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!