Midlife necessities

Midlife necessities
Midlife necessities

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

I'm Radioactive, Radioactive

So radiation.

My final chemo was on February 9 and my first radiation appointment was on February 19. The radiologist and my radiation oncologist took measurements and placed stickers all over my chest and drew on me with a red marker so they could determine the correct angles for aiming the radiation beams and the proper dose of radiation. I had three CT scans to make sure the stickers and marker placement were correct. 

It's critical when radiating the breast area that as much of the lung and heart is protected from the damaging effects of the radiation. While chemo treats the cells in the entire body, preventing replication of cancer cells, radiation aims to kill any remaining cancer cells in the immediate area where the tumors were found. I am having external photon beam radiation because I had a lumpectomy, or breast conserving surgery (BCS). They are radiating the entire breast, the lymph node area under my arm, above my collarbone and beneath the breast bone in the center of my chest. They know exactly where to radiate because on February 23, I got five permanent tattoos where the stickers had been. They are just small dots, but will be a permanent souvenir of my radiation experience. I was a bit unnerved at first, having a tattoo on my neck like a criminal, but I'll work with it.

I received my instructions for radiation - must put aloe vera gel on the affected area twice daily, stay out of the sun, especially the affected area, and a few other things - and found out my schedule. My radiation oncologist said we needed three weeks from the last day of chemo for recovery before starting radiation. I'll have late afternoon appointments the first week, and then settle into my regular schedule of 12:48. I was shown the radiation routine. Check in at the reception desk where the receptionist will give me one of those vibrating disks you get at restaurants to let you know your table's ready. When the disk lights up, I place it on the stack of disks on the desk, go to the dressing room and change into my gown, then proceed to the radiation waiting area and wait for the radiologist to call my name. Pretty simple.

After my radiation appointment, I ate a sandwich that my dad made and broke my tooth. I thought I had just broken a filling but sadly, no. The dentist wanted to get the root canal done before I began treatment. So far I've had the root canal, which was actually really easy, and the crown prep appointment. Wasn't expecting that little surprise but apparently chemo affects your teeth. That's a side effect I didn't really consider. 

My first treatment was on March 3. I was in a panic getting there because a deadly accident on the freeway closed my onramp and caused backups on all the side streets. I ended up making it on time and everything went fine. It's weird because you don't see anything happen and you don't feel anything. But you do hear it, and you are always alone. What does it mean that I'm getting radiation on bare skin but the radiologists have to leave the room and close the big, thick door?

I will have radiation Monday through Friday for 31 days. If I don't miss any treatments, my last day will be on April 14. The only side effects I'm expecting are fatigue and some skin redness or sunburn. I think the time will go by quickly.

"In quietness and in trusting confidence I find strength." Isaiah 30:15

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