Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Tattoos and Cubbyholes

I'll start today with a little background on the radiation I'll be receiving over the next 6 weeks. Radiation therapy is when a high energy beam from a big machine is directed right at my breast. It will damage all cells in its path, but the healthy cells will grow back and (hopefully) the cancer ones will not. Since the beam is aiming only at my right breast, collarbone, and armpit, I will not feel the effects throughout my whole body like I did with chemo. To summarize what I've heard/read about how I'll feel, it'll be like a bad sunburn in that area which I'll treat with any number of creams until it heals.

In order to prevent the cancer cells from starting to grow, my radiation will be done for 28 straight weekdays. So that's almost 6 weeks where I go to my oncology clinic EVERY DAY, lay in a machine, get my right breast burned, and then walk out and continue my normal life. It sounded crazy and life-altering to me at first, but I've been assured that these appointments are 15 minutes long from the time you walk in the door until you are back at your car. The first time slot of the day is 7:45am and I've grabbed it up for the next 27 days, so my normal day starts at 8:00.

I had an appointment last Friday to set me up for this daily radiating. So I lay on a metal table with one arm up and they mapped out what they'll radiate. It took about 20 minutes of them telling me to hold completely still and "breathe normally" (can anyone breathe normally when they've just been told to do so?) for them to get the exact measurements they needed. Though I'd normally have been asking what they're looking for, I was told not to talk. The end result was me looking like this:

(Remember those drains from the double mastectomy? Those circle scars are where the tubes came out of my body. Also note the lumpy boob and the reason I considered getting the soft silicon put in now.)

The cool part is that dot with a circle. That's a new tattoo I have. It's a little blue dot that they'll use to line up the radiation beam every session, and I have two more of them. Wanna see? (Of course you do.)

My cleavage:
The top of my right breast:
As you can see, I'm a very moley person, so this new ink of mine won't make any difference in my appearance. I asked if they could make stars or hearts, but these are radiation technicians, not artists, so it was a no-go. (Probably a joke they hear frequently, too, as nobody even smiled.)

Now that I'm all inked up, I can go in every day and they'll burn the right place.

At 7:25 this morning, the whole family loaded into two cars and drove out to HOA in E. Syracuse. Paul took the girls to get coffee (him) and donuts (them), and I went into the building at 7:45. Instead of having a nurse come to the waiting room to get me, an intercom called, "Sharon L, come on back." I was told on Friday that I was to change into my gown (top only) myself and then sit in a holding area until someone came to get me. In order that they don't have to wash gowns that are used by the same person for a short period every day, I was given a cubbyhole. I took this picture after putting on my gown, so although you probably can't read that one says "Sharon L" you can look for the cubby with the white t-shirt and khaki shorts.
By the time I was finished snapping the picture, the tech was ready for me, and I walked into a room that had a foot thick metal door with the same radioactive symbol that Homer Simpson's plant has on it. The guy got me set up on that table and left the room. The machine whirred for about 15 seconds, then he reappeared. He put a thick layer of material on top of my breast and I asked what it is for. (I assumed I was allowed to talk since he was back in the radioactive chamber.) He said it simulates skin, so the next time they turned the beam on, the beam was actually going to a shallower level of my breast, thinking that it had already passed through skin when it hit the material. I guess that's a cool, low-tech way to treat different layers of tissue.

Two more 15 second whirrings, then I was done. I got changed and was back outside by 8:00 to send Paul off to work and take Maggie and Reese home. So that'll be the start to every day from now until October 12.

As advised, I put some special cream on the skin today and some Aquaphor this evening, but I really don't feel a thing. I guess it takes a few weeks for the burn to show up, and some people don't get much skin reaction at all. So with the exception of my still bald (but fuzzy) head, lumpy boobs, and some new tattoos, all's back to normal around here.

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