Archives for posts with tag: Radiation

Wow…seven more radiation treatments to go. Then I am done.

Today I had the first of my final 8 treatments. Boosters. Boob Boosters? Whatever.

The zap is aimed at the tumor site, and focused. The distance from the source to my breast is short. I also understand that where the other treatments have been photons, this one is electrons. I have a whole new set of marks on me too… green and black. And I have a bandage of sorts for my armpit, which is rather irritated from the previous radiation.

There was a little moment of panic yesterday when the rad onc office called and asked me to bring my mammograms, and my rational self figured that it was so the doctor could make sure that they were aiming at the exact spot. We had some debate about the position of that spot yesterday – it was hard to find. And I have healed really well, the scar tissue is minimal, and the precise tumor site is no longer easy to find. So when I brought the films this morning, the office assistant seemed to suggest that the doctor wanted to see all my films, so I gave them to her, but had a little panic brewing in the back of my mind. But remember too – my German isn’t good enough to get nuances of language. Fortunately, I saw the doctor when they were positioning me, and asked him – and my initial impression was right – he just wanted to make sure they were aiming at the right place. Big sigh of relief. For M too, who had the same exact thought.

So I learned some interesting stuff too. I asked the staff how long they’d been using marks and tape rather than tattoos, and the one technician thought at least 20 years, although they’ve improved on their markers. I think these wash off better. The other tech explained that because breasts move around so much (and for sure, mine do), they like to have guide lines and targets so they can be precise. And for 7 weeks, it’s ok to have all this abstract art on me because I’d rather they didn’t miss. Plus, I think it makes the appointment more efficient. It sort of sucks in the heat because the tape peels…. but there is an endless supply of tape in this place. And markers.

On my last day of rads, it’s back to the oncologist to discuss armidex and our next steps. Also I’m going to see a nutritionist with an anti-cancer specialty, and I’m hoping I can do some serious work on this arthritic knee – I’ve not been able to walk as much as I would like. In other important news, my hair continues to grow back. Ta-da.

Although treatment is not really completed – I do have 5 years of drugs – the intensive part is almost over. Back to a sort of normal.

As of today, I have completed 18 of 36 zaps. I’m not terribly tired, feel pretty good and there isn’t a lot of irritation. In fact, my rad-onc doc said that he really expected me to show a lot more irritation at this point, evidence of burning, etc. So I’m underdone. But yay for me…I have good skin for a middle-aged broad, as my father would say. And good skin for radiation. Not that I want to make this a habit.

The other thing I noticed is that my left breast is more perky. It’s probably due to swelling and tissue changes as a consequence of the rads, but still…it’s a bit perkier than its partner. What do you call the other boob? Sister? Surely not brother. Partner? Partner in crime? Well anyway, it is more perky.

While I wouldn’t call this “a piece of cake,” this has been a much easier time than I ever would have imagined. Is this luck? Attitude? Good treatment? Me? Probably all of the above and a lot of reframing to concentrate on the positive.

And oh, it looks like my new hair is curly. And I have long eyelashes.

Well, the good news is that radiation isn’t so bad, and I’m a quarter done. Nine down, twenty-seven more to go. Next Wednesday, I’ll be a third done, and the following week, I’ll be half done. Sometimes it feels like forever, but it goes fast. And here I am, eight months into the year. A long time, and yet, not really.

But who knew that I’d become so obsessed, nay, dependent on tape throughout my treatment? Not me, for last January, I never even considered the importance of tape in my life. Especially waterproof tape. I have at least 10 pieces of waterproof tape on my breasts and chest area. The tape covers the marks, blue and red, that guide my position on the table (red) and the targets (blue). Sure don’t want those to be messed up, and get a zap in the wrong place. Tape is my friend, despite its annoying propensity to peel off at the edges.

I’m grateful that the tape is waterproof too, because that means I can have a shower…. carefully. And the world is grateful too since I can’t wear any deodorant under my left arm. The tape is doing a good job of staying in place, although it’s checked over during my radiation, and a few pieces have been replaced. I noticed that the radiation room has a generous supply of both tape and markers. Without tape, I guess I would have a tattoo. The markers will wash away, and I can’t help but think these extensive markings make it easier to position, aim and zap.

Tape was important during chemo, since it held my picc line in place, and again, waterproof tape enabled me to have a shower. Perhaps the most novel use of tape was during my initial hair loss when I would stick a piece of packing tape on my head and use it to pull out falling hair. That was fun. We find our fun where we can.

Anyway, I was a little nervous about my first radiation. The table seemed a bit narrow, but I’ve not fallen off it yet, and the radiation techs are all very nice. I’m usually done in 20 minutes. Very efficient. Almost always on time, usually early. I’m often done with the day’s zap before my scheduled appointment. I refer to radiation as zappage, it makes me feel more like wonder woman and less like plant life.

Because my upper outer left breast is zapped, I balance on my right hip a little bit, put my arms over my head, close my eyes and breathe. I also count off the seconds. First zap is in front, about 25 seconds, then there are two zaps on the left side, one lower than the other. Each left side zap is about 15 seconds. The last zap goes through a sort of filter – a triangle of metal that weakens the zap on one side, to protect the non-breast bits there. (Some important non-breast real estate in my chest, obviously). As a consequence, the last zap makes a different sound, sort of a whirring. The rad onc doc explained this to me when I asked him about the noise and the timing.

The radiation techs are amused with my shoes, too. I have a pair of Vibram Five Fingers. Shoes sort of like toe socks, but great for walking with my bad knee. These shoes will convince you of our shared heritage with monkeys and apes. My feet look like monkey feet, or some swamp monster. I think one of the techs was going to buy a pair for herself. It’s good to have something to laugh at.

To be honest, I don’t really think all that much about cancer per se. I think about being tired, I think about grey hair, I think about trying to get more exercise. I wonder if the middle of my right eyebrow will ever grow back. I think about finding a new place to live in Zurich early next year. I think a lot about moving forward. I will have hard work ahead of me because I’m in awful shape from my veg-out over the last 8 months. But I don’t think about recurrences or cancer cells growing in spots around my body. And that’s very, very good.

It’s nearly three weeks since my last chemo and I’m seeing some changes. The changes – improvements really – are small, and incremental. They are quite noticeable over time and they are very welcome. Chemo is hard, but we get through it. Lots and lots of women and men do. Our bodies do have a great capacity to heal, and even when we feel weak, there is a lot of underlying strength there.

I just feel better. So far I haven’t had much in the way of mood swings. I am starting to sleep better, mostly without the help of meds, and when I do need them, I’ve been able to decrease the dose. I think it’s easier to maintain a positive perspective.. Less reframing, more automatic. I just have to stay away from the news. Too depressing.

Not so hungry. I have felt like eating everything in sight at various times, accompanied by a buzzy, anxious feeling, and this is largely gone.

More stamina. When i leave my house to go to the car or walk Lily, I climb a hill equivalent to about 2 flights of stairs. It has been hard sometimes to make it up that hill. It’s getting easier. And i’m walking Lily a little longer each day.

Not so puffy. My feet have stopped swelling, hands and face look a lot better. My skin is better too… Not so red on my face (taxol/steroid flush), and not so dry on my face, arms and legs.

Neuropathy is minimal. About 75% of people on taxol experience peripheral neuropathy… Tingling and numbness in hands and feet. Mine was never really bad, and it seems to be decreasing.

Hair regrowth is interesting. My hair has been growing since May. I have almost an inch on my head. But it comes in waves and is asymetrical. I wish it was still dark, but it’s not. My left eyebrow is almost all back, but the right isn’t. My left eyelashes are long and curly, the right ones are not so long and more sparse. My hair has always been thicker on the left anyway, but it’s weird to see these differences as it grows back. Other than shaving my head in a snit, when else would i have this experience? Cool.

So now I have a lovely collection of marks on my torso. Looks like I’m wearing a Miro on my chest. Well, except it was drawn with something that looked like a sharpie, and covered in clear tape… Like that magic tape stuff.

Radiation is a high volume business. In and out, very efficient. Very punctual. It’s nice that they took a picture of me so that the staff can recognize me. It was a little more disconcerting to have a picture taken of me in position on the table, but that’s ok too. It reduces error. Lots of people have to see my bits these days, it’s simply not worth the trouble to worry about it. Given that Switzerland is the home of banking secrecy, I suspect they are careful with medical data too.

To be radiated, I lie down on this table, and put my head in a form. They prop my head up a little bit because my neck is short, my tumor site is up under my arm, and there’s considerable real estate in the breast area. My arms go up over my head. I’m going to close my eyes and relax, happy that I’ve been practicing meditation. And then I’ll be zapped, briefly. The table moves, the radiation source moves and buzz buzz. No zapping has happened yet, it starts next week. Each daily session should take less than half an hour, including undressing and getting dressed.

Earlier this week, I went to radiation oncology for “planning.” This is where they figure out the position I’ll take for each of my 36 radiation treatments, assess any issues that I might have, and set some preliminary targets (on my body). I also had a CT scan to gauge the position of my heart and lungs relative to the radiation targets. Today I had simulation. This is where they simulate the treatment, make sure the radiation source is positioned correctly, the target (me) is also positioned correctly. Hence the marks. No bullseyes though. Some of the marks designate the target…those are blue. The purple and red ones position me.

It’s a good thing I don’t plan to wear anything fancy for the next 7 weeks. Something low cut is definitely out.

I’m working on framing this as something to look forward to. It’s a drag to be marked up and have to be somewhere every day. On the other hand, the marks are amusing, this is a good chance for me to get out every day, and each treatment means I have one less ahead of me. Also a good chance to practice German. So, there I go. Plus, I am simply curious about the process.

Rads are done September 20.

So, I reach a treatment transition. Tuesday was my next to last chemotherapy, and yesterday was my initial radio-oncology appointment.

Next week, I’ll have my last chemo and my PICC line will come out. The PICC has done a great job, but I’ll be glad to see it go. I’ve had a bandage on my arm for 6 months. It’s hard to take a shower more than once without replacing the bandage and baths are a pain. Still, I didn’t have to have a port, and my right arm veins are intact. I’m glad to be done with the steroids too. But it’s a little scary to be on my own as it were, no more chemo to protect me. Still I believe the chemo did the job, so I will be fine. Maybe it’s the support of the oncology staff that I will miss, but I will see them again once I start the armidex – my estrogen receptor blocker.

So rads… Every weekday M-F for 36 treatments. The first is Aug 2. I start with 28 and the last 8 are “boosters” so I guess you finish with a bang. Definitely a big whack to any local disease. The rad-onc people seem nice too, my doc was a pretty amusing guy. Next step is “planning” and a CT scan on Aug 25, then “simulation” on Aug 29 and then we start Aug 2.

No tattoos here….they paint guide marks and cover the marks with special tape (tape, bandage, it’s all the same to me). This means no baths or swimming, showers with “neutral” or baby soap, no underwire bras and no deodorant under the left arm for the course of treatment. Maybe baking soda? Keep the left arm down?

During planning, I assume I will get all this info again. The CT scan is to check the position of all my stuff..because my tumor was on the left side, they have to make sure there as little radiation as possible is delivered to my heart. And lungs too. There is a more complicated way to deliver rads with a special machine and breathing techniques if the heart and lungs are at risk, so they just have to see. You have to place your arms over your head, but i guess if you can’t, there is an alternative. I can, so that’s not an issue. Most radiation is delivered to the local site, but then it drops off, and nothing is delivered to the axila (armpit) since I had no positive nodes. For simulation, they make sure you are positioned correctly and maybe that’s when you get your paint and tape. Interesting that they don’t use tats because lots of people here have them, especially women. I hope the tape doesn’t itch. Of course by now, i’m used to wearing tape….what’s a little more.

But the good news is that my surgery site has healed well, the scar looks good and there is no wrinkling, so that makes rads easier. Some of the side effects are swelling, redness like sunburn, pigmentation, changes to the tissues for a while, tiredness. I should be able to take myself to my appointments, at least for the first few weeks. And every Thursday, I check in with the rad-onc doc to discuss problems, etc. I’m sure this will go well, just like the chemo did. So bring on the tape…