"It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I may learn your statutes." Psalm 119:71

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Preparing for Radiation

 Since last chemo I've tried to think of cancer as little as possible. Which, of course, is hard to do. Terry and I went to a movie a few nights ago and when I was walking up the stairs to my seat I thought, "My legs aren't shaking!" Since the first chemo I've been weak enough that walking up stairs made me shaky. But then there are other times when I notice how slow my reaction time is or how foggy my thought process still is and I'm reminded that I've still got a lot of chemicals floating around my body. Although it seems like ages since my last chemo, it really hasn't been even three weeks yet.

I met with my radiation onc yesterday to get ready for radiation which begins on the 27th. I pulled into the parking lot and saw an elderly woman with a cane slowly making her way to the door. I noticed her slow pace, her frailness, her age and I soberly remembered, "Oh, yeah, I have cancer."

I really don't though. My scans have been clean for months. But like Laura Shook said and I copied into my last post, I'll always think of cancer. I'll never be able to turn my back on it.

Once inside the waiting room, I grabbed a magazine and buried my nose in celebrity gossip (a treat I allow myself only at doctor's offices and hospital stays!) and sucked down my coffee smoothie. Soon the cold smoothie plus the low temp of the waiting room had me freezing and I was dreading changing into my little gown for my exam.

The people at this office are great though, and when I was in the exam room the nurse noticed how cold I was and adjusted the temp in my room and gave me plenty of time to warm up before I had to change into the gown. Dr. Morgan was pleasant (he always is) as we discussed my radiation plan and the possible side effects:
burned skin
tight/sore esophagus due to its exposure to radiation
slight damage to left lung where it's exposed to radiation
possible heart sac damage or hypertension
about a 3% increase in my chance of lymphedema in the left arm.

After talking with Dr. Morgan the nurse walked me down to the radiation department where I met two people who are to be my technicians throughout my nearly 2 months of radiation. The first was a friendly older woman. The second was a young guy. Very young. Younger than me probably. When I met him all I could think was how uncomfortable I was going to be around him when it came time for me to take off the medical gown and be measured for radiation.

Both technicians were friendly though, and soon I was lying on what felt like a beanbag chair, on top of a long table in front of a scanning machine. It looked like a PET scan machine, but I'm not sure of the correct terminology.

My back, head and shoulders were on the beanbag, while my arms were lifted above my head and all the way back where I had to hold on to what felt like two bicycle handles. I had to turn my head to the right to keep my brain furthest from the area to be radiated. Once I was in a position they liked, they pushed a button and my beanbag chair hardened beneath me and around me, making a perfect mold of my position. Each time I return for radiation I will get back into that same exact position with help from my personal mold.

Once they had my position they could start marking spots on my body so they could hand over specifics to a physicist and team of doctors to get specifics for my radiation. The rad. onc. came in and put little stickers all over me, circling my mastectomy area, marking my scars from the surgery and the drainage tubes. Then the technicians removed the stickers and marked where they'd been with markers.

Before I left they told me that I can't wash off the marker. If it gets light I need to go over it with a sharpie or go back to their office to get it redrawn. When I got back on Monday they'll give me new marks. I have no idea if I'll have to have these marks the whole time I'm getting radiation or just during this preparatory stage.

This picture shows one mark they made on the top right of the picture. It's just above my surgery area. You can see how the area just below that mark is dark. That's not bruising or discoloration, it's a shadow because all the tissue that was removed left a hole right there. On the left of the screen you can see the scar from my port. I'll have to live with the port until my reconstruction surgery which will be sometime in Summer of 2011.

This picture shows the hole a bit better. You can also see the top of my scar site. And you can see how my arm still hasn't healed from the lymph node removal. See how my arm is swollen beneath the strap of my tank?

The mark on the left is on my side, while the one on the right is just under the mastectomy area. So when I take my clothes off now I don't just see my scars and the mess left behind from my skin-sparing mastectomy, I also see these marks. Kind of hard to not think about cancer when you're looking at that, huh?

Back to my radiation story...
Once I was all marked up they took pictures and then needed to scan me. I'd gone through the whole process unemotionally until they moved me into the scanning tube (again, I don't know the right word for the machine). It reminded me of the PET Scan I had when we still didn't know if the cancer had spread beyond the nodes. I immediately got emotional. It's so easy for tears to spring up these days because there's all those scary emotions just below the surface. So I started blinking to keep the tears back. I couldn't move from my position during the scan and so I was frustrated when one sad little tear rolled down my cheek and I couldn't move from the mold to wipe it away. 

As soon as I heard the machine turn off and they began pulling me out of the tunnel, I reached up and wiped it away before anyone could see. But to do that I had to get out of position and so the young guy scolded me. His presence during all of this was pretty annoying. I was lying there exposed for so long, getting all marked up as they talked about me like I wasn't there. 

I'd expected this whole radiation process to be a breeze, so you can imagine how I felt when this whole experience proved more difficult than I'd expected.  

Just before I left the office, the technicians reminded me that I can't use deodorant the entire time I'm undergoing radiation. They said it leaves a residue that interferes with their work. And I also can't shave under my arms. Which isn't a big deal right now while I'm still mostly hair-less from chemo. But I imagine the hair growth will return long before my weeks of radiation are up.

So, that was my first experience with my radiation team. I begin the treatments Monday. Although yesterday was not a fun day, I do have some good news. I'd been so worried about finding someone to watch the boys while I went once a day, every weekday, to the doctor. Thankfully our friends Justin and Lizzie are letting us drop the kids at their house during the day for their nanny to watch. And lucky for us, their nanny just happened to be our favorite night-time babysitter, Michelle! We're so grateful to the Benders and Michelle for helping make the radiation weeks easier! And Jennie and her kids are going to watch the boys once a week, too! Thank God for caring friends!


  1. Oh wow! You went through simulation. Sounds like they have you on a vacloc bag and a breast board. (this is what i'm in school for) It sounds like you had a CT done with fiducial markers (the bee-bee stickers). Unfornately, the sharpy marks will have to stay on the entire time you're in treatment. By the way, if you feel uncomfortable with the guy, you can say something. They are there to help you and make you as comfortable as possible. There are PLEATY of women who would understand and frankly, it sounds like he needs to find another profession.

  2. Misty, I didn't realize you were going to school for this. Glad to have someone so knowledgable following my journey! I would have asked for another technician but I think they're the only two available! I'm getting treatment at a smaller local "cancer center." Not somewhere in the med center, so my options are limited. I'll get used to him, I guess!

  3. I still think it's so cool about Michelle! What a load off your shoulders.

  4. Wow! How wonderful that Michelle and Jennie are able to help you!!!! God is wonderful when it comes to providing for us!


Your comments and emails keep me going. So keep 'em coming!