Tag Archive | radiation

All Things New

When you are in the midst of any kind of trial it is hard to imagine that it will be over some day.  Fortunately, we occasionally get to begin to see glimpses of the light at the end of the tunnel, or at least in that direction.  I have been marking milestones along the way of treatment.  It is too overwhelming at first to think about all that is ahead as far as treatment is concerned.

First it was anticipating the surgery, waiting for results, praying the drains would come out soon, and healing.  Then it was counting each dreaded chemo infusion down and looking forward to the good week in between.  Next came radiation with an almost daily countdown but it still seemed to last forever.  Now it’s the herception infusion every three weeks but it’s still too far away to even begin to think about a countdown.  In the meantime it’s little things like waiting for all the fatigue to disappear, for the “chemo brain” fuzz to go away (although that’s a good one to keep as an excuse as you get older), for my brittle nails to stop chipping, and achy joints to improve.

light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnelThe light at the end of the tunnel is becoming brighter as my hair begins to grow back.  It was kind of nice not having to shave my legs or underarms, or tweeze my eyebrows.  At the same time as I have to start doing those things again it makes me smile to know that my body is slowly mending itself and getting back to normal.  It will still probably be awhile before I go out without wearing a wig or scarf as the hair on my scalp is so short and I don’t like the way I look.

When radiation was finished my radiologist told me to continue to moisturize my breast twice a day and that in a month it should look normal again.  I found this hard to believe as it was literally blackened in areas, especially around the surgery site from radiation burning.  I also had hard scar tissue there as well.  To my surprise  three weeks later even the appearance of my radiated breast looks almost normal again.

By the time I had started radiation I had finally stopped gaining weight but have not lost any weight since.  Between going back to work in September, and the winter and the holidays coming, I don’t see any coming off for a while.  Guess this will be one are that will not be returning to normal for awhile.

I have a feeling that “normal” for me will be a “new” normal.  I guess I can’t expect things to be the same as “BC” (before cancer) as “AD” (after diagnosis).  Many things have changed that can never be the same again and actually there are things that I hope will never be the same as BC.  Having cancer has changed me not only physically but in other areas as well.  I have had the time to reevaluate my life, my relationships, my goals, and to think about what really matters.  I feel like a new person, like I’ve been given the chance to start over.  A fresh start.  A new start with whatever time I have left in this world.

I watched a DVD the other week on Joni Eareckson Tada who after 45 years in a wheelchair as a quadriplegic (from a diving accident) was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer.  http://www.joniandfriends.org/television/cancer-jonis-journey-part-1/  She mentions how it was a good experience in that it changed her on the inside and has helps her to live her life now in the moment.  Galatians 5:25 says, “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.”  Joni does not dwell in the future, but is taking one step at a time, responding in the “now.”  She is able to wake up happy each day wondering what God has in store for her for the day.

We are all given the opportunity to begin a new life here on earth.  2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” (NLT)  In Revelation 21:4-5 we are given a glimpse into eternity for those who belong to Christ, “ God will take away all their tears. There will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain (OR CANCER).  All the old things have passed away Then the One sitting on the throne said, ‘See! I am making all things new. Write, for these words are true and faithful.’”  A pain free, disease free, burden free future for eternity.  That makes me smile from ear to ear.

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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)

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”!

Radiation Rendezvous

Well I entered the next “phase” of my treatment, radiation.  For me this involves a nightly rendezvous I could sum up as “ladies night out at the spa.”  I get to go a total of 33 times consecutively with my membership, Monday to Friday.  Right now they only let me enter the club at 7:45pm but I am hoping an earlier time slot opens up.  I get preferential treatment with a parking spot twenty feet from the radiation unit’s door with my own parking pass.  I disrobe and put on my spa gown depositing my clothes in a locker and then get ushered to the desk, checking into this elite club by confirming that “yes,”  it is my mugshot on your computer screen and announcing my birthdate once again.  If I had ever forgotten my birthday by this point in life, it has been drilled into my brain over the course of treatment where I have confirmed it what seems like thousands of times over the past 5 months!

Next, my two personally assigned radiation therapists bring me into the spa room for my workout.  They prepare my bed just for me, to my specifications.  The only problem is that I was never consulted.  The “bed” they use was designed for giants.  I am 5′ 7″ and they have to give me a step stool in order to climb up on this bed.  I’ll never understand how a bed that moves in all kinds of directions can’t be made to be lowered to a comfortable height to get on to!  You literally have to climb up onto the bed, take your arms out of the gown, and kneel on all fours.  Picture this!  The bed is split and there is a space that you have to reach across and get your hands to the head part and lay face down in sort of a superman (or superwoman) pose. There are even hand grips to hold onto above your head.  The first time I saw these I wondered if the bed was going to rotate and if you could use these to hang on to so you wouldn’t fall off.  Next I have to bend my left leg and cross my foot over my right leg.  I have to try to rest and put my weight on my right hip.  It’s like playing the hokey pokey while laying down.  This is just what I have to do.  They actually have a photo of me in “my” position on their computer so they know what I am supposed to look like on the bed, taking out any guesswork.

This is my spa bed. Take particular notice of the contour of the surface where your chest goes.

Now the therapists do their part.  They push down on different parts of your body and tug and pull the sheet underneath you.  They tell you not to help them and they readjust your body, stretch your arms, re-position my breast to fit on my pattern they drew on my mold, tell me to scoot down a little farther, relax my shoulder, etc.  I guess this is getting a workout without having to do the work yourself?  If you are comfortable then you are not in the right position!  One definite is that your rib cage has to hurt as it presses against the table where the opening starts. They call out numbers.  My magic number is 92.4.  Maybe it’s a favorite lottery number? They work in a semi-dark room…I think this is for the spa effect.  There is music playing.  It’s a laser show as well as they line up lasers with the tattoo marks they have placed on my back.  But wait.  At my age there are also moles and beauty marks.  Did they line them up with the right markings on my back?  I often wish they had tattooed numbers by them as well to make sure they line up with the right marks!

Then the therapists leave the room.  They told me the first time that once they leave they can see and hear everything from outside.  I felt like a little kid being left in a classroom as the teacher steps out.  What was I really going to be able to do in that position high up on a table with a dressing gown slightly covering me?  Who would want to go through all that re-positioning a second time in one evening anyway?

This is the “spa” version you think you are getting. (Image courtesy of Varian Medical Systems, Inc)

The table moves forward and up and the radiation turns on for a minute or so blasting only the breast I had the lumpectomy on from one side.  This breast is hanging below in the cutaway part of the bed.  The rest of me is on the bed and protected from radiation.  Then the machine completely rotates around and does the same thing from the other side.    It does not take long at all and you don’t feel anything which is great.  I wait for the stool to be put back in place and climb down to go get changed.  It would be nice at some point if I got a massage while I was still up there or cucumbers on my eyes or a manicure or something but for now I will have to settle for zapping any remaining cancer cells.

As for side effects, my pee is not glowing and I haven’t picked up any martian signals yet.  I’ve been told it could make me a little fatigued but I haven’t felt any different.  I have to use a lotion daily after my treatment to prevent skin irritation.  It reminds me of Crisco in appearance and consistency.  I haven’t tried cooking with it yet but may if I have some leftover once I’m done.

Did I mention that there were “rules” while I am going through radiation?  I was told that I could not shave my underarm on the side that is being radiated.  Well, I still don’t really have any hair growing there since chemo so that isn’t a problem.  You won’t have to worry about me having a hairy underarm!  I can only use a certain natural deodorant or cornstarch.  I can use Dove or a mild soap to shower and then pat the skin dry.  No under-wire bras allowed.  I cannot take more than 100% of the daily recommended dosages of A, C, E, CoQ10, and selenium (antioxidants).  Limit green tea to one cup per day. Okay, so cut out everything supplement wise that IS good for you if you are having x-rays.  Avoid direct sunlight on my breast.  Well, aside from the fact that summer is over I don’t sunbathe topless anyway.  I also have to apply Crisco, I mean that lotion to my breast after each treatment.  I guess if I break the rules they will cancel my membership and take away my parking pass.

I realize that rules are put in place with our best interest in mind  and for a reason.  All the re-positioning and lining up with lasers and marks and numbers are to make sure you are at the right distance from the machine and in the correct position to receive the correct dosage of radiation in the exact place that you need it.  Each patient is different and needs to be in a different position to get radiation exactly where they need it.

It’s amazing when you think of the accuracy and precision involved in trying to get the radiation to get just the area that had the cancer cells and try to spare as many good cells as possible in the rest of your body.  Hebrews 4:12 says, “ For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.” (NLT)  God’s Word is even more precise than a laser beam of radiation with all it’s technology involved.  It can cut between the soul and spirit of man, between the joint and the marrow.  It’s so accurate that it’s truth can expose our innermost thoughts and desires!  And it never makes any errors!  God was light years ahead of radiation!  Amazing!  Isaiah 55:11 says, “so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” (NIV)  God’s Word accomplishes what it is sent out to do.  I can only pray that the radiation sent forth to my body does the same!