I started my radiation therapy on December 21, 2009 and received daily treatments, except for the weekends, for 6 ½ weeks, totaling 31 treatments. My last treatment was administered on Wednesday, February 3, 2010. The first 23 treatments were delivered to my upper right chest stretching from the center of my sternum to under my arm, then from about 4 inches below my collar bone to about 4 inches above the bottom of my ribs. The last 8 treatments, referred to as a boost, were delivered centered over my scar and a surrounding area of about 6 inches in diameter. Every Tuesday I would get an X-ray taken to make sure the swelling wasn't going to interfere with the position the doctor had chosen, and the therapists would measure me with calipers. Every Wednesday I met with Dr. C and the oncology nurse, Connie, so they could look at my skin to make sure it was still “intact”, always asking me if I had any questions and re-assuring me I was doing great. “Keep doing what you’re doing” Connie would say.
When I first started radiation treatments, my skin was slightly pink and slightly irritated everyday when I would go home. I would apply lotion over the treated area being careful not to rub off the ever present ink markings the therapists made. By the next morning the pink would have disappeared although the irritation never did. However the discomfort was not bad. The hardest part about the first 3 weeks was trying to maintain the ink they marked me with from Monday to Monday. I questioned myself why they tattooed me if they were just going to mark me up every week.
About halfway through my 6 ½ weeks the pink turned to red and the color no longer disappeared. The irritation became very uncomfortable and a constant soreness crept in. At the same time I noticed myself starting to drag. About halfway through the day I would feel the need for a good nap and getting up in the mornings to go to work became much harder.
The last 2 ½ weeks my skin was unquestionably red, tight, itchy, and sore and started to take on a plastic feel. My skin started to peel in some places that peeling should just never occur, and my underarm was a constant source of irritation. It doesn’t help that I am right handed and I was being radiated on my right side. Every movement I made would cause my skin to stretch, or cause my arm to rub tender skin. By this time I would wake up tired and remain tired throughout the day. Often times I was ready to go to bed by 8:00 at night. Nurse Connie gave me gel pads to apply to the areas that offended me the worst; however these were hard to keep on under my arm where the constant movement would make the pads buckle and itch my skin even worse.
My last treatment was bittersweet. I was glad it was over, but I had come to look forward to seeing the technicians I saw everyday. The “girls” gave me an Award of Achievement and ½ dozen carnations with baby’s breath and fern on my last day. I also got a hug from each one. Connie, my nurse, said more than once that I had come through radiation treatment with phenomenal results. She had told me that she expected me to have a rough go of radiation as I had just come from chemotherapy and I am fair skinned. She asked me more than once what cream I was using as my skin held up so well. I shared with her the new cream my cousin Ron had suggested. Thanks Ronnie, it really did help. BTW, it was SBS-40 OTC hand cream. I didn't start to experience fatigue until the last couple of weeks and even then it was tolerable to still work everyday and function somewhat normally.
I was told by many people to celebrate my last treatment. I took Thursday and Friday off to get some much needed rest. Celebration took energy I just didn't have. However, My dad and sister sent me a giant card signed by family and friends down south, as well as a gorgeous pink crystal necklace with the design name of “Celebration”. How appropriate! Thanks Daddy and Laurie. Jenny made me a Pineapple upside down cake done the old fashioned way, in an iron skillet. Yum! Dave took Jenny and me out to dinner at Thyme, The Restaurant, in Medina to celebrate being done with the major treatments. That was a treat. Can I just say, between the Pear and Parsnip Soup and the Crème’ Brule’, and not failing to mention the Spinach and Mushroom gnocchi, it’s now one of my favorite restaurants in Medina! Try it if you live anywhere close by.
Even though my treatments are over, I still have residual affects that I need to deal with. My skin is peeling, but healing, and for now I am still a bit tired. But, like my friend Chris says “Done is good!”
I go back to the cancer center Feb 18th for a port flush and an appointment with Dr. Coffman, my oncologist. I expect at that point he will talk about starting me on the drug Tamoxifen and possibly some follow up tests. I intend to pin down a commitment to arrange to get my port out. It has served its purpose and now it’s time to have it removed.
Looking back, I should have told Connie the nurse, that it was prayer that sustained me so well through radiation. Where have I heard before that I breezed through treatment? Was that chemo? Yes, and was that radiation? Yes. Thank you to all who have been praying for me. I am a living testimony of the power of prayer. I thank God that He keeps meeting me where I am and providing for me there.