Fun house mirror

Day two of radiation. The weirdest part is the “fun house” mirror. The machine has three arms that rotate as needed – one is plain and looks like it has two drawers on it; the second has a grid – 13 x 13 of black squares; and the third (directly opposite the grid arm) has a fun house mirror. The mirror is above my head as they position my body before starting treatment.

The mirror distorts everything. Things are wavy-looking; things don’t match up with where they should be. It’s really weird to look up and see my beautifully reconstructed breast appearing like a Picasso painting.

Two treatments done, 15 more to go.

Radiation in 3, 2, 1….

Radiation started today. Good news: my plan includes the smallest amount of radiation exposure and the shortest amount of time (only four weeks). The radiation amount is low because the pathology report shows cancer is gone, so this step is just a precaution since I opted for the lumpectomy and I still have breast tissue. Radiation will eliminate any minute traces that can’t be detected. (The length of time is based on a size measurement. I measured between four and six weeks. The radiation oncologist went with the lower end because of the GREAT pathology report.)

The appointment started with “radiation stimulation” (or “the sim”). Basically, instead of radiation, the machine was prepped to take images. The techs spent about 10 minutes positioning me, using the four tattoos as their guide. (A few weeks ago, I met with the team for CT imaging and the tattoos, which will help align me for each radiation session. The four tattoos – two on my sternum and one on either side near the bottom of my ribs – hurt more than the surgery. I was bruised for days – and each tat is really just a small, tiny dot made by applying a drop of ink and then jabbing my skin with a needle.)

Once my position was verified by the images, the radiation started. It took about four minutes to radiate five locations – lymph node area and the “cancer bed” from both the left and right sides plus the overall breast. The hardest part was staying completely still for the duration of the sim and radiation – about 30 minutes with my arms in “stirrups” above my head, my hips extended far to the right. Of course, when you’re told not to move, everything starts to itch – and you’re not allowed to scratch or your position will be compromised.

Following radiation and changing back into my clothes, I had radiation education with the nurse. Basically, we covered side effects and what to expect. My skin from collarbone to the sternum to the bottom of the right breast will appear a little more sunburned week-to-week (red, sunburn-like skin that will itch and may eventually start to “flake” toward the end of treatment). Fatigue is a side effect, but not like chemo fatigue. The nurse described it as wanting to take a nap or go to bed an hour earlier than normal. Physical activity will wear me out faster than normal. Big deal. There are longer-term effects, like the possibility of a secondary cancer in the area (less than one percent) and a life-long sun sensitivity in the radiated area (like it will burn before any other area of my body). Also, I have to use a special deodorant and apply a special lotion twice a day. No pools or lakes during treatment. Plus no underwire bras, so back to the surgical and sports bras for a month. Blah.

The biggest thing is radiation is every. damn. day. It doesn’t take long; most appointments will be 15 minutes or less. It doesn’t “hurt.” The side effects aren’t awful. But Monday through Friday, every day, for four weeks, is a lot of time spent at the cancer center. Ho hum.

I’m just going to focus on the positive: I have to wait six months after radiation for reconstruction on my left side (much needed because things are REALLY “off” right now – I’ll be wearing a lot of scarves to cover up the difference). Six months puts me at spring break, and I’m already on the surgeon’s schedule for early that week in March. New breasts done and healed by summer 2016! Woot!

Two weeks

I’m two weeks post-surgery today. I feel great – no pain and full range of motion on my right side – so much better than I thought I’d feel at this point.

In the last few weeks, I’ve had four doctor appointments, and one more scheduled for tomorrow. Thank goodness the cancer center is only a few miles away! The surgeon couldn’t believe I wasn’t in more discomfort or pain. The plastic surgeon checked all the incisions, removed my drain, ordered me to not lift more than 10 pounds (an increase from five pounds – yay!), avoid stress that would lead to high blood pressure or increased heart rate (easy with kids, right?!) and to wear a bra 24 hours a day (ugh). Also, I have to leave on a clear sticky surgical tape covering my incisions for another two weeks – because it’s so sticky, it’s full of little fuzz balls from towels and clothing. Yuck! The oncologist was giddy with the pathology results. He actually giggled at the success of the chemo and surgery. Of course, he’s also the one who proclaimed he loves “to kill cancer!” The oncologist said based on the pathology report and after I complete radiation, my odds of a reoccurrence would be “really, really, really low.” Woot!

The fourth appointment was with the lymph edema clinic – and a new doctor. Because lymph nodes were removed (only the three sentinel nodes), I’m at risk for lymph edema. After meeting with the lymph edema team, the thought of this condition scares me more than anything I’ve been through. The chance increases the more nodes are removed, and since I only had three removed, my risk is slight. But it’s a condition I’ll have to watch for – for the rest of my life. Any break in the skin (from a bug bite, needle stick, scratch), burn (including sunburn), “crushing” (like laying on the arm at night or having blood pressure taken on that side), or repetition (like up-and-down painting of a wall or the motion of cross country skiing) could cause a build up of protein within the cells that cannot be filtered out through the lymph system. This could result in swelling requiring compression sleeves and gloves, the need for lymph massage (not the relaxing kind of spa treatment I enjoy), or other treatments depending on the severity. It sucks.

But my biggest issue right now is figuring out what to do with the left breast. The right breast is amazing, but the left one… well, a friend summed it up by saying I’m my own before-and-after, at the same time. The left side is larger and lays lower on my chest – heck, it’s been exposed to gravity for 41 years so it sags a bit. When I look down, there’s a two-inch slope downward from my right breast to my left. It’s temporary – reconstruction has to wait until six months after radiation, and I thought it would be no big deal. But it is. I’ve scheduled a few appointments with bra fitters this week (what’s a few more appointments?!), but I don’t want to spend a ton of money (since it is a temporary condition). Worse case scenario, I’ll wear a LOT of scarves to cover my chest. Thank goodness I live in a climate where I can wear scarves from September until May! First world problems…

The kids have been great through all this, but they’re starting to get antsy, and, unfortunately, school doesn’t start until the end of the month. It hasn’t been the most fun summer – no road trips to the Gulf coast or weekend getaways this year. Everything has been dependent upon “how mom’s feeling.” Sure, they’ve been mini golfing and to the movies and fishing/camping (with my mom), but it hasn’t been our usual summer. I really need to think of a way to make next summer extra special…