Radiation Fibrosis. What the hell is that? I actually just learned myself. In February, I had started noticing that my left side ached and my left arm had lost a lot of mobility.
Definition: Fibrosis is the formation of scar tissue. Fibrosis can occur as a result of radiation treatments. While radiation is being given, it affects cancer cells and healthy tissue that is nearby. In healthy tissue, small blood vessels in the area may be damaged or sealed off. When this happens, the affected tissue no longer gets enough nourishment. Radiated healthy tissue may then “fibrose” or scar. That scar tissue will feel firm or may feel like a mass or even like a recurrence of cancer. Fibrosis may also occur naturally in breast tissue that has fibrocystic changes.
In a serendipitous moment in early February, a lovely woman at work who also happens to be a breast cancer survivor asked me if I had started my physical therapy yet for my arm. Physical therapy? She had experienced the same discomfort and loss of mobility and swore by the physical therapy.
So, after contacting my breast surgeon at the urging of my coworker, I was put in contact with a physical therapist that specialized in post-radiation trauma and lymphedema. Man, I’m glad I made that call.
But, as helpful as these sessions have been, they have been a bit uncomfortable.. Let me back up a bit. Last summer, I got used to every Tom, Dick and Mary marking on, taking pictures of, feeling, smashing and viewing my jubblies. Since then, my modesty has returned intact. Returned just in time for new weirdness to begin.
Why are the sessions weird? Essentially, twice a week I’ve been receiving a breast massage. What’s not to like about a breast massage, right? Um, it’s not sensual. Have you ever had a deep tissue massage? Twice a week I get a deep tissue massage on my boob, armpit and side. It hurts like hell.
Ladies, I know you know how uncomfortable a pap smear is. That awkward chat with your OBGYN doctor about your weekend plans trying to ignore the fact that she’s examining your hooha? What if that moment lasted three times as long?
With my physical therapy sessions, the massage part lasts about twenty to twenty-five minutes. That’s A LOT of awkward conversation to be had. Sometimes I run out of things to say. For those that know me well, that may come as a shock. However, for me, the silence is worse than the rambling chatter so I ramble. On and on and on.
My poor therapist. She sure is a good listener. Do I owe her a parting gift? I mean, I’ve been seeing her intimately for two months now. Is there protocol for our eventual good-bye?
Aside from the awkwardness, the treatments have helped me tremendously and I’m so glad my coworker repeatedly urged me to make that call. My husband said “What if you hadn’t called your breast surgeon?” I don’t want to think about it – it’s made that much of a difference.
My new normal is a pill box (I didn’t think that would happen for another twenty years), daily stretches and strengthening exercises, doctor appointments with my medical oncologist every six weeks, mammograms every six months and appointments once year with my radiation oncologist. I’m working on accepting my new normal because, as it was brought to my attention the other day, it’s better than the alternative.
I do look forward to the day when breast cancer isn’t always on my mind.
Eventually, that day will get here.