WOO HOO- Hit another big milestone today! I had seven weeks of radiation, every afternoon Mon- Fri, and today was my last one! I am sooo happy it’s over, that I’ve been brought to tears a couple times. I can’t say it was harder than chemo, but it was harder than I expected…especially mentally and emotionally. I thought I’d share some details with the hope that it will be helpful to someone else going through a similar situation in the future. I’ve also been doing physical therapy a couple days a week, which has been more helpful than I initially expected, so I highly recommend that. I am really fortunate to work with a gal who does reflexology, which helps tremendously with my shoulder plus the numbness in my feet and hands from chemo. They also use a “tens” machine that provides electric current/stimulation to the nerves, and it seems to be working. While everyone, from the radiology/oncology doctor, to all the technicians, and especially the receptionist, have been great, very supportive and kind, I learned some things that I think I’ll share with them too, so this is a long one!
The first part of my treatment involved having a foam cast/form made of my upper back, while lying down with arms up over my head, so that I would lie in the same position every time for the treatment. They also gave me several tiny black tattoos dots so that they can line up the beams every time. The first couple weeks, they would mark the dots with a RED sharpee, to make sure the “laser lights” were lined up with the correct dots. Of course I wanted it to be accurate, but every day when I got home and saw those red dots in the mirror, it really bothered me...they looked like bulls-eye spots. When I explained my feelings and asked the tech for an alcohol wipe to clean them off before I left, she kindly made of point of telling the other techs that it bothered me. One other gesture that helped me feel more comfortable was the techs that were sensitive enough to keep the other side of my chest covered with the gown during treatment. So… the hard part every day was getting in the car alone (most days), driving to the cancer center, changing into the gown and then the feeling of even more isolation in the treatment room itself when they close the door. I realized they could see me on the cameras and there are mics and speakers, but it was such a strange feeling. I started out lying on the narrow table in the mold/form, with a bolster under my knees, and then the techs gently shifted me into position, which sometimes put pressure on my shoulder blades/back making it hard to lie still. As I was lying there, the table went up and back to place me under the machinery, while the metal “jaws” inside it open and close into position. The big arm of the machine moved across and behind me, left to right, and made the same noise moving as when it was “firing”… that was always disconcerting. I figured out the pattern and counted the seconds per dose, but sometimes it would change when they did weekly x-rays or extra x-rays to confirm accuracy. The actual treatment part is quite short, probably only 5-10 minutes. My skin on my chest and upper back got redder and more painful every day, like a bad sunburn. The doctor would take a look every week and offer another type of cream/spray to lessen the soreness and help with healing, so I’m using a combination of lidocaine, calendula and aquafor. For this last week, they changed the dose to concentrate and be focused on the area were the tumor was originally, so naturally the pattern and timing of the machinery changed. And then it finally dawned on me that one of the main reasons the treatment was mentally challenging, was the stress I felt during the treatment, because I didn’t know exactly what to expect every day. It probably seems like I should have gotten used to the routine and minor changes along the way, but there was also the strangeness that I never saw anyone’s whole face in the building, just their eyes behind the masks and shields. I did get the designation “favorite patient”, since I was always the last appointment of the day, so that was a bonus! I felt some pride that I always parked on the 3rd floor of the garage, skipped the elevator, and also took the stairs down to the basement where the radiology department is. By the time I got to my car to go home, my glasses were usually fogged up, ha ha!
So for now until the end of the year, I’ll continue with the protein-blocking infusions every three weeks, and I’ve requested the port-a-cath removal surgery before the end of the year, especially since I met my insurance out-of-pocket max before I even had the first chemo dose! Your good thoughts, prayers, encouragement and support have meant the world to me, and major shout out to my bosses who’ve allowed me to continue to work at my own pace through this whole process. I regularly see women (and some men) who appear to be in worse shape due to their cancer than me, and it’s humbling and I hope and pray they have the strong support I have. Listen your body, don’t ignore changes and get a second opinion if the responses you get aren’t helpful. Love to you all!