Archive | February 2014

Radiation routine

Radiation has quickly moved into a routine. Every day goes something like this:

  • I get to the Cancer Center
  • Scan my card and sit for a minute (I usually don’t even have time to check my email. I’ve stopped bringing my book, they’re so fast getting me in.)
  • Head back to my room
  • Lay on the table, with my arm in the horribly uncomfortable braces, and a pad under my knees. I keep waiting for my shoulder to stop hurting or my fingers to stop going numb. Hasn’t happened yet. On a good note, I have nailed the perfect place for my head.
  • The techs scootch me over a bit here and there so I line up perfectly
  • Four scans – one below, two on top, one farther below. The two from below need a wedge of metal in the X-ray machine to direct the radiation correctly, so the techs have to come in after the first scan and before the last scan
  • I’m out of there within 15 minutes

There are a couple of differences, depending on the day. On Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, I get a bolus of fake skin put over my chest for the first two treatments. This allows the radiation to target closer to the surface of my skin. Once a week I get X-rays to make sure everything’s still lining up. Once a week I see Dr. Figura, just to make sure there are no problems (none so far). I will occasionally get a dosimeter put on to make sure I’m getting the correct dosage.

All in all, a quick process on a daily basis. It just takes forever to be done with the whole treatment to be done.


My first full week’s radiation presents

I had my first full week of radiation. Only five more weeks, and one day to go. I was supposed to start on a Wednesday and finish on a Friday, but the doctor needed to add one more treatment angle. So, I started on a Thursday and will end on a Monday. Much harder to find a good place to go out to celebration dinner on a Monday night.

But, I got to open five more presents this week.

Lavender-rosemary soap

Lavender-rosemary soap

A mini-pinwheel

A mini-pinwheel

Rocks to decorate my houseplants

Rocks to decorate my houseplants

A postcard from San Salvador, Bahamas

A postcard from San Salvador, Bahamas

This was my favorite radiation present. Not only did it remind me of all the fun I’ve had in the Bahamas, but it’s a postcard I can use for postcrossing.


No more stickers!

Right now I’m sitting in a Herceptin treatment that I almost forgot about. I didn’t put it on my calendar, but last night I realized it had been three weeks since the last treatment and three weeks until the next treatment, which is a strong indication that I had Herceptin today. Turns out I was correct. The excitement really came during my radiation treatment before Herceptin. I guess the last set of X-rays came out OK, because I got the stickers off and replaced by tattoos today. Here’s what my breastbone looked like with the stickers:

I had four other stickers - three under my arm and another on the top line.

I had four other stickers – three under my arm and another on the top line.

The top sticker was high enough that it showed with a low-necked shirt.

Here’s what the same spot looks like now:

There's two new freckles on my chest now.

There’s two new freckles on my chest now.

You can’t even tell which are the radiation marks and which are my natural freckles. The tattoos are in the center of the red marks caused by the removal of the stickers – teeny tiny and black. The stickers didn’t want to come off. They were like very sticky bandaids that left their goo behind. Luckily they have adhesive remover in their arsenal of toys. Yeah for no more stickers!

No tattoos yet

Sadly, I won’t be getting anything cool or pretty tattooed. Just some dots the size of a freckle as radiation guides, instead of the Sharpie-under-sticker arrangement I have currently. I could keep the stickers until the end of radiation, but they really annoy me. Whenever I wash or moisturize my chest, I have to work around the stickers. Besides, the upper one on my breastbone shows when I wear half my shirts.

I was supposed to get the tattoos today, but the techs needed to verify the location of one of my marks. The day before, I had X-rays taken after two of my radiation doses. Apparently, it’s a weekly monitoring X-ray so they can verify I’m lining up on the bed the way the doctor wants me to. I also get a weekly dosimeter so they can check the amount of radiation I am receiving.

It’s been a week of radiation, so the plan was to get the tattoos today, but one of the marks didn’t line up quite right. The techs took another X-ray for verification. Maybe tomorrow I’ll get to take the stickers off.

An unexpectedly awesome surprise!

We’ve been given a free week’s vacation in the Outer Banks in May! A little back story might be appropriate here.

logoAt the beginning of the year, one of my breast cancer friends posted some information about Little Pink Houses of Hope on Facebook. I was intrigued and looked into some details. Every year, they offer week-long retreats to women diagnosed with breast cancer and their families. According to their website, “[e]very beach retreat is designed to help families relax, reconnect and rejuvenate during the cancer journey.” All you have to do is fill out a retreat application, choose all the weeks you’re available/locations you can get to, and they’ll let you know if you get a spot.

StatsGuy and I talked over whether or not we should apply for one of the spots. We were a little torn, but decided to go for it. Last summer really wasn’t full of fun, and while we have good health insurance, there’s still a fair amount of out-of-pocket expenses associated with a cancer diagnosis, so all things considered, a free week-long vacation would be highly appreciated. So, I filled out the online form and promptly forgot about it. Therefore, I was completely surprised by the email I received yesterday from the Retreat Assignment Team. I thought at first it was spam! I’m really glad I opened the email before deleting it!

I’ve never been to the Outer Banks, but I love the ocean, so that was the location I was hoping for. We have to provide transportation to the location, but once we’re there, they provide everything. Breakfast and drinks are in the house, there’s a communal lunch and dinner, and then family activities before lunch and after dinner. The family activities vary (depending on what services have been donated that year), but range from hang-gliding to biking to massage to date night. Needless to say, the whole family is totally stoked about the vacation!

Radiation presents

In an effort to lessen the dread of the daily trips to the Cancer Center for radiation, my mother brought me a box of presents the last time she visited.

My radiation presents

My radiation present box

I’m allowed to open one present every day I have radiation. I’ve decided to open them after radiation, mainly because I leave so early in the morning that both the kids aren’t up to see what I get. They are just as excited about the presents as I am. I know they’re little things, but it adds an element of excitement and pleasure to an otherwise dishearteningly long series of treatment. As a bonus (as a friend pointed out to me), I get to visually watch the box get emptier and emptier the closer I get to the end of treatment.

In the spirit of the presents, I thought I’d share what I got on a weekly basis. I only had two treatments last week, so I only got to open two presents. I started with the biggest present, because of course.

Present #1 was tasty!

Present #1 was tasty!

Popcorn, that we promptly ate for afternoon snack and highly enjoyed.

The second day, I went for an envelope, because there’s quite a few of them stuffed in the box.

Blue gum

Blue gum

A pack of gum, which I needed since we’re about out at the house.

One last bit of housekeeping – an updated photo of my hair.

Even more hair.

Even more hair.

I keep thinking to myself, now I really have hair, and then a week later saying the same thing. I did have my mom trim the hair along my ears the other day, since it was starting to stick out funny. A little bit longer and I’ll be able to spike it like my son’s soccer coach. I might need to get a little product for that to work well, though.

I can’t stop running my hand over the top of it when I’m sitting around. Even so, I’m still surprised sometimes when I look in the mirror and see how little hair I have. I’m not sure what I’m expecting, but it isn’t the super short hair that I have. When I see pictures of myself with long hair, even that looks odd now. I’ll be curious to find out if and when the internal image of myself matches the external image.

The start of radiation

Thursday was my first radiation treatment. I find the whole process even more surreal than chemo. They do a great job of getting you in and out as quickly as possible, with minimal waiting. Even check-in is streamlined – just scan your card under the bar code reader:

How to check in for radiation.

How to check in for radiation.

Once you’re called back, you need to change into a gown, if you’re not already wearing one. I was actually given a gown to keep, although they hope I’ll give it back when I’m done with treatment. It’s called a Hug Wrap and it’s much nicer than your typical hospital gown. For one thing, it’s made with flannel, so it’s comfortable on your skin. For another, it comes in a variety of patterns, anywhere from sedate to loud. I decided to go with a fun print. I mean, everyone knows why I’m hanging out in the radiation waiting room. I might as well have a little fun while I’m at it. I was torn between a navy blue with geckos print or yellow with monkeys. The sunny yellow color put the monkeys on top. Check it out:

The pattern to my Hug Wrap

The pattern to my Hug Wrap

Once I’m called back to the radiation room, I lay on the table, put my arm in the stirrups and then try to stay still as the technicians move me about in tiny increments. Soon enough, I’m all lined up and ready for the first dose. (I get four doses – one from the right, left, directly above me and nearly underneath me.) The techs leave, turn on the machine for about 20 seconds, and then come back in to move everything for the next dose.

When the X-ray machine is on, I can hear it buzzing, but I can’t feel a thing. That’s the surreal part. Essentially, I’m taking it on faith that I’m actually receiving a dose of radiation. Now, they did put a dosimeter on me to make sure I’m getting the correct dosage, but there’s nothing to see or feel during the treatment. I keep looking at my skin to see if there’s any noticeable effect, but I can’t see any difference at this point. It does feel a little sensitive and tight across the expander, but that’s about it. Twenty minutes later, I’m back in the car and heading home.