It’s Been Nice Knowing Ya, Thor!

radiation graduation

On my last day of radiation treatment, I said good-bye to Thor, my trusty companion for seven weeks. The big lug! I can’t say that I’ll miss him, but I know he did give me everything he could give in this relationship. His treatment will reduce the likelihood of the breast cancer returning in Ole Leftie by sixty percent so I do appreciate it even though it was uncomfortable as hell both physically and mentally, left my skin permanently scarred and drained every ounce of energy from me.

It has been three weeks since my last treatment. My radiation oncologist said that the fatigue could continue for up to two months and that my skin would be back to normal in two weeks. He’s a nice guy, but also a LIAR. Okay, kind of a liar. My skin is better, but not back to normal (hence, the liar comment). However, he speaks the truth about the fatigue.

My ordeal is not quite over. I’m having surgery in October (girlie stuff). Needless to say, I will be grateful to put 2013 behind me.

It’s been strange being on this end of a serious illness. Strange and Educational.

Strange because I’m the healthy one. I don’t get sick. I don’t have ongoing health issues. That’s for other people, not me.

Okay, maybe I was the sick one this time (I’m actually still trying to come to grips with this statement).

Thank goodness for my close friends and family because I did need help and they forced it on me.

Friends: Why don’t we set up a meal train?

Me: Oh, okay. Let’s do it. I don’t think I’ll need it, but why not?

Dad: I have all of your appointments on my calendar. I’ll drive you every day.

Me: Oh, okay. That’ll be great.

I agreed because when you are going through something serious (no matter what it is), the people in your life want to do something. I really didn’t think I would need the meals and felt a little guilty about it. But, I will tell you that they were truly a gift. I honestly did not have the energy to meal plan and grocery shop. Those lovingly prepared meals allowed me to erase the images from my mind of my family dumpster-diving for food.

Also, even though I could drive, I let others (mostly my dad) drive me to my appointments. Making that trek by myself every stinkin’ morning for seven weeks would have been terrible. Thanks, dad!

When you’re having radiation treatment for breast cancer, it’s not obvious to others that you are ill or dealing with something serious. They can’t see the pain you’re experiencing (both external and internal) and they can’t see the fatigue. You’re not losing your hair, experiencing extreme nausea, or looking ill, but you’re still feeling badly (physically and emotionally) and you still need help. Let those in your life that want to be there for you help you. It’s a gift for both of you.

Educational because I learned what not to say to someone that’s received a breast cancer diagnosis:

  • Don’t say, “At least they caught it early.” The person that has received the breast cancer diagnosis, regardless of the stage, never wanted the diagnosis in the first place. Just say, “I’m sorry to hear that. What can I do?”
  • Don’t say, “My sister’s best friend just went through that and blah, blah, blah….”  The recently diagnosed person doesn’t want to hear every story about every person you know that has had breast cancer. She may not want to hear those stories right now or ever. If she wants to hear about the experience, she will ask you for more information. You should say something like, “My aunt had breast cancer and is a survivor. If and when you’re ready to hear about it, let me know,” OR “My sister had the same diagnosis and I can put you in touch with her if you want to talk to someone about it.”
  • Don’t say, “My friend had radiation therapy and it’s nothing.” I grant you, that compared to chemotherapy I’m sure that radiation is nothing. But, to the person going through it, it is something.
  • Don’t say, “Gosh, my friend went to work every day during her radiation therapy.” That statement makes the person going through radiation and not going to office every day feel like shit. I’m sure that’s not what you meant, right?
  • Don’t say, “Wow, I would just remove both of those girls.” Well, that might be appropriate in some cases, but not all. And, until you know the whole story, don’t make the person experiencing this diagnosis question that fact that breast conservation surgery is the correct solution for her.
  • Don’t say, “I will do any of those breast cancer runs or walks with you.” This is obviously a well-meaning comment if the person diagnosed with breast cancer is one of those people who participates in running events on a regular basis. If the person you are consoling is NOT a regular runner/walker, then don’t offer that up. If the recently diagnosed person wants to join one of these events, they will ask you for help. Are you supposed to be all athletic and fund-raising now that you have been diagnosed with cancer? That seems like an added pressure.

Thank you to all of you that were thinking of me, driving me to my appointments, sending me notes and emails of encouragement, making me meals, calling me and just being there. I had no idea how many people cared. I know that sounds blubber and rubbish, but I mean it. It has not gone unnoticed and has truly given me strength through this rough time in my life.

The End is Near

IMG_1351 IMG_1352

Our bathroom drama is over. These are pictures of my new bathroom shower and I’m really happy with it!

However, you should stay tuned because we will be doing the kids’ bathroom near the end of the month and that should generate some more drama. Our house projects never go smoothly. Ever.

For other positive news, I only have four radiation treatments left! My last treatment is Friday, September 6th. This goes without saying so, of course, I’m going to say it anyway – I can’t wait for this to be over!

It has been a surreal time in my life. It’s strange getting up every morning and starting your day with radiation therapy. I think about three hundred strangers have seen, touched, stickered and/or sharpied my left breast. Okay, maybe not three hundred, but at least fifty. And, it’s just weird. That’s all. Why so many? Beginning in August, there was a new student observer in the room each day with the techs as they lined me up for Thor. The techs would ask, “This is Jane or John, a new student. Is it okay if they observe your treatment?”

Sure. Why not? I don’t want anyone to feel left out.

But, I will say that everyone at the Cancer Center has been wonderful – I cannot complain about my care.

The side effects are really settling in – the fatigue is crazy! Also, my breast and armpit are soooo burned. And, I have scar tissue in my left armpit from my breast surgery. How does that happen? How did the scar tissue migrate from my breast to my armpit? Ah, the wonders of the human body.

This scar tissue is causing pain when I use my arm which wouldn’t be so bad if I didn’t have to use it. But, when you have a working arm, it’s hard not to use it. So, I may I need physical therapy.  What will a physical therapist do to my armpit? Does anyone know?

So, what are you in PT for? Oh, recovering from knee surgery? Cool. What am I in here for? Me? Well, scar tissue in my armpit. Yep.

I started having sharp pains in my right breast a couple of weeks ago, but they have since subsided. I think my right breast was having sympathy pains (and, she may be a little jealous of the attention-stealing left breast). But, no worries. She’s just a drama queen.

Let’s pour a glass of wine and say a toast.

Here’s to the end! [sip]

Cheers! [gulp]

Thor the Healer

For the last two weeks, I have started each day with an unusual regimen: radiation therapy with Thor the Healer. Thor the Healer is the name of the radiation machine that greets me every morning. I love the name.

Thor was having problems last week and my therapies on Thursday and Friday were all jumbled up, but I eventually got treated. I know how he feels. Sometimes you just don’t want to do what you’re supposed to do.

Before I started radiation, I read my Radiation Therapy and You booklet and I’ve also been on the internet visiting various breast cancer chat rooms. I was warned, “Don’t go on the internet!” Yeah, like that was going to happen.

Here are some of the side effects:


Redness – the treatment area could look like you have a sunburn or a tan. Check! I have a light burn.

Pruritus (is this really a word?) – the skin in the treatment area could itch so badly that you could scratch it until it gets infected. Thankfully, this has not happened.

Dry and Peeling Skin – the skin can get so dry that it peels. This has not happened because the radiation oncologist told me to buy a $14 bottle of lotion. It seems to be working.

Moist Reaction (I hate the word ‘moist’, don’t you?) – apparently radiation kills skin cells which can cause the skin to peel off faster than it can grow back. This can result in sores or ulcers. Hopefully my super duper expensive lotion will prevent this from happening.

Swollen Skin – the skin in my treatment area may get swollen and puffy. This is kind of hard to tell with boobs since they are both swollen and puffy by design, so I can’t give you an accurate assessment at this time. Maybe later in my treatment.

Hair Loss – radiation can cause hair loss only in the radiated area. I was told that I might lose the hair under my left arm. Put a check mark in the pro column!

Side effects not listed in the book:

Pain Bursts – radiation can cause shooting pains to explode in your breast like a punch to gut. This pain burst will last only a few minutes, but can cause you to double over, grab your breast, and cry out in agony. These pains were intense during the first week of radiation, but have slowly subsided. I think this is because Thor is slowly killing all of my breast tissue. Oh, and I read a post in one of the chat rooms that said this could be a permanent side effect. Wonderful. It has a name, but I quickly forgot it because I don’t want it to be so (that works, right?).

Nipple Fry – it feels like you have an extremely sunburned nipple. Don’t know what that feels like? I didn’t either until I started treatment. I know you’re thinking, “Duh. Didn’t she read second item in the first list?” I did, but I didn’t connect the dots that since my skin would look sunburned, that it would actually feel sunburned. And, it didn’t occur to me that my nipple was part of my skin. It’s very, very uncomfortable. It would feel better if I didn’t have to wear clothes. But, alas, social convention requires me to wear clothes. My radiation oncologist offered a special numbing cream. I told him that I would think about it.

As of today, I’ve had twelve treatments. Only twenty-one treatments to go! Usually, the days fly by quickly for me, but now the days are drifting by s-l-o-w-l-y. But, there is light at the end of the tunnel.

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.