Continuing the Fight – Phase 2 of Breast Cancer Treatment is Done!

Lumpectomy – check
Radiation – check
Medication – on deck

That’s right – Monday was my final day of radiation! I have to admit, it was not a bad experience at all. The seven weeks went by pretty quickly, and the worst thing I suffered was some annoying itching from the burn. The burn wasn’t even painful; it just itched madly. During the last two weeks my energy level took a nosedive, but some days were just fine. It was sort of hit or miss for a while, but the last 4 days were definitely spent lounging.

Seriously though, how could I possibly complain? I did not need chemo, and that was a blessing sent from God to me. Express mail. Postage paid. It’s the brave and unbelievably resilient folks who endure chemotherapy that put me in awe. Medicine has come a long way over the past 10 years or so, but I’m pretty sure chemo is still no walk in the park. My hat is off to each and every survivor who has endured, or is enduring that treatment. You are in my prayers.

After treatment is all finished, some patients experience depression. You might think this odd given the person just finished a rigorous treatment schedule to rid them of cancer. What’s not to be happy about? Well, think about all the activity from diagnosis to completion of treatment. From the moment you hear the words ‘you have cancer,’ you delve into a world of appointments and tests too numerous to list, friends and family asking questions, giving advice, and rallying around you, likely some type of surgery and related recovery, your follow-up treatment (radiation, chemo, and/or other), and if you’re like me, lots and lots of education.

I spent hours upon hours reading online and print. Books, magazines, anything I could get my mitts on. I talked with fellow survivors. When all of that is finished, when you get the congratulatory pat on the back from doctor, family, and friends, and when the streamers are being swept from the floor, you can have feelings of emptiness. What do I do now? How do I fight cancer now? I’m not going to see my doctor every week? A little bit of loneliness, a lot of fear. Honest to God, I wanted to call my radiation oncologist today and give him my vitals over the phone. A little piece of that security blanket is gone.

I get that those feelings creep in. Not everyone has a strong support network, nor does everyone have access to professional counseling services. We (again meaning I) take so much for granted. I have about the best scenario one could ask for (if you have to have cancer), and yet I can feel the fear just waiting to invite itself in. So what’s next for me in fighting my cancer? A couple of things on which I can focus and be positive about are diet and exercise, and these are both key players in cancer prevention. I’ll get into all that in my next post. Medically speaking, next up is 5 to 10 years of medication…so we have plenty of time to discuss that!

And lastly, I’ve been meaning to ask, since 1 of every 8 of us will be diagnosed with breast cancer in our lifetime, are any of you out there survivors? I’d love to hear from you! Leave a comment or message me at ChubsLivedHere@gmail.com. Well, it’s a school night on the East Coast…

Cheers!
Kelly

Radiation got you feeling braless? What to wear to work when the girls are free!

It was just a few weeks ago that I shared with you the bra I found to be soft and wearable during my radiation treatment. Well that lasted a hot minute! Actually, it worked well for me for about a week – now the burn is to the point of no return, or at least to the point of no bra-wearing. Pretty much anything remotely fitted irritates my skin. There is just a teeny bit of pain from the burn, but the irritation mostly comes from the itching. It seems anything other than loose-fitting cotton exacerbates the itching, which is simply not cool.

So, how does one go braless when working in an office setting, you ask?

Sidebar: my office is not overly conservative, relatively speaking; I’m saying, in my opinion, large law firms in general are conservative with their dress policy. For example, our dress code states that we adhere to “traditional business attire” and also to “business casual attire.” Not allowed = jeans (denim or other materials – so I guess the pajama jean is out), sweat pants or workout clothes, ill-fitting attire, tshirts or other shirts with product or team logos, tennis shoes, and flip flops. So I’m guessing “headlights” are out too. Ha! Not that I would be comfortable with that anyway. Yikes!

So I got somewhat creative in hiding the free-styling. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves, but mostly I stuck to drapey/cowl neck type shirts and various items used as camoflauge: scarves, busy prints on cardigans, and jackets. Here’s how it all shakes out (ha!):

All black hides a lot, but the jacket does the real duty.
Draped neck shirt with camisole beneath.
I see nothink! (I wish you didn’t see that
groovy lamp behind me!)
Busy print on the cardigan helps
out on the weekend.

A pretty scarf is welcome to steal the show!

And lastly, you may have noticed…the new summer cut!
A little change every now and then always makes me feel good 🙂

 

Ohhhhh We’re Half Way There (although Bon Jovi probably wasn’t referring to breast cancer radiation treatments!)

Friday marked the half way point for my radiation treatments – woot woot! And still, I have very little to report in the way of side effects. Remember the reflux that started on day 1? I added ginger to my diet here and there – the occasional piece of crystallized ginger (it’s covered in sugar so I don’t indulge too often), and fresh ginger thrown in recipes and steeped in my tea. I also started using homeopathic Stress Mints – 1 lozenge just before my treatment. I’m not sure if one or the other has helped, or the combination of the two. Heck, it could be a good old fashioned placebo effect and I don’t really care because I no longer have reflux! Good news all around because I didn’t have to take any of the prescription medication and that makes me smile! The ginger tea is simple:

Raw ginger
Peeled ginger – so far it’s pretty darn simple!

 

Cup of hot tea with ginger added.
Steep for about 10 min and enjoy!
You can also use just the ginger, but I like the blend.
Stress Mints from Whole Foods

I am getting quite a sunburn from the radiation though. The doc said it’s going to be pretty bad by week 6. Yikes. Here’s a photo of the burn so far (don’t worry, the bikini top is on…this is a family place)!

Arrows show tattoo dots. The burn is right in line with those.
The burn covers a square area over my left breast.

It’s getting itchy and uncomfortable enough that I’ve switched from my go-to favorite bra to a softer sport bra. My favorite has just a bit of scalloped edge at the bottom that irritates my skin. I purchased a maternity/nursing bra from Target and promptly returned it because the elastic band around the bottom really scratched. The one that is working best for me was neither in the maternity section nor in the athletic/sport section, although it looks like a sport bra to me. It was in with all of the other standard bras at Target. It’s very soft, and the elastic band around the bottom is wide and soft too. I first bought a size Small (appropriate for me under normal circumstances), but that became uncomfortably tight across the top. I was starting to go sans bra, but would rather avoid that if possible, so today I went back and bought a size Medium and it feels great!

Soft, comfy bra with wide band across bottom.
Nursing bra I returned.
Black elastic band across bottom was scratchy.

For the burn symptoms, I’ve been using Recovery Cream which is specifically made for people undergoing breast cancer radiation treatment. It definitely soothes the burn when I put it on and the relief lasts a good while. The cream was created by a woman with breast cancer who was suffering from severe skin burn due to radiation treatment and was not getting relief from any of the creams available at the time. My radiation oncologist provides me with all the Recovery Cream I need; the fact that it is doctor-approved makes it all the better. No need to worry about whether I’m using the right stuff.

And lastly, I did the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure yesterday! I’ve done the race (walk) sporadically in the past just to support the cause in general. This year was a liiiiittle more emotional and a great experience. But THAT, my dears, is another post all in itself! Coming soon!

Cheers!
Kelly

Week One is Done: Breast Cancer Radiation Treatment

Last Friday marked one week of radiation complete – yay! Just five weeks to go. For the most part it was as I had expected. I lie on a table while a large machine does something seemingly similar to an x-ray. It takes a little longer than an x-ray and I don’t have to hold my breath. Easy peasy, done in 10 minutes. The getting undressed and then dressed again takes as long as the treatment itself. The road to get to radiation, however, was a little more interesting.
On May 9 I went in for a radiation planning appointment and CT wherein I lay on the table with a fabric bag beneath my shoulders and head. I put my arms above my head, elbows bent, with my hands touching. The bag filled with air, or beans, or maybe toy stuffing – I don’t really know, but I felt like I was in a build-a-bear store. This was the wedge-shaped form I would lie on every day for my treatment, and it hardened so that every time I’m in it I am in the exact same position. “Why?” you ask, well there’s more…
There were four technicians working on me like they were on a timed game show – it was as though someone put the DVD on >>> and they were moving around in super-fast motion. One technician was lining up the radiation machine above me which cast red light beams on my chest. Another was using a black marker to mark dots, lines, and Xs all over my chest according to the red light beams. A third technician was calling out numbers, and I am assuming the fourth technician was recording the numbers, although she was out of my line of sight once I was on the table so I can’t say with any certainty what she was doing. All of this would take place in a matter of 15 to 30 seconds, then they would all zoom out of the room in super-fast motion, and zap – there went an x-ray. Just as quickly they would be back, making adjustments, more marking, more calling out of numbers, poof they would disappear, and zap – there went an x-ray. We went through this process a few times, there was a CT scan in there somewhere to help with the mapping, and when they were happy with their marks they let me go.
I went home with all of the marks on my chest, and was told to not wash them off. I could shower, but was not to scrub the marked areas. My next appointment was a week later – keeping those marks on and legible was going to be quite a challenge. I didn’t scrub, but the simple acts of wearing clothing (necessary), sleeping (necessary), and yes, perspiring (gasp!) all did a job on those marks. One week later they weren’t in pristine condition, but the blurred and faded road map was there.
On May 16 I hopped up on the table again, snuggled into my build-a-bear form, they lined me up with the red light beams and took an x-ray. I believe there were only two technicians this time and they moved at a normal speed. After looking at the x-ray, they decided to make just a couple of minor adjustments to the marks, and then I was given four tiny little permanent tattoos. Merely dots; it looks as though I have tiny black moles on my chest. The purpose of these is so that once I am on the table in my form and position, and the light beams are shining on my chest, they can line me up precisely with the dots as a guide and the radiation can be aimed at the exact spot every day. Pretty darn cool, huh? There are some incredibly talented people working in the medical field for whom I am incredibly thankful!
I started the actual treatments on May 20, and the plan is to do this Monday through Friday for six weeks. Because I had some lymph node involvement, the last week or two will be aimed at my underarm area just for good measure. So far the side effects are few. My skin is a little pink right after the treatment, but by morning it‘s back to my special shade of pale. They gave me Recovery Cream to apply twice a day to help with the sunburn that will eventually develop.
 
From the very first treatment I felt some reflux that stayed with me through the evening. By day three, after having the same feeling each day, I asked the doctor about it. He said reflux is not a side effect of radiation, and that it is likely caused by me being anxious about the treatment. I don’t feel anxious, but I’ve been prescribed something for the reflux, and in true Kelly fashion I’m not taking it yet. I’m going to try adding ginger to my diet and will take a homeopathic Stress Mint before each treatment and see if that does the trick. I’m all about not taking a prescription med if I don’t have to. I’ll give it a week or two and let you know if the ginger and Stress Mints work out.
 
So I have the lumpectomy checked off my list, am in the process of knocking out the radiation treatments, have drastically changed my diet, and on June 11 will start a fitness program at the Y designed specifically for cancer patients. The fact that this has all been fairly easy so far makes me a little nervous about what’s to come, but whatever that might be, I’ll meet it head-on. I’ll keep you posted, but know that I am SO doing this!
Cheers,
Kelly