Radiation

by Bridget on November 2, 2011

Today marks three weeks post-chemotherapy. And, today was also my second radiation treatment. This makes my total treatment end-date in the middle of December. Merry Christmas to me!

My latest-and-greatest doctor, Dr. William Small, is a Radiation Oncologist. He is also a hoot! I’m a sucker for anyone who makes me laugh. When I first met him, he talked to me as if he had to sell me on the idea of radiation. He gave me all the pros and cons of radiation therapy including percentages of recurrence (much lower with radiation) and side effects (skin irritation and fatigue). I agreed that his treatment plan was my best option, considering my age and the overall success rate. So we scheduled a date for a CT scan.

At my CT appointment, I sat very still on the table while the therapist adjusted the angle of my body (I lay/sat up at about a 30-45 degree angle on an inclining board) while they took images of my surgical site. The doctor then double checked that he had the spots where he would target the radiation – where the the tumor and the lymph nodes under my right arm were removed, as well as the remaining lymph nodes under my right clavicle (the latest studies show that this will decreases my odds of a recurrence even more). Once the location(s) were established, the therapist proceeded to give me tiny permanent tattoos (dots the size of a period at the end of a sentence) in between my breasts (center of my sternum) as well as one dot on each side of my body underneath the arm pits. All three dots line up on the same  longitude. These dots will be there forever, but are small enough that they will probably never be noticed.

At the end of my appointment, I watched a 7 minute video and visited with a nurse, who gave me the do’s and don’ts and answered all my questions. 1.) Radiation kills healthy cells AND cancer cells, but the healthy ones regenerate – the loss of the healthy cells is what can cause fatigue. 2.) I can not take a multi-vitamin with more than 100% of the daily recommended allowances (this can reduce the effectiveness of radiation) 3.) I’m not allowed to swim or use a hot tub as the chlorine will irritate/dry out my skin. 4.) I must use a moisturizing bath gel and a special Rx lotion to keep my skin soft and less irritated (which would be similar to a sunburn). 5.) I should continue to use a supportive bra to prevent pulling on breast tissue/skin – perhaps even while I sleep. 4.) Breast swelling (edema) may occur on my treated side and chances of lymphedema (swelling in the arm where lymph nodes were removed) is increased and I should avoid heavy lifting with that arm. 5.) I can not wear regular deodorant – only the natural kind without aluminum – and may not apply it before treatment. 6.) I can not shave my underarms for the duration of treatment, again, because of skin irritation.

My very first radiation treatment appointment lasted about an hour. The radiation equipment also took my x-rays. Supported like an offset patio umbrella, the radiation/x-ray device hangs over the table on which I lay. I remained very still while the therapists proceeded to use protractor-like-laser-lights (with my tattoos as a reference point)  for each angle that Dr. Small wanted to send the radiation. Once Dr. Small approved each angle (using the x-rays to be sure they were targeting the right spots), we proceeded with the actual radiation. The first treatment took the longest since they had to determine the angles that they will use every day.

The machine basically sends radiation (very similar to getting an x-ray) into the coordinated spots from several pre-determined angles for 8-15 seconds each. It’s like an invisible laser that shoots into my breast (from multiple sides/angles), under my arm (where lymph nodes were), and near my right clavicle from the front and back (where there are existing lymph nodes that could contain stray cancer cells), killing everything in its path. The actual process takes no more than 15 minutes total. In fact, I was in-and-out of the office today in 20 minutes. That allowed me time to what for my nurse to arrive, change into my hospital gown before my treatment, AND get dressed again afterwards. The actual radiation doesn’t hurt while it is happening – again, it is very much like an x-ray. But, since I will be treated 5 days a week for 6-7 weeks, the accumulation in the skin/body create the unpleasant side-effects. In fact, radiation works best with no more that 3 days off in between individual treatments, so the accumulation makes all the difference in fighting any rogue cancer cells.

So, I am on my last (god-willing) leg of my cancer treatment journey. I round out my series of treatments with 5 years of taking an estrogen-receptor-suppressant Tamoxifen. But, after 6 months of surgery, chemo and radiation, popping a pill will be easy-peasy. I’m in the home stretch!

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Carolyn Gulley November 3, 2011 at 12:36 am

So glad you are being treated in a Big City Hospital—–where they know exactly what they are doing! Hooray for a treatments-are-all-over Christmas holiday. Love you brave girl! Carolyn

Jennifer November 3, 2011 at 10:58 pm

So happy you are finally close to the end of the marathon – great analogy. Thanks for the very detailed explanation about radiation treatment. This blog has been extremely moving & educational at the same time! Wishing you as much comfort as is possible. XOXOXO

The Rings November 7, 2011 at 6:22 pm

Hey lady, sending healing vibes your way! You are in our thoughts and prayers. So happy that you will be all done with treatment by Christmas, it’s the little things…heck who am I kidding…it’s the BIG ASS things that count!
xoxox to you and your boys,
The Rings

Terry Hamilton November 11, 2011 at 7:10 pm

Hang in there baby. Home stretch!!!!

Denise November 13, 2011 at 5:27 am

Thinking of you each day! I hope Santa brings one of your great trips to celebration the year you will never forget. Do you have to stay away from people at this time because of your immune system? Please let us know if there is anyting we can do. Love to you and yours!
Aunt Neece

Amy Graham Rasmussen November 17, 2011 at 3:13 am

Hey Bridget! I just wanted to let you know that I continue to keep you in my prayers and pray that this last leg of treatment goes quickly and fast!! Bless you & your family.

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