RADIATION REVELATIONS

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Inquiring minds want to know, so: The actual radiation therapy takes around 3 minutes. Not including getting undressed and dressed again. On Mondays, I visit with the doctor who asks how I’m doing and then tells me to keep applying aloe gel. Riveting, right? Those days the appointment lasts maybe 20 minutes tops, the most frightening part of it being when I step on the scale. The longest visits are the ones when we do simulation. We did that at the very beginning and again a little over a week ago.

During the last seven appointments, they focus on the actual tumor bed, so the simulation allows them to take measurements and X-rays to check they are targeting correctly.

In simulation, you lie down on a table with your “damn traitor” boob exposed so they can start turning you into a human connect-the-dots game again. This time there was a fun moment when the tech looked at my breast,then learned in for an even closer look and said, “Wow.”

Not certain if “wow” was good or bad, I squashed my immediate impulse to respond with a sarcastic, “Yes, they’re pretty spectacular, I KNOW.”

As it turns out, they were looking for the incision where the surgeon went in (twice) for the lumpectomies. Potential TMI coming up, so skip to next paragraph if you don’t want to get too personal, or if you are squeamish. The doc went in by making an incision just at the edge of the areola (wince). See, if you use professional language, it’s easier to deal with. Despite two procedures, it is nearly invisible. (As evidenced by the two tech faces bent extremely close to my um, scar area, exclaiming, “Wow. Who was your surgeon? Dr. Ganaraj? She’s amazing.”)

I couldn’t agree more.

Once THAT was established, measurements and X-rays began again. More lines being drawn on. This time with green instead of blue. Then to the CT scan to confirm the alignment. I left with three new clear tape circles covering green Xs and a renewed, unwelcome realization that this is some serious shit.

UPDATE: At this point I’ve had 4 treatments of the tumor bed. They have a special plate that is made just for me – to focus on the tumor bed specifically – as determined by the simulation session. They were telling me that some people end up with plates shaped like the US, or like Texas. (Not exactly the plate but the hole in the plate.) Apparently, in cases of mastectomy, often the hole in the plate is shaped like a penis. (How’s that for adding insult to injury?) We can’t decide what mine is shaped like. The tech said Woodstock’s head. (Snoopy’s buddy.) You decide. This is the view from lying on the table – so what I see.

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Since this awesome fun time is nearly over, I took some other photos too – here is the massive machinery behind the door I never noticed before.

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Here it is in motion.

Crazy, right?

This is the room where you get the treatment. Not like a sterile hospital room, right?  It’s like getting radiation therapy in someone’s sort of messy office.

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Here’s another view of what I see from the table. See the purple light beams in this photo and the one of the plate? Those are what they line my green Xs up with.

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The current phrase that pays is “GOOD-NESS I’m tired.” Seriously, some mornings I think if the bed was on fire I’d just lie there. (Probably thinking it was another hot flash.)

But we’re in the home stretch. Just three more treatments! Until then, zzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

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THE SURGICAL STORY – OR BREAST CASE SCENARIO

I can’t help myself. Dad would have liked that title.

Update: Thursday, in preparation for the lumpectomy on Friday, I returned to the nuclear medicine lab where I’d had the MRI and all that jazz done. They needed to give me some sort of injection. Unfortunately, I Googled what sort of injection I needed before this procedure and as you may have experienced at one time or another, Google scared me silly. There were descriptions of injections (multiple) directly into the “bull’s eye” so to speak, and the declaration that it feels like someone is putting out a cigarette on you. For ten minutes.  By the time I arrived at the lab, I was surprised they couldn’t see my heart beating through my shirt. It was giving my recent cardio ablation a run for its money. I told the nice technician that people were saying terrible things about her on the Internet and she said it was totally untrue. I would get to judge for myself. 

In my case, it was one shot, not four, and while it DID sting quite a bit, it certainly wasn’t torture. Thank goodness. The purpose behind this was to inject another dye that would show the doctor which lymph nodes are the first in the transportation of cells. That way she could remove those for testing while she was doing the lumpectomy. 

The next day we drove through a deluge to the surgical center, where they ushered me into the room where I would receive a wire. This wire would be inserted into the lump with guidance from an ultrasound, then I would be given a mammogram to make certain it was in place. The wire would guide the surgeon to the lump. For some crazy reason I thought the wire would be a tiny, skinny-type wire. Imagine my surprise when I sat up after this procedure and had a TV antennae sticking out of my chest by about 6 inches. It was crazy! They quickly taped it down so I could put on a shirt and make my way to the mammogram machine.  At some point as I stood there with the antenna sticking out again, getting smashed in the mammo contraption I realized it had happened. That moment had come when you are either so sick or so overwhelmed and out of your element that you don’t care if you are shirtless in front of a stranger and have a metal thing sticking out of your chest.  I was a walking dowsing rod. Only instead of water, I would lead you to Chardonnay. 

Everything looked correct on the mammogram, so I was taped down again and walked across the hall to where the actual procedure would take place. I got to change into one of those gorgeous hospital gowns/tarps and prepare to meet the anesthesiologist, surgeon, etc. in the meantime, while Robert sat beside me behaving quite properly, I decided I needed to start a texting group and let my besties know what was happening moment by moment. I will plug that text message in on another post. It’s probably not as enjoyable to you as it was for me, but I want it on the record anyway. 

To cut to the chase, the surgery went great. Lymph nodes look totally normal but she’s sending them in anyway for testing. I should hear about that this week. I was wrapped in yet another fashion forward item – a tube top – and told to wear it for 2 days, if possible. Which I did. Then I gladly removed it.  I slept most of the evening after surgery and then was strangely awake all day Saturday and Sunday. No naps. Monday, I couldn’t get enough sleep. Go figure. 

Okay, ending it here for this report. More to come.

A NEW DIAGNOSIS

“Hi, I was recently diagnosed with breast cancer.”

A slow growing, less than 2 cm infiltrating ductal carcinoma. It’s grade 1, so basically as good as it can get for bad news. At this point it looks like the next steps are a lumpectomy and 6 weeks of radiation. So, we’re really almost done with the whole thing. (At least that’s what I’m telling myself.)

This happened really quickly. I was at work about a month and a half ago and suddenly felt a sharp pain in my left upper breast/chest area. I held a hand over it, which is really not a good look for the office, and just muddled through until it stopped hurting. Then it was totally out of site out of mind.  Probably 2 weeks later I was reading in bed and felt another sharp pain in the same location.  Inspecting it more closely, I found…a lump. 

The next day I called my doctor, who got me in for a mammogram the NEXT day. A few days later I was back in, getting a biopsy. (Ouch.) Two days later my doctor’s office called and asked me to come in for the results. Full on panic started then. Never a good sign. It was around this time that shock set in. And a little parking lot car crying may have taken place.

Luckily, I have a great doctor. Surgeons were recommended. Appointments made. It became basically waiting from day to day to find out what was happening next. What was the news? Results? It was so surreal. I could not stop thinking about my friend Leah being diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer and dying two years later. Although my initial results looked good, I couldn’t help but think at three in the morning, “What if this is a secondary location? What if I’m riddled with cancer? Is that why my hip hurts? Does that explain my migraines lately? As fast as my doctors were moving, and it was FAST, there was still waiting time, and it felt endless. I started writing the night before the last round of tests. It was 1:30 AM and I’d been trying to sleep for hours. I had an MRI, bone scan and CT scan awaiting me the next day. This was my stream of thought: 

– Tonight I am a little nervous about the MRI and scans tomorrow, but I know in my head that chances are really small that anything will have spread. I SHOULD be worried about my sudden break up with estrogen therapy. My little tumor (to be named later) is estrogen receptive. That means estrogen is no friend of mine, and has to go. Which is funny (not), because without it I am a mess. Within hours of removing the patch, I was unaccountably annoyed. With everything.  Maybe now is the time I should learn to laugh at the small stuff. Small stuff I suck at. Big stuff? I’m a freakin’ rock. Mostly. 

It’s 2 AM now. The hot flashes and monkeys in my head are still at it. I’m waiting. Waiting for the test, biopsy, results, appointment, phone call. Good news. Bad news. Whatever. After the tests tomorrow, I could hear from Dr. G in the afternoon. Or, it might be Friday. It definitely won’t be later than that. And this will tell me if there are any other places they see anything suspicious. So I feel like once I know that, we can move forward. In the meantime, I guess I’ll go with this nervous breakdown/insomnia thing.

So, as I said earlier, the tests were good. Compared to what many women go through, this is a cake walk. I’m almost embarrassed to even call it cancer. I feel there’s an in between something it could be called. But then again, I have the option of lumpectomy or full mastectomy, so that’s just scary. That’s for real, right? Not pleasant  to consider. Life changing. I just keep going back and forth between feeling really lucky and feeling terrible. I haven’t settled on an emotion yet. And maybe I just won’t. 

That ought to be fun for everyone around me. Woohoo! Which way is the wind blowing today?

Side note: when you’re diagnosed with cancer, they give you a 3-ring binder. With tabs. It’s like they realize your mind was just blown and someone has to organize you or you’ll fall apart. Which is probably very true.  For the past 2 weeks, all my test results and doctor stuff was in my purse. Wadded up. Now it’s hole punched. Cancer will motivate you to get your s#!& together.

Well, some of it.  Don’t expect miracles, people. I’m still a hot mess. And I can promise you, no matter what, that will not change. 

Okay, so that’s that.  More to come.