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

Monday, March 2, 2015

Mixed Emotions and a Happy Birthday

It's done!! My last day of chemo was February 9. I took myself to my final dressing change and blood draw, and on my way home decided that I needed a last-day-of-chemo pink shirt, so I stopped at TJ Maxx and found one. Gus took me to chemo. I had my favorite nurse, Rowena, and all my other favorites were there, too. I brought customized breast cancer sugar cookies from Bee'in Creative with Cookies by Julie Grenier as a thank you to my awesome team (thank you Julie, the nurses loved the adorable cookies!). Chemo went really fast, and I had a good meeting with my oncologist. I will see him in three months, when radiation is over, to discuss my follow-up care. I'm in remission, so that's good enough to know right now. We told him that the very next day, February 10, was my birthday, and asked him when I could have those long-anticipated foods like sushi, salad and wine. He said he felt that I could have everything, including a glass of wine...in a week! (I kind of knew that would be his doctorly advice, so I waited one day and had a fantastic birthday celebration!!) 

When my last infusion tube was removed, I asked the nurses for a photo, and I joined them all in the nurses station where we danced to Pharrell's song Happy, hugged and took pictures. It was so great! As I walked out of the lab for the last time, Rowena yelled, "We don't want to see you again!". I wasn't expecting to be teary but I was, probably because it's been my home since September 29th, and the nurses have been my family, taking care of me and making me feel safe in a place full of scary diseases and tubes and crazy strong medications. Gus asked me if they were happy tears or sad and I couldn't even tell.

So I was already weepy when we pulled up to my house and I saw all the pink heart balloons, decorations and flowers! For some reason Gus was recording me - that's because Sylvia had been in contact with him. So had Sherri, who joined me when I walked inside my house and saw more balloons, including congrats and happy birthday, a bottle of wine and two special wine glasses (cheers and congrats) and a fantastic end-of-chemo sign that she made. Ah, more tears! So amazing to see and feel all the love. I was overwhelmed, joyful and grateful.

And tired. I slept well that night and was thrilled to get more flowers throughout my birthday day. After a birthday breakfast and visit to the stables with Mary, I got a fantastic birthday present... my Broviac was removed! No more weird tube sticking out of my body, no more twice a day flushing! So exciting! And to top off the day, a fabulously special birthday dinner with Gus and a beautiful and meaningful birthday gift. I had one of the happiest birthdays ever!

Erika came to visit over the weekend and we had an amazing time as usual with a crazy beach day and Fred's Coronaritas, wine tasting, sushi, and coffee of course. (Allie is coming to visit in April to celebrate the end of radiation). My friends and Gus helped me continue my birthday celebration for a couple of weeks with lots of fun activities, good food and drinks that I've missed! One day Gus and I jogged along the beach and played tennis. I felt so great at the time but then needed extra sleep for the following week! And I rested and napped, broke a tooth and had a root canal, focused on recovering from chemo and prepared for the next phase of treatment which starts tomorrow. 

Some of my chemo side effects are diminishing, like the heartburn, congestion and insomnia. The hair on my head is growing back, mostly on the sides. I have now lost all my eyelashes and most all my eyebrows. I started taking Tamoxifen.

So thankful for the caring family, friends and medical team that God has used to surround me on this journey. "You gave me life and showed me kindness, and in your providence watched over my spirit." Job 10:12