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Graduation day!

Radiation is over!!!

Actually, it’s been over for a couple of days, and I’ve been glorying in being able to sleep until 7am (when the dog invariably wakes me up) and not have to drive anywhere if I don’t want to. StatsGuy is back to warming the car up for himself. Lucky for him, the winter seems to be over.

I even got a graduation present from the radiation staff:

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It’s a cute little apple pin. Definitely something worth wearing about for a while, to celebrate being done.

Look at the present box:

The last present

The last present

So empty. I saved a big one for last.

The last present

The last present

It was a box full of love from my family. So sweet!

At this point, my skin is peeling (including my ears), and there’s one sore spot under my armpit. However, most of the skin has healed, even of the pinkness. Next, I have an appointment with the plastic surgeon to figure out when to finish up with the reconstruction.

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The Last Week of Presents

I am down to my final day, which means I have last week’s presents to acknowledge. I know I didn’t get them up at the end of the week, but I was busy dealing with the allergic reaction. That’s under control (thanks to the steroids) and I’ve moved on to peeling. It’s annoying and slightly painful, especially right in my armpit, but nothing like the itchiness and swelling I had last week.

Anyways – on to the presents!

More snacks - I love Kashi granola bars

More snacks – I love Kashi granola bars

I had a bit of a heart theme going in the middle of the week.

Candy hearts, that I won't be sharing.

Candy hearts, that I won’t be sharing.

A heart tin

A heart tin

A postcard for my Postcrossing collection.

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A pen from my father's business

A pen from my father’s business

I’ve got one present left (I saved a big one for the end).

I Feel Human Again

As I feared, the hives moved onto my face. I woke up yesterday with my face all puffy and tight and my ears swollen so much the lobes wouldn’t even bend. Even Dr. Figura mentioned they looked “beefy.” Apparently, any kind of radiation reaction shouldn’t move much beyond the treatment area, and certainly all the way up to my face. He asked if I’d changed anything – moisturizer, shampoo, laundry detergent. No to anything I could think of. It seems the allergic reaction was becoming a systemic reaction, and it was time to up the meds to stop it.

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Dr. Figura gave me a prescription for a course of steroids and promised me I’d feel better within 24 hours. Good thing, because I was feeling pretty miserable. Sure enough, by the next morning, the swelling had reduced, and even the itching has mostly stopped. I’ll just have to hope I don’t get a rebound reaction once I’m done with this course. At least I tolerate the steroids pretty well – I don’t even have problems going to sleep after taking a full dose in the evening.

Mitigated itchiness

The skin continues to itch, although it’s moved out of the “claw your skin off” level of itchiness I had on Monday. I did go back to the doctor and asked for something to help, because cool compresses and moisturizer did nothing to lower the level of itch. I am taking Zertec (I’m hoping I bought correctly and not just optimistically when I got the 12-pack instead of the 24-pack).

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I was also given a prescription for silver sulfadiazine, which is a silver-infused, sulfa-based antibiotic used for burn victims. You just smear it over the itchy parts, and eventually the itch goes away.

I find it amusing that the container is blue, since that's the color it can permanently turn your skin if you ingest too much silver.

I find it amusing that the container is blue, since that’s the color it can permanently turn your skin if you ingest too much silver.

Between the two items, the itch is manageable. The initial outbreak is starting to heal, with the hives crusting over and starting to subside. Sadly, the outbreak hasn’t stopped growing. I can easily see where I had treatment around my collarbone and up my neck, since it’s full of hives at this point.

Another treatment area, full of itch

Another treatment area, full of itch

The hives are also starting to bleed out of the treatment area. This morning, I woke up with hives on my ear lobes (really? the ear lobes?) and my right shoulder-blade (radiation goes right through the body). I’m hoping they don’t make it to my face. It takes a couple of days for the itch to subside, so I know I’m not out of the woods yet. Some day it will stop growing and I won’t itch constantly.

Time for a boost

I’ve finished my regular treatments and have started the boost treatments to the area immediately around my mastectomy scar. Even though I’m on the same machine, it’s still a lot of changes to the treatment. For one thing, I’ll be treated with electrons instead of X-rays. To do so, they add an additional piece to the radiation machine.

See the tube extending below the green light?

See the tube extending below the green light? The red laser is reflecting off the base of the extension.

At the base of the tube, a square of lead is clicked in place that has the cut-out of the treatment area.

One side of the treatment area

One side of the treatment area

To get the proper shape, a tech has to draw on a glass plate clicked into the base of the tube and trace the outline of the treatment area that’s been marked on my expander. The trick is, you can’t just look straight down and trace because the machine is in the way. Instead, you have to curve your hand in between the metal arms and draw with the shadow of the pen following the line on my skin. Very tricky.

Because of the curve of my expander, the physicist and radiologist have recommended feathering the treatment area, which just means they break it into two halves and rotate the machine to get the proper angle for each dose.

Rotation for treatment

Rotation for treatment

The whole device gets within inches of my expander. The techs traced the outline of the treatment area onto my skin from a template developed at the beginning of the treatment, and then line up the light projecting through the metal piece with the tracing. Unfortunately, they couldn’t get the cut-out to line up with the marks on my skin. It seems that my expander has shifted slightly, so they needed to recut the metal to match my new contours. It took the two techs, the physicist, and Dr. Figura about 15 minutes to come to that conclusion, with my lying there with my arm in the torture device arm-holder the entire time.

I had three options at that point – I could stick around while they made a new metal piece (nope, sorry, have to be somewhere at 9), I could come back later that afternoon (before 1:30? No? Then sorry, have to pick up my kids from a class), or I could add another treatment day where they just make up the one treatment. Seems like I have to go with option C. That means I’ll be ending next Tuesday instead of Monday. Even if it adds another day, I’m down to counting on one hand the number of days I have left.

Oh, the Itchiness

One week left of radiation, and that will be focused specifically on my scar area. That’s the good news. The bad news is that apparently, I’m allergic to radiation. That’s the explanation Dr. Figura gave me this morning during my weekly visit to explain why the skin in my treatment area is just completely covered in bumps.

A taste of what my skin looks like.

A taste of what my skin looks like.

It started Friday morning on the underside of my expander and has grown to include the entire treatment area, plus a little bleed into the surrounding skin and up my collar-bone. The worst of it is the whole area itches, pretty much constantly. Dr. Figura’s suggestion was to keep it moisturized, but it isn’t itching because it’s dry. If I don’t touch the area, it’s not too bad, but my clothes rub and once I start itching, it’s so hard to stop. Sometimes I put moisturizer on just so I have an excuse to rub the area.

Sadly, itchiness is much harder to treat than peeling skin, but Dr. Figura did mention he had some medication that may help. I’ll be asking the nurse about it tomorrow morning, you can be sure.

Half my doses are done!

I found out yesterday that it was the last day for my second set of radiation doses. I won’t be getting any more treatments to the area around my clavicle. That means I’m down to just two doses a day, both centered around my breast. I’m happy to be done with even part of my treatment.

I will admit the upper part of my expander has been irritated lately. Dr. Figura is pleased with how the skin looks, but even so it’s pink and sore and itchy. I almost wish it was warmer so I could not wear any clothes over the area. The advantage of it being winter is I can wear lots of layers and the size difference between the expander and my breast isn’t as noticeable. The disadvantage is there’s always something rubbing on my skin. I tried something different yesterday and wore a snug-fitting T-shirt under my warm clothes to hopefully decrease the rubbing. It seemed to help. The nurse suggested cortisol cream to help with the itching.

gollieI have been following the recommendation not to wear a bra so as to minimize further irritation to the area. That works as long as I’m not going out in public. Then I wear a bra because the size and height difference between the expander and my other breast is highly noticeable. The downward slant is what bothers me most. StatsGuy came up with nicknames for the pair of them – Bink and Gollie, after the book series by the same name with two friends of completely unequal size.

Someday I’ll get the expander removed. I need to finish radiation first. Soon!