5 Weeks Into Radioactivity . . . stand back!


   I believe I have reached the stage that I can now read in bed without a nightlight.
   Alright, this is hard to confirm as the days are getting longer and who stays up past 8:30? Okay, everyone in my house except me. Remind me to ask my husband if he reads without a nightlight just laying next to me. Anyhow . . .
   Seriously — and conversely. My skin is not glowing, but rather darkening. Not a sun enriched heightening of color, like a “tell-tale rose” that speaks of unintended exposure, or even “really red due to carelessly neglectful over-exposure,” but some spots are dark purple, more like the “help! I just used the oil in my sauté pan for a moisturizer! Call 911!” kind of dark.
   Amusing side note: The staff at the Radiation Center are not allowed to refer to the affected area as Radiation Burn. It is “Skin that is reacting to the treatment.” There are no burns reported, simply skin that has reacted moderately or severely. Tell that to my clavicle.
   On the whole, I believe I am actually fortunate that my worst spots are not in fact open sores. I understand that this happens on occasion and I seem to have escaped that fate. I am not, however, going to ask sisters for an “Amen” for another week. Why jinx it? While I do have another week, the technicians assure me that my current “worst” spots are no longer in the line of fire, for which my worst spots thank them and the doctor endlessly.
   One of the hazards of this phase that is unavoidable, no matter the severity of your “affected skin,” is the discomfort, which can skew into out-right-pain, caused by shoulder straps. Your radiation Doctor, Nurse, or Assistant should be able to provide a soft skin covering that will protect any area being “rubbed” or agitated, which can be very helpful, but it involves an adhesive, which comes with its own problems. Keep in mind one may consider going braless instead, but even if one does so, don’t forget about seat-belts and the shoulder straps on those.
   This week I discovered a very satisfactory solution for most strap related discomfort. By first putting on my softest T-shirt and wearing my bra over that, I’ve been able to relieve not only the shoulder strap issue, but the also the bra’s uncomfortable elastic band that encompasses the circumference of the torso underneath the breasts. The T-shirt provides a great deal of relief.
   As I approach the finish line I find myself more mentally and emotionally exhausted than physically so. I’m tired of my own fragility and lack of muscle confidence, but this fatigue ironically comes with the engagement of returning strength which brings a fresh spark and an uplifting energy that can honestly be called joy. Sweet . . . in a subdued sort of way.
   For example, Sunday I rode a borrowed lease horse for a 2 hour ride. This was not my regular gelding whom I trust with no boundaries. My guy Brody has a bruised hoof. On the other hand, my borrowed mount had the capacity to elevate my anxiety to abnormal levels. However, two really good friends allowed for my “limited ability to over-ride” the bad behavior of my borrowed mount, and his tendency to kick and fuss if he was challenged for the lead at a trot or canter, and they ended up needing to test their own skills to master their mounts as we traversed 6 miles on horseback together. The up-side of the “bad boy” is that he has really nice gaits at the trot and canter, when he isn’t bucking because he’s not allowed to gallop past the front-runner.
   Allowed to rule in front of the pack, he was a wonderful ride. Although I regretted terribly what it cost my fellow riders, who did not complain about what had to be their diminished enjoyment of the ride.
   The kindness of my friends, of their willingness to hold their mounts in check despite the fact that one of their mounts is much faster at the trot, and the other easily out canters the bad boy, thereby forcing protests from each of those horses at a physical battle level, was an overwhelmingly, viscerally acute experience. Still, the whole episode gave me both deep gratitude that I could cautiously ride a spirited horse, and grave humility over my friends display that my fear of the unexpected in my current state was more important to them than their own safety-comfort levels.
   How wonderful are they? How wonderful that I can ride again? How wonderful is life?
Now, for the reveal of my moderately reacting skin, or what I prefer to refer to as my obligatory chest shots:
End of Week 3
End of Week 4
End of Week 5
Only 1 week left! Hallelujah. Hey! Note the return of the eyebrow! 🙂

Three Weeks of Radiation

Almost 3 weeks in to my new RadioActive life and this is very different from the 3 days of my previous post. First of all, I can now see and feel the burn. Currently, it is more like a localized sunburn, which is certainly manageable. More on that later. For anyone who will need to embark on this journey, and for anyone who may support that person, I really have to back wing a bit to the Chemo effects.

    I know, you don’t need to tell me that you didn’t want to hear that, because as I’m living it, I didn’t want to have to either do that or tell you. BUT, it’s not really horrible, it’s just sort of that Chemo is still shaking the mud off its feet on my threshold. I want to emphasize that there’s this general perception with Chemo Treatments being over, the cancer patient is “all done” with Chemo, and, as you have already guessed, I’m here to tell you that’s simply something we all want to believe.
    When last I wrote, I’d stated that I was on “the utter brink of loosing 6 nails,” referring to both toe and finger nails. I now revise that. I just lost 2/3’s of my right thumb nail, and for the 5 others, I’m moving their eventual departure from “utter brink” to “very likely near future” (at this time I’m giving it a month).  Currently I’m experiencing a slight increase in the rate of new growth (I’m taking biotin and zinc to help this), and I believe the worst 3 nails left will crack off between 3/4 and 1/2 of the way down. Oddly, this seems very okay to me. I mean honestly, how much better does that come off in your own imagination? No nail vs partial nail. Note to self: tell doctor you’ve added biotin and zinc to your protocol, and remember to let readers know if that was okay, or some kind of blunder.
    Now other than that, 2 weeks ago I tried to start up my old workout and was exhausted after 2 minutes of stretching and 90 crunches. Remember this was 1 month after my last Chemo! I was terribly crushed and disappointed with myself. What kind of sorry state had I allowed myself to fall into? Even 2 months into Chemo I was doing 2-3 minutes of stretching, 150 crunches, and 5-10 minutes of brisk walking. So, two weeks ago, a month away from Chemo, I was beginning to feel better in general, what, oh what, could have happened?
    Here is a happier note. My body’s response two weeks ago was due to the continued effects of massive and destructive chemicals that were still swimming gaily through my muscle tissues. I had stopped working out because it didn’t feel better, it felt worse, and that was exactly as depressing 6 weeks before when I stopped, as my attempted return to it 2 weeks ago had been. With virtually no disciplined exercise since then, yesterday morning I did 3 minutes of stretching, 140 crunches, 50 “bicycles,” 5 minutes of arm weight lifts, 3 minutes of jogging, and 5 minutes of brisk walking. Today I matched that.
    Okay, I had to push, but my body let me push, and it felt good. Hallelujah. Hallel. Before this cancer thing started, I was used to a 20 minute workout followed by a ten minute walk. I’m more than halfway back baby. Please note: I’m not quite 2 months out of Chemo, and I’m not quite 1/2 way back to a mild workout, and I was in pretty good shape to begin with. Further note: I still really want to retire earlier in the evening than I ever have in my entire life, with the possible exception of infancy. Chemo is receding, it isn’t done with me.
 Which brings me back to Radiation! (yahoo) Have I mentioned that this treatment is 5 days a week? Yay. Okay, so it’s pretty much daily, but it has the advantage of getting me out of the house everyday. There’s that. AND it gets me motivated to workout early which now gives me more energy, not less, and I’m dressed and feeling quite human for most daylight hours.
   “What,” people ask me, “is Radiation like? What do they do?” I once thought I’d stand in front of a “Radiation Machine” and hold a position, and move slightly, and hold another position. However, what they have now is a narrow table, much like an operating table, that they add incliners and bolsters to so that they can position you at the best (for them) angles. The table raises and lowers and shifts back and forth. The Radiation Equipment then also moves, back and forth, side to side, up and around, maybe 3/4 of a circle to gain maximum access around the table.
    On the ceiling over the table they’ve installed a plexiglass light panel with the image of a beautiful view of tree branches in bloom, so you can have the “experience” of laying under a cherry tree on a warm spring day while you try not to think about laying partially exposed to several technicians in a chilly room. Of course you’re wearing a hospital wrap that by necessity is untied, and it amuses me endlessly that one technician or another will aid your modesty by securing the wrap so it doesn’t expose more of you than needed. It’s really a kind gesture. I’ve passed that level of concern, but it really seems to make them feel better, and I thank them.
    So, I’m almost 3 weeks in, and the burn is entirely manageable so far. This is because they give you “Radia Gel, Hydrogel Wound Dressing.” Please don’t scan over the words “Radia” or “wound” too quickly. That would be a disservice to the fine makers of this gel at Carrington Labs. I’m delighted to report that my current level of redness does not seem in anyway to be a wound at this point, I nevertheless suggest, if you ever have it handed to you by a doctor when it’s covered by your health care provider, don’t skimp on the Radia Gel, by which I mean — I suggest you not be frugal with it. I mean use it up. Go ahead and ask for more, they encourage that.  Just saying.
   Seriously. Use it before you think you need it. Liberally.
   Have I understated that? I feel like the idiot I was when I moved to Florida and was constantly reminded by friends, “Don’t forget to put on Sun-Screen,” and my olive-complected-Italian-from-my-mother’s-side-skinned-self thought “I never burn.” Well of course I burned, why do you ask?
    Only, with radiation, I didn’t think it would never burn, I just thought I didn’t need the gel until I noticed a burn. My good doctor told me twice, quite clearly, that I should use it BEFORE that happened, and thank g-d I listened the second time. But I’m thinking I didn’t use it soon enough, and I didn’t apply it thick enough. Just saying. Note to you Future-Radiation-Patients: The first time they ask you if you need more gel (and you don’t), ask for more anyway and try to stay ahead of them from that point on.
    Side note: The technicians, with a seriously important job to do, will tell you not to apply too much to the stickered marks in the treatment area. It APPEARS to me that the stickers may provide some protection for the skin, but DO apply it around the stickers in a safe way, and by safe, I mean, as close to the stickers as you can get without removing them. Like, right up to the edges.
    Everything I’ve told you so far is true, for me. Don’t hesitate to share with me what is true for you or the loved one you support. I’ve learned so much from friends. Like, I have a mild radiation burn on my throat right now and I’ve learned to ask if a shift in calculations could be considered, because someone I know needed reconstruction of her esophagus after Radiation Treatment. Wait! What!? At least let the professionals know what you’ve heard, it gives you both a fighting chance to avoid real concerns.
    Speaking of friends, I had the great joy, privilege and honor to visit some of my home-town peeps this past weekend. I left Friday after radiation, and returned Sunday night to be here for Monday morning radiation. Sigh. There was still a great weekend in there. My forever longtime friend Naomi (who had head radiation for an aneurysm 2 years ago, and is permanently bald as a result), allowed me to invite my longtime friend Amy (who is battling a cancer different from mine) to dinner on Friday. For diversity we invited yet another longtime friend Sherry, who has no health issues, but who is an acupuncturist, and who understands us all.
   Take a peak at our joyful celebration:
   Yes, there is life during Cancer and other curve-balls. And, YAY (and I mean that this time), there is life after Cancer, and other equally-un-fun experiences of the we-never-asked-for-it variety. Rock-On with your bad self. If you can breathe, you can say thanks. If you can think, you can laugh — even if you’re in treatment.
   Check back, there’s more radioactivity to come.