied daily did its job for the most part protecting the skin. I still can’t imagine why anyone would buy that lotion from the store and use it unless they had to.  Looks like I will have some leftover after all to fry some chicken in.

I did not experience any fatigue until the latter part of radiation treatment which is normal.  However, I was thinking that the fatigue will end when my treatments end but now I am reading and hearing otherwise.  Apparently it will gradually subside over a period of weeks afterward.  The most effective way to manage it is to incorporate some form of exercise as simple as walking.  I have not been doing well with my exercise plan once I went back to work so this will push me to do something about it.

I’m still not sure why they call it a “boost” since it is not an increase in radiation but I will take a boost of any kind at this point!  Isaiah 41:10 says, “I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.” (NLT)  Now that is a powerful boost!   Deuteronomy 33:27 reads, “The eternal God is your refuge, and his everlasting arms are under you.” (NLT)  I would say that’s an even more powerful lift than rocket boosters.  If you are tired and weary, in need of strength or support to go through anything or just to make it another day, allow the Lord to give you a boost and to be your support.

T minus 4, 3, 2, 1  till I’m a”rad grad”!

Heart matters

As I had mentioned before, one of the drugs that I need to get by infusion every three weeks is Herceptin.  A serious side effect from this could be damage to my heart.  Because of this I have an echocardiogram done every so often.   Since I need herceptin until May guess the echocardiograms will continue until then as well.

Have you ever had one done before?  They connect a few electrodes with sticky tabs to your chest and connect them to a monitor that will chart your heart’s electrical activity.  I guess I’m not too radiated yet because no one got electrocuted in the process.  Then the sonographer (technician) uses something called an echo transducer (wand like device) and spends the next half hour taking an ultrasound of your heart and surrounding area.  They click and take what seems like thousands of pictures to check the functioning of the heart chambers, valves and surrounding blood vessels.  It almost makes you nervous wondering what they see that requires so many pictures!  They also look at the appearance and thickness of the walls, the dimensions of the cavity and the pumping strength of the heart.

In my case they also did a Doppler ultrasound that shows how the blood is flowing through the vessels, both the speed of the blood flow and the direction.  You can hear the “whooshing” and “swishing” as the Doppler records the flow.  To a novice like me it sounded like a child playing with a synthesizer or a voice warping device to see how strange they could make your heart beating sound and still sound like a thump-thump-thump.  I have a house full of musicians always experimenting and recording different sounds and I think they should try some of these!

The “echo” in echocardiogram is exactly that.  Ultrasound (high frequency sound) waves are transmitted from the transducer to the heart and bounced or reflected back (or echoed) to the transducer and transmitted as electrical impulses.  Determining the amount of time it took for the wave to come back and other factors, the machine can determine the size, shape, density and movement of objects in the beam’s path.  This is translated into an image on a screen giving a picture.  It’s the way you can detect fish or submarines in the water, or look at your unborn baby in the obstetricians’s office.  I wonder if you can use it to see what your children are doing in another room if you put the transducer on the wall?  Remember that this is  my layman’s description just giving an overview so you get the picture.  When they are finished, the results will get compared to the last one they took to see if anything has changed.  There is no preparation ahead of time and you don’t feel anything when it’s being done.  It’s in a darkened room so they can see the monitor more clearly but it also helps you to catch 40 winks or more.  Gee, I hope I didn’t snore!

I thought about how ironic this whole thing is in a way.  For man, he needs high technology in order to see the inner physical workings of the heart.  At the same time, he needs no technology to see the outward manifestations of the workings of this inner heart!   It has been said that under pressure, you can easily see someone’s true colors.   It is easy to see whether someone is kind, gentle, loving, or patient vs. full of hatred, jealousy, or rage to name a few. (Galatians 5: 19-23)  Having heart troubles?  Ezekiel 36:26 says, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” (NKJV)  In the Message translation it reads, “I’ll give you a new heart, put a new spirit in you. I’ll remove the stone heart from your body and replace it with a heart that’s God-willed, not self-willed. I’ll put my Spirit in you and make it possible for you to do what I tell you and live by my commands.”  We can be changed!  God is the chief cardiologist and is ready to give you a new heart if you allow His spirit to work in you and change you so you can bear good fruit and bounce back “good sound waves” to others.

Pink ribbons vs. bandages

 

Now that October is here you are probably seeing those pink ribbons everywhere you look because October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  It seems that there are more and more products sporting a pink ribbon in every aisle of every store.  I never paid a lot of attention to them before.  I knew what they were for and would occasionally pay more to get whatever it was so a few more cents could go to breast cancer research but that was the extent of it.  This year more than ever I am fully aware of each and every pink ribbon I see.  At first it sort of excited me and I would smile and think out loud to myself, “I can relate to that.”

It’s hard to explain but another part of me does not  identify with a pretty pink ribbon.  I tend to think that men who get breast cancer (YES men can and do get it) really can’t identify with a pink ribbon! There was nothing pretty or girly about the whole experience for me.  I think back on the surgery, and the chemo, and the side effects, and the radiation, and the drugs, and the doctor visits, and the hospitals, etc.  I can identify more with a bandage covering stitches from a lumpectomy or a bandage where an IV was pulled out than I can with a pink ribbon.  I can identify more with a band aid covering where the blood work was taken from or with a scarf covering a bald head than I can with a pink ribbon.  Don’t get me wrong…I am all for research and raising both funds for it and awareness but in a way, a pink ribbon troubles me.   I am left now with scars from surgery and drugs and tattoos from radiation that pink ribbons cannot cover up.

I am proud to be a survivor and I will wear a pink ribbon with honor as one but I’m not so sure it is a good representation of breast cancer.  There is nothing pretty or pink about it.  It’s ugly.  There’s nothing cute about it.  The closest resemblance I can think of is after your hair falls out and starts to grow back in it is like a soft fuzzy peach, like a newborn’s head, and I guess that reminds you of a cute baby or a pink ribbon!

Aside from my ribbon  ramblings since it is Breast Cancer Awareness month, let me take this opportunity to once again remind you ladies that are due for one, to please schedule your mammogram!  I know it’s no fun but many times the things that are truly worth it will cost us something….in this case discomfort, okay, a lot of discomfort.  It was through  a routine mammogram that I was diagnosed.  Often times you cannot feel anything but an x-ray will pick it up.  If you wait to go until you feel something it is probably already advanced.  If you have the opportunity to walk or run for Breast Cancer (Race for the Cure, Making Strides Against Breast Cancer, Think Pink Walk, etc.) or can buy a product to help fund research, do so!  Kohl’s has two pages of items $10 or less that when you purchase them, 100% of the net profit goes to supporting the fight against breast cancer. Check their website under women’s cause merchandise  Elle collection.  This is just one example.  Your donation could be helping out yourself down the road or your own mother or sister or niece or wife or daughter!

“Breast cancer is the most common cancer among American women, except for skin cancers. About 1 in 8 (12%) women in the US will develop invasive breast cancer during their lifetime.

The American Cancer Society’s most recent estimates for breast cancer in the United States are for 2012:

Maybe a pink ribbon is not the best representation for breast cancer but I can think of one symbol that I would agree with.  Whenever I see a cross I think of the sacrifice that Christ made for me.  There is nothing pretty or pink about it. The cross was rugged and probably splintered. Nailing anyone to a cross is ugly.   It had blood dripping on it where they nailed his hands and feet to it.  At the same time because of what was accomplished on it, it holds a certain kind of beauty. Christ died on the cross but he did not remain defeated.  He conquered death. His nail scarred hands show His love for us.  ” He humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.” Philippians 2:8 NLT  He loved us so much, he stretched out his arms and died.

I guess it’s the same with cancer.  It’s ugly,there’s  nothing pretty about it.  At the same time there’s  a certain beauty in the battle scars because we are survivors.  We are fighting or have fought the battle and we are winning or we have won.  We are victors and that is a beautiful thing…pink ribbons and all.