I finished the last day of radiation this past Friday. I’m admittedly a little late to report this important detail, but I decided to revel in my freedom from gamma rays this weekend by enjoying a leisurely dinner with Husband, rolling on the grass with my dog, and cleaning up the garden. The plans did not include updating my blog.
But I had to share, if only briefly, to let you know that the lovely radiation techs at RI Hospital gave me a radiation diploma, which is definitely the best diploma I’ve received.
I’m told that I may have some lingering effects of the radiation over the next couple of weeks, as it continues to “cook” inside the breast tissue. Still, I’m feeling great and I have no complaints at the moment.
I’ll start taking the aromatase inhibitor, Anastrozole, in two weeks. Until then, I get to pretend that I’m a normal person for a little while. I’ll keep you posted.
Thanks again, everyone, for your tremendous support. I promise you that it makes a big difference in this process. ❤
As of yesterday, my standard radiation treatments are done. Fini! Finito! Completo! Fertig (or Erledigt, depending on my Google search)!
Today I started my electron boosts. Alas, this is nowhere near as fun as the neutron dance, but I feel about as excited.
Only two more treatments to go after today, and then I’m free as a bird!
In other news, we met with Dr. W today, and he commented on how extraordinarily well my skin was handling the treatment. He also gave me a radiation diploma, otherwise known as post-treatment instructions. Sure, he was a couple days early, but he’s going to be out of town the rest of this week. Plus, I deserved it.
Take THAT, cancer! This disease has affected far too many of my friends and family members, and I officially loathe it.
If you would like to do something to help fight against women’s cancers, specifically, consider participating in this upcoming indoor exercise event (yes, this is a true thing) to raise funds for ovarian cancer research. This is a legit event, with funds going toward ovarian cancer research. One of Husband’s bands was invited to play at the pre-ride fundraising party and the woman who’s organizing it is a survivor of a gynecologic cancer. There is so much still to know about many cancers, but women’s gynecologic cancers really get the short end of the stick when it comes to research. More on this another time, but for now, I’m happy to be able to share a positive, pro-active opportunity with you.
Thanks for all your support, Team YaYa! We’re almost at the finish line!
There are lockers in the hospital dressing room where I change from my street clothes into my debonair smoking jacket ensemble.
There are no locks on these lockers, presumably because those of us using the lockers are far too preoccupied to think about stealing anyone’s shirt and bra. Or, on the flip side, perhaps they’re unlocked to give us a little bit of fun. For instance, maybe this honor system is intended to allow us each a short glimpse at our fellow radiatrix’s (radiatrices’?) undergarments to a) encourage us to do some shopping, or b) make us feel better about our own undergarment choices.
Anyway, back to the point.
There are 9 of these lockers. I know this not because I counted them, but because they each have a small little number on them, 1 through 9.
Without really thinking about it, I decided from the beginning of my radiation treatment that I would go down the row of lockers, using the next number in line each day of my treatment. By the time I got to #7, I realized that there were exactly half as many lockers as my total number of treatments. (Hey, I know that was a slow realization, but I’ve got other things on my mind when I’m in there.)
“How convenient!” I thought to myself. I can use this handy little numbered locker system to count down my treatments. This struck me as even more fun than placing large X’s on each day of a calendar.
Husband, ever the clever one, noted that I could then count backwards from 9 to make it even more fun. I had not thought of this already, per the aforementioned preoccupation, and had been planning to go from #9 to #1 and back up again. His plan is much better.
The system has mostly worked, except for the day when I was supposed to be in #8 but it was already occupied, so I had to skip ahead to 9. This system will become more challenging over the next week, as I count down the FINAL 5 LOCKERS, er, DAYS OF RADIATION!! (Challenging because most people go for numbers 1-3 on any given day.)
As opposed to my last go-round with radiation for ULMS, this has been fast and really quite easy. My skin is still doing well, without any noticeable burning, and I have only had occasional zingers. I’m even feeling pretty well overall, though the exhaustion does creep up on my very quickly over the weekend, especially if I haven’t slept well.
I’ve managed to get to yoga classes twice over the past 8 days, too, which I’ll count as an achievement. In yesterday’s class, I was thrilled to hear the song “Strength, Courage, and Wisdom,” by India Arie, which I haven’t heard nor thought about in years. I’ve always loved this song, but it feels especially dear to me at the moment, so I thought I’d share it with you.
The first bit of news is that they’re going to use the “electron boost” for my boost treatments. Apparently I mixed up the electron boost and Accuboost way back when, thinking that the electron boost is for targeting shallow tumors and the Accuboost is for deep ones…but it’s actually the other way around.
They’re reworking my radiation plan, but it’s possible that I’ll still be done on September 25. If not, I would have as many as two more treatments, taking me to September 29. I’ll know more about this by next week.
The second item for today is not news, just a small moment of hilarity in all the madness.
Dr. W asked how I’m feeling (fine) and if I’m having any problems (no, except for the sleeping). He then asked to take a look at my skin to see if I was having any problems (I’m not).
I’ve been using the Aquaphor paste (I can’t call that stuff lotion with a straight face – it’s like rubbing heavy crude oil on my skin) as instructed, and my skin is holding up very well.
Dr. W took a look and said that my skin is holding up better than average. And then he said,
“You’re made for this!”
Of course, I told him to bite his tongue. I have no intention of every going through any of this ever again.
I began radiation last Tuesday, and it went something like this:
Day 1: I walked in a little nervous and agitated, unbelieving that I’m doing this again, but ready to get it over with. They have a very efficient sign-in process at RI Hospital, wherein I was given a small blue plastic card (there’s something about blue cards and cancer care…Dana Farber did the same thing when I started treatment there in 2011) with a bar code. When I arrive, I scan my bar code to let them know I’m there. Then, Husband or the friend that’s giving me a ride that day heads to Waiting Room A.
Meanwhile, I head to the women’s dressing room, where I hang my clothes up in a locker and don that two-gown smoking jacket number I described previously. I then meet my ride in Waiting Room A and try to ignore whatever painfully loud and obnoxious program is on the television at the moment. After a few minutes (usually not more than 5), I’m called into the room where I’m greeted by at least 3 and as many as 4 technicians–all female–who make sure I’m lined up properly. They then call out a bunch of numbers that mean nothing to me but sound like this:
“90.8 and 95.2” (Tug)
“I’m still 0.5 shallow” (very little shove)
At this point one of them might pull out a little ruler and measure something near the tiny tattoo on the center of my chest.
It’s all Greek to me, but this is important, since it means they’re shooting the right part of my body with radiation. I take a couple of deep breaths and hold them while the techs look at a monitor to be sure my heart is out of the way, and then they all vacate the room. They keep tabs on me via a closed circuit tv and speak to me from the control room. My room is also mic’d so they can hear me if I need anything or freak out.
If I’m able to hold each of two 30-second deep breaths on the first try, the entire treatment can take 5 minutes. I’ve been doing a good job with this breathing, and they’ve only had to stop and restart a couple of times. This adds another minute or two at most to the entire process. Then they come back in and bid me adieu, at which point I go back to the dressing room, get dressed, and we leave. Easy as pie.
Day 2: Wednesday is my “on treatment” day, in which I meet with my wacky nurse, the radiation oncologist, Dr. W, and his resident, Dr. MHW. Husband and I really like them both, but especially Dr. MHW, who is the one who spends most time with us, taking great care to answer any questions we have. On Day 2, I explained to Dr. MHW that I’ve been having a lot of trouble sleeping as a result of anxiety. I can get to sleep just fine, but wake up hours later with my head spinning from all the things running through my brain. Some of these thoughts are about work, some about cancer, some about family or friends, or even just nonsense. Regardless, this causes me to sleep fitfully or not at all.
Dr. MHW asked if we were familiar with the concept of “sleep hygiene.” We weren’t. For those of you who don’t know about this, it’s actually a useful bit of info. The idea is that many of us tend to pollute our sleeping environment with distractions, most often of the screen type. We don’t have a tv or phone in our bedroom and I never take my cell phone to bed, but I do habitually check Facebook before I go to bed, and then I read for 5-45 minutes every night while in bed, depending on the book and the level of my exhaustion. Husband is forever urging me not to check Facebook before bed, but I always figured it was no big deal, and since I don’t take the phone to bed, what harm could it do? A lot, apparently.
Dr. MHW urged me to turn off all screens (tv, smartphone, etc.) at least 30 minutes before going to bed. It’s fine to read during this pre-bed time, but NOT IN BED! Herein lies my only complaint with this process. I really love reading in bed!
There are other aspects to sleep hygiene, too. You’re supposed to go to the bed and get up at approximately the same times every day, even on weekends. Of course exercise helps, too…so…must get started on that…but it’s important to remember that even good sleep hygiene doesn’t work for everybody.
I told Dr. MHW that I had taken Ativan during my prior radiation treatment, and it helped a great deal with my sleeping. He offered to write me a prescription right then, but I demurred, hoping that sleep hygiene might be just the ticket. I left feeling a little more empowered and hopeful.
Day 3: Let me begin with a big shout out to my friend, C, who gave me a ride this day, and stepped up with some extra support when the visit didn’t go as planned.
This was going to be the day of my first “boost” treatment, to be performed with a machine called “AccuBoost.” This is essentially like getting a mammogram, but with the added pleasure of getting radiation at the same time.
What’s better than a mammogram? A mammogram with radiation! Ba-DUM-bump!
You may recall that the goal of the boost treatments is to focus radiation on the area of the lumpectomy, as opposed to my regular treatments that give an equal dosage to the entire breast. This is to be extra sure that they eradicate any lingering malignancy in the trouble zone.
One of the technicians led me to the HDR (High Dose Radiation) room where I walked past a desk of monitors and into a small room with this mammiation/radiammogram machine. I sat down and she positioned me between the squishing plates. They were very clear that this was not supposed to hurt, which of course made this nothing at all like a mammogram.
Unfortunately, after several attempts at getting me in the right position, Dr. W walked in to let me know that they wouldn’t be able to use the AccuBoost on me. It turns out that my lumpectomy area was deep, near my chest wall. I had been under the incorrect impression that the tumor was shallow all this time, so this announcement came as a surprise to me.
Dr. W added that they would use a different sort of boost treatment for me, though he didn’t specify what type. I got dressed and came out, only to find that Dr. W had already left. The technician walked me back to the regular treatment room then, to be sure that I was still on schedule with my treatment, and assured me that they would get me the boost another way.
The tech was very kind, and clearly recognized that I might be a little freaked out by this change of plans. And I was. We had a plan, and the plan won’t work. I currently don’t know the new plan, and won’t know until sometime this week (presumably on Wednesday when I meet with Dr. W again). I have a lot of questions now, and am anxious to get them answered.
In spite of my efforts at sleep hygiene on Thursday, I slept horribly.
Day 4, Friday: No matter how poorly you feel, there is always at least some happiness on the Friday of a radiation week, because you can look forward to two days off before you have to do this rackin’ frackin’ thing again. Truly, radiation gives new meaning to enjoying the weekend.
Of course, as it turns out, this was Labor Day weekend, which was an excellent bonus. I think it would be really great if I could have a 3-day weekend after every week of XRT. As I write this on Labor Day, I’m feeling great, in spite of a fairly busy weekend.
But as of last Friday, I was feeling horribly. I was tired and already feeling a little sore. Plus I was still anxious about the boost situation.
I decided not to go into work on Friday to allow myself a little extra down time, which helped. But the big issue was the sleep…so I decided to swallow my pride and call the hospital to take Dr. MHW up on his offer for that Ativan script, which he filled.
Treatment on Friday was effortless: 10 minutes from door to door, with the script in hand.
My dear husband filled the script for me Friday afternoon, I took it before bed Friday night, and slept like the sweetest little log-sawing baby you’ve ever seen.
Today we went up to RI Hospital for my practice run for radiation (“XRT” for short). Just a few quick things to report.
I will have a total of 19 treatments: 16 of the regular, whole breast treatments and 3 “boost volume” treatments. I will start tomorrow, which means I should have my last treatment on September 28.
I was able to get my preferred time slot of 2pm, which means I can work in the morning, head home for lunch, then head up to Providence for treatment and still beat afternoon traffic on the way home. (Woot!)
Wednesday is the day we’ll check in with Dr. W each week.
They try to fit in the boost treatments in the first three weeks, since these involve a mammogram-like compression of the breast. Since my skin is likely to become increasingly sensitive (or burned) over the course of treatment, they prefer to do this compression earlier in the process.
The technicians are all great and inspire confidence. Our assigned nurse…well…good thing I happen to know a really great R.N.
Many of my friends and family know that I’ve long admired Wonder Woman.
I blame Lynda Carter for this, since I watched her as the title character in the 1970s television show. I couldn’t get enough of watching her twirl her way from plain-old bespectacled Diana Prince to the amazing, stupendous WONDER WOMAN! My earliest childhood friend, T, had an autographed 8×10 glossy photo of Her Wondrousness standing next to a huge horse, and we paid homage to those two beauties nearly every day…while wearing our de rigueur Wonder Woman Underoos.
As an adult, I realized that I could replicate this Underoo effect by creating a Wonder Woman costume for Halloween. That costume has gotten a lot of use. After fighting through my first cancer, a few people thought Wonder Woman a fitting character for me, and faster than you can say “lasso of truth,” I started getting more and more WW-themed gifts. (But please, no more!)
This brings me to Husband’s comment the other day.
“I think your spirit super hero should be She-Hulk now instead of Wonder Woman.”
Perhaps you are more up to date on your super heroes than I, but I had no idea there was such a character as She-Hulk. Husband formulated this idea after we were joking about my next round of radiation, and we imagined me developing a special sort of glow a few decades hence.
Apparently this led him to She-Hulk, who has a pretty fantastic back story.
Per Wikipedia (which I’m going to trust on this particular topic, because I imagine that comic book aficionados are serious about getting this stuff straight), She-Hulk, aka Jennifer Walters, is Bruce Banner’s cousin. Yes, THAT Bruce Banner. She got an emergency transfusion of Cousin Bruce’s blood after an accident, giving her a “milder version of his Hulk condition.”
Let’s just take a moment to linger on the phrase, “Hulk condition.”
This mild case of Hulkosis allowed Walters to keep her personality, intelligence, and emotional control, but turned her into a “large powerful green-hued version of herself.” As a bonus, she becomes even stronger when enraged.
But here’s my favorite part: “A highly skilled lawyer, She-Hulk has served as legal counsel to various superheroes on numerous occasions.”
Smart, savvy, professionally respected, strong, AND green. Just like me. (?) Apparently Husband thinks so, which is good enough for me.
Mark the day, folks. Today is when my spirit super hero (Husband’s phrase) shifts to She-Hulk. But please, no collectibles.