Following my chemo, I was sent for radiation. They really wanted to make sure I was done with the cancer and make sure I wasn't going to get it again. So,here is how it goes.
Just before my 5th chemo treatment (out of 6), I was sent for a consult with the radiation specialist. This is where he outlined what was going to happen and the possible dangers attached to radiation. A few that stand out: it will make my bones fragile and I could break a rib just by coughing; it could also give me lung cancer; heart problems, but those are more common when breast cancer is on the left; and of course I could wind up with the ever popular frozen shoulder. Having been through the frozen shoulder twice (once for each shoulder) I was really determined to not have that happen again - particularly as my right shoulder still didn't have full mobility!
Alright, so now he has scared me enough that I am beginning to have second thoughts about this whole treatment course. Of course, I managed to wise up and use my little brain and realized that he was giving me the worst case scenario. Then I went through the whole, yes, well, the last several years of my life have been worst case scenarios - if it weren't for bad luck I wouldn't have any luck at all! Then I figured, well, what's the worst that could happen? I could die? I am not afraid of dying, I have no kids, I have done a lot, I could do more, but, if it is my time, so be it. Besides I felt that somehow, my luck was due to change.
The next step, was to tattoo marks on my torso so that they could position me exactly the same every time. Three little dots, very boring for a first tattoo! They ran me through the machine to make sure I wouldn't get stuck or panic or something. No, really it was to figure out the positioning needed and trajectories and other technical stuff, so that they put the radiation where it was needed.
I was then (finally) sent off to Physio Therapy. (I say finally, because I had started to have signs of Lymphoedema which will be another post.) Then I had my last chemo treatment and a wait of 5 weeks before they would start the radiation.
The wait is so that your blood has had a chance to recover from the chemo before they start bombarding you with radiation. Treatments for the radiation were every day Monday through Friday for 5 weeks, 25 in total. During this time, I was also being wrapped for the lymphoedema every day as well.
The treatments themselves are easy, you take longer to change out of your street clothes into a gown and getting settled in the exact position than the actual treatment. Then of course, getting dressed again.
For breast cancer, you lay on your back with your arms over your head, holding on to little handles. Then the techs shift you around until they think you are in the right spot (and boy, did they get a workout shifting me). They then leave the room and the machine whirs and clicks, then it moves to the second position and whirs and clicks some more and you are done. The staff comes in to move the bed and help you get your fat body upright and you leave. Only once did they have to add a couple of seconds to the treatment and that is really all it was, they moved the machine back to the first position and dosed me again. It had been too short the first time.
I mentioned earlier that my right shoulder was still not completely mobile. Well, this position is the least comfortable position for an arm that has restricted nerves and blood flow. I had to use my left hand to pull my right arm from over my head.
My skin is very, very fair - pasty you might say. So, I now have a perm-a-tan over my breast. Yes, just the one and under my arm too. In fact it is darker under my arm. As that area so rarely ever sees the light of day, it tanned first and of course went to burn first and peeled first. Of course, being winter, it looked like the negative of a picture of someone that had been in a bikini for the summer.
The staff told me to shower everyday, but avoid soaping the area that was being toasted and of course don't wash off the marks around my tattoos. I was to then put cornstarch on the felt marker so that it would not rub away. They renewed the felt marks everyday, so I put cornstarch into an empty spice jar and would shake some out onto the marks before I got dressed. However, I hadn't rinsed the bottle well enough, so I spent the 5 weeks of radiation smelling like rosemary. Better than onion I suppose.
Once I started to peel (at about three weeks) they told me what kind of lotion to buy and I started to apply that daily as well. I was very lucky again, as I didn't get the oozing blisters that can happen with radiation. It was just a burn that then peeled and became a tan once all was over with. I was a bit tired during the treatment phase, but it wasn't until after I was done that the exhaustion caught up with me.
Fortunately for me, the Cross Cancer Institute has a volunteer driver program, as last year was the first time in forever that we had snow before Halloween and lots of it. This year, our snow has only just begun a couple of days ago. As an asthmatic, winter and walking do not mix, throw cancer treatments on top of that and well, lets just say, it was a wretched winter for me. Not to mention that I was cold, I couldn't seem to get enough hats and scarves to keep my head warm. Normally during winter, I can get by most days with just earmuffs, but this winter too I can't seem to keep my head warm in spite of having my hair back. Oh well, I guess I will just have hat hair all winter long!
Those are the only photos I have that show the tan and peeling without showing too much else.