Radiation & You!

Radiation. My first appointment was yesterday and it was overwhelming to say the least. It was my “practice” appointment where I was on the table and the machine ran through all of the angles without actually emitting any radiation. And, I received new markings on my torso – these are larger and more intricate than the previous ones. Yay.

One bright point: One of the radiation specialists said I was the easiest appointment of the day. You’re welcome. I always strive to do my best.

Radiation Manual

Radiation therapy is strange. Today was my first “real” appointment. I donned my pink “open in the front” gown to signal to everyone that I was ready for some radiation. I was placed on the table in my custom-fitted pillow and then the machine moved around a bit (lasted about 5 minutes) and then I was done. I felt absolutely nothing. The machine did hum a bit and that was it. Did I really receive a radiation treatment?

The VERY nice radiation techs assured me that I did indeed receive my first treatment. Okay, if you say so.

There are many guidelines to follow when having radiation. Let me sum it up for you.

  • I cannot shave my left armpit because I might cut myself. Yikes! I haven’t cut myself shaving my underarms since 7th grade, but okay. Seven weeks without shaving? Are they mad? Then, after my mini-tantrum, she did say that I could use an electric razor. Whew! The thought of having one underarm with hippie hair and one without any hair was starting to freak me out.
  • I am not allowed to wear deodorant for the duration of my treatment. Yikes, again! Armpit with hippie hair and no deodorant? Sexy, right? Again, after a look of utter disbelief, she did say that if I had a desire to wear deodorant, I could buy one of the few kinds that were non-metallic. Yes, I do very much desire deodorant so I bought some of that super expensive, non-metallic stuff. I’m not really impressed with it, but what’s a girl to do?
  • I am not allowed to wear underwire bras. Oh boy. Okay. Hmmm. Wow. She recommended that I buy some loose-fitting sports bras (which goes against the purpose of a sports bra) so I’m going shopping this weekend. Kohl’s here I come! Want to join me?
  • I cannot use antibacterial soaps. I can only use pre-approved soaps like glycerine or Dove. Got it. This is an easy one.
  • I cannot use any lotions unless they have been pre-approved. She gave me a sample of the kind that they recommend and told me the cheapest place to buy it. Fourteen dollars was the bargain price. No wonder healthcare in America costs so much. I’m supposed to use this lotion on the radiation area twice a day so the area stays supple and doesn’t dry out.
  • I cannot use my special expensive deodorant nor my special expensive lotion the four hours prior to my radiation treatment. Oh my! It’s a good thing that my appointments are the first thing in the morning. However, this requires me to remember NOT to put on deodorant (I’m 48 years old. It’s habit.) and remember NOT to put on lotion. Because of this new morning routine, I have to carry my special deodorant in my purse. Greeeaaattt.
  • I should not expose the radiation area to the sun. I can handle this one. That part of my body has NEVER seen the sun and I’m not about to start now.
  • There are certain antioxidants that I’m not allowed to take. What are they are? I don’t know yet. I’ll find out on Thursday when I meet with my radiation oncologist.
  • I am to avoid getting my lovely new artwork wet and I’m not allowed to scrub vigorously. I guess I will use my own judgment on what is too vigorous. However, avoiding wetting down my new marks will be almost impossible because there are a lot. How do they expect me not to get them wet? A spit bath is completely out of the question. I don’t think they are very effective anyway. These new marks climb up my upper chest a bit – you can see them when I wear most of my t-shirts and summer shirts. How do I explain these lovely black marks? I really wish it was winter right now.

Once I read my Radiation Therapy and You book, I will share with you the possible side effects of radiation. You’ll have to check out my next post to find out what they are. I know you will be holding your breath. I am.

Cancer Sucks

Cancer sucks. I suppose I’m stating the obvious. But, I thought I would go ahead say it again anyway just in case you didn’t know.

Did you know that there are A LOT of tests involved when one receives a cancer diagnosis? So, so many. This past Monday was test day for me.

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Test One: Breast MRI / 9:15AM

If you’ve never experienced an MRI, I will tell you a secret. They are LOUD.  I mean really loud. On a conceptual level, I knew that. But holy cow. I went to a special center that was called Breast MRI North – very descriptive really. From beginning to end, the entire process lasted about forty-five minutes with the MRI portion taking about twenty or twenty-five minutes. My friend that accompanied me said that she could hear the machine from the waiting room.

Tips for a Breast MRI:

  • Know your name, date of birth and have your insurance card handy. Also, be ready to answer some rather personal questions OUT LOUD because the registration nurse, instead of handing you the clipboard with the list of questions, will read you the list of questions so she can circle ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on the form on your behalf. Maybe I looked illiterate and incapable of using a writing utensil. No wait, she had me sign the form. Hmmm, maybe that’s how she gets her shits and grins?
  • Know ahead of time what you will be in the mood to listen to while in a giant tube because the registration nurse will gleefully and proudly hand you a 10-page list of CD’s and radio stations available for your listening pleasure and she will want you to choose something from list in less than five minutes. Be prepared.
  • Don’t wear pants with any kind of metal in them. When you wear pants or shorts with just elastic (like athletic shorts or sweatpants), you can keep your own pants on. If you wear pants with metal (rivets or zippers), you will have to remove them and I’m not sure what your option will be for pants. Maybe nothing. Why risk it? Just wear elastic.
  • Don’t wear metal on or in your body. You will be in a machine that uses big, high-powered magnets to create images. If you have piercings (wherever they may be), remove them before you go. It will save you time especially if you have a lot of them or have them in unique spots. Every receptionist or nurse you encounter will ask you if you have any metal on or in you. You will hear this question about five times, but don’t shout, “NO, for the freakin’ millionth time!” like I wanted to. Just be calm. Also, don’t worry if you have a titanium clip in your breast like I do, you will be fine. Apparently titanium is not magnetic. Whew, right? How would I remove that? What would happen if you forgot a piercing or forgot about that metal plate in your head?
  • Get over your fear of needles if you haven’t already. Needles will be the least of your problems going forward. They inject dye or what they call ‘contrast‘ into your veins. This was the easiest part of the test.
  • Remember, your boobs are no longer considered part of your “privates”. In order to reinforce this, the receptionist, as you follow her to the changing room, will remind you to strip from the waist up and wear the pink gown so it opens in the front. (Gee, thanks for pointing that out because I forgot I was here so you could take pictures of my boobs.)

Just repeat after me: “They are now just another set of appendages that anyone and everyone can see, touch, tug, pull, pinch and smash.” I know it’s hard to get used to, but you need to suck it up, Buttercup!

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Many of you will be able to relate to this story. All of my breast-related experiences since May have taken me back to when I gave birth for the first time. I had a really long labor with Rachel (15 hours) which meant that multiple shifts of nurses visited me to check on my dilation status. In the dark hours of morning when the hospital was sleeping and quiet, I thought I saw even the night janitor enter my  room at one point to check on the ole’ vajayjay. Maybe there was a sign posted outside my door or someone was selling “peeks”. I just don’t know. I was in too much pain to really care.

  • Bring your own noise-cancelling headphones. Worth every penny.  If you have some, you can ignore the second item. I really wish I had had a pair of those headphones.

After the brief misgivings I had at making a hasty music selection, I got over it and thought, “Cool, I’ll get to listen to some music so I won’t have to hear this awful machine.” Uh. Wrong. As I lay tummy-down on the MRI table with my boobs dangling through two convenient holes, one of the nurses placed the headphones over my ears in a womperjawed fashion. Since my arms wouldn’t bend that way, I couldn’t fix them. Great. Why couldn’t I put the headphones on myself? Medical malpractice?

Being in an MRI machine is like being in a running dryer along with all of your shoes while the “done” buzzer is going off, and then like being inside a radiation siren while it’s sounding off during a nuclear meltdown. These sounds alternate with bits of quiet in between. The headphones I had on did absolutely nothing other than spew loud music into my ears while trapped inside the noisemaker.

Update on my MRI results: All clear! I have no other cancers hiding in either of the girls. Needless to say, I’m extremely relieved.

Test Two: CT Scan / 10:30AM

The CT scan is critical to my radiation treatment. My radiation oncologist will use these images to calculate the angles of radiation so this scan needs to be accurate. In calculating the radiation angles, they will try to minimize the impact on my heart and left lung – I’m all for that. There are possible risks to the heart and lung associated with radiation that can show up years later.

Tips for a CT Scan:

  • See first item above. The one item that will be different is that you won’t have someone asking you personal questions out loud in front of the whole waiting room.
  • There is NO music option. I took this as a good sign that the CT scan would be quiet.
  • There are NO metal worries! You can wear whatever you want. Woo Hoo!
  • There are NO needles! Can I get a, “Hell Yes!”?.
  • A nurse will weigh you. I’m not really sure why. What does your weight have to do with the scan of your bosom?
  • You will be asked to strip from the waist up and put on the pink gown so it opens up in the . . . yep, you guessed it  . . front. I’m seeing a trend here.

For the remaining part of this test, remember that your ta-tas are now just like your arms or toes. Your bosom is no longer private.

  • For radiation treatment, you will have to lie on a magic pillow with your arms over your head so your body from the shoulders up will make an impression in it. Then, the nurses do something to it so it retains your imprint. It immediately turns stiff like Styrofoam. Wacky. This will be the form you will lie in for every radiation treatment.
  • You will be asked to lie on your back on a long table. (You mean I don’t have to lie on my stomach and drop my yabbos into holes? Yessss.) And, the best part of the test? They cover you with a warm blanket because the room is flippin’ cold!
  • The CT scanner looks like a giant donut with a table going through the middle. You are on that table. The humiliating part of this test is that your breast is just hanging out there exposed like you are on lying on your back sunning yourself on a nude beach. (Now, I’m starting to like the holes in the table.)
  • The scan takes about fifteen minutes. When the blessedly quiet scan is completed, one of the nurses will get a black sharpie and mark all over your breast and torso with plus and minus signs while the other nurse covers the marks with clear circular bandages. And, you’re done. Oh, wait, you’re not done. The nurse that marked your torso will whip out a small digital camera to take a picture of your artistically altered breast.

It was a very weird feeling to have your breast exposed the entire time during the scan and to have two people draw on your breast and torso afterward. It was even weirder when the nurse with the marker asked if it was okay if he could take a digital photo of his handy work. Does the photo go into a scrapbook? Will a picture be circulated on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram? I don’t think it was my best work.

  • One last item: you will be told that you can take showers, but don’t let water directly hit your breasts. Hmm. . .okay. What? I’m not a contortionist and I’m sure very few Breast Cancer patients are.

That was Test Monday for me. It was crazy and I was very grateful that my dear friend went with me because I just really needed the moral support and someone to discuss it with.

I did get the “radiation” call late this past Friday. I will be starting my radiation treatments tomorrow (Monday). The first appointment will be the longest as they will check my marks (and, they are all still there!) and perform a dry run of the actual radiation treatment so they can review their flight plan. If it all looks good, I will have my first actual radiation treatment on Tuesday.

More to come. . . .

Betrayed by One of the Girls

Where do I begin? Unexpected, devastating, shocking . . .these are some of the words that come to mind when describing the betrayal.

It could be a lot worse.

At least you found out about it early. You’re lucky.

I know someone who had the exact same experience and she is fine.

I know everyone means well and I really do appreciate it. But, sometimes I need someone to say that it’s okay to feel the way I’m feeling and it’s okay if I don’t feel lucky I found it out early and I know that others have experienced this same betrayal and I am truly sorry about that but I don’t want to hear about these stories just yet.

I need some time. I know that I do eventually have to come to grips with it and move on. And, I know this and I will do it. I just need more time to process the pain and disbelief.

What happened? I found out this past Monday that I have breast cancer in my left breast.

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This happens to about 288,000 women and 2,200 men a year. Of the 288,000 women, roughly 58,000 receive the diagnosis that I received. I have DCIS which is the earliest form of cancer so I know that’s why everyone is telling me I’m lucky. Lucky is not the word I’m choosing to use to describe how I feel at this moment. Don’t worry. I’ll get there.

I’ve had to go through some rather uncomfortable and humiliating diagnostic procedures to get to this point too. Why hasn’t someone come up with a better way other than smashing your boobs in a vice and then having someone ask you if you are okay?

Um, no. I’m not okay because someone has my boob in a vice and telling me to hold my breath.

Since this is the first time that I’ve had to proceed further than the standard mammogram, there is no way I could have anticipated what awaited me in the diagnostic testing department (aka torture). Have any of you had a stereotactic breast biopsy? I wouldn’t recommend it. It’s a mammogram on steroids which includes needles, vacuum-sucking sounds and also nurses asking if you’re doing all right.

Yep, I’m doing just peachy keen here with my boob dangling through a hole in the table that I’m lying on face down while a nurse hiding under the table pulls and twists my boob juuusst so before smashing it in a vice. And then with that awesome vacuum-sucking sound in the background, the radiologist is shooting me with a device that removes samples of my breast tissue. Peachy.Keen.

Did I tell you that they don’t even give you a happy pill or a shot of vodka before this procedure? What is up with that? I know people who get laughing gas just to get their teeth cleaned! It’s a conspiracy against women. It’s the only conclusion that can be drawn.

This unfortunate diagnostic torture led me to an invasive breast biopsy.  I am happy to report I was completely knocked out cold for the actual biopsy, but I had to undergo another barbaric procedure the morning of my biopsy. Again, unbelievable. I had to have a wire localization procedure which helps the breast surgeon remove the correct area (I’m all for that). However, again, no happy pill or shot of vodka. Just a boob smash, a “How are you doin’?” and then a needle in the boob leaving some wire behind.

Yep, yep, yep. I’m doing great here while you are sticking a wire into my boob as it’s being smashed as flat as a pancake.

What’s next in my future? Well, seven weeks of radiation and possibly another surgery to have my ovaries removed. I’m not using them anyway. Their removal will put me into early menopause, but let’s be candid here. I’m facing menopause within 5-6 years any way. Hot flashes, here I come!

One of the hardest parts about receiving a diagnosis like this is sharing it with your children. We talk about everything with our kids and have been extremely honest with them. We aren’t whispering the words, breast cancer. We are saying its name aloud and facing it.

This is a journey that I wish I didn’t have to take. But, I will put on my big girl bra and panties and take it.