Many people, those that have experienced it and those otherwise, tell me “Radiation is no big deal”. One even said, “ Oh good, you’re starting radiation!” Meaning I think, that it was a good thing because it meant it was better than chemo. I feel like that’s like saying “You’re lucky” to someone who was in a major car accident with legs amputated because they lived. It doesn’t help. If I were really lucky I wouldn’t have any of this. Duh. It doesn’t help either to hear, well you’re this many down already. Its just numbers until you get done which seems so long away. I don’t want to be disappointed either if the number of treatments is on the higher end. It oddly keeps me more present and in the moment, not thinking about how many treatments I have left to do.
I hate it. But then again I don’t think I’m meant to like it. And I don’t’ think those before me liked it either- it’s just their perspective now that it’s done. Or maybe it’s they didn’t have to be as exposed. I find it very humiliating. Those ads that show a breast cancer woman getting radiation aren’t accurate. She’s dressed and smiling. They lie.
My first day there I was getting a cat scan, over and over. I am exposed, topless as three women in the room look at my breasts and make marks with markers all over. This isn’t a typical cat scan for diagnostic purposes. We already know what the problem is. It’s for exact anatomy. Here is where they would put permanent tattoos for placement for the next 33-37 treatments. It’s just a blue dot. But I don’t want any permanent reminders of this. It may end up not being noticeable, but I will know it’s there. As we were discussing options, the one girl finally said, “ We don’t have to decide this now.”
“And of course you’d have porcelain skin,” one of them said. That sealed it. I’m not doing the tattoos. We will just have to go old school. Old school is black sharpie-like markings covered with these small circular clear adhesive dressings. My son however, that weekend suggested henna. That’s what we are doing know. So far the henna tattoos are holding up nicely and the adhesive dressings are off.
A week later I get my actual treatment. The wait in the front room is not very long. Not even enough time to read one news article from the paper strewn in with the magazines. (In fact now, it takes 15 minutes tops from getting out of my car in the parking lot to getting back in it.)
From there you are introduced to the dressing room. I disrobe from the top up and grab a robe in a cubby with my name. There are five other cubbies with names. I stared at those names for a while. Other anonymous women going through what I am going through. I wonder how they feel about it. I dress into a white gown. I wait there till they call me. Again, the wait is not long.
The girls show me a monitor that is in their station. From there they will watch me as I get my treatment.
The next room I walk into is the treatment room. This room is very large with all kinds of gadgets. There’s relaxing oldies music in the background. I am led to a hard table with a wing board. I lie on the board and grab these bars above my head. But I have to take the gown off. I am lying there topless with two young girls that are moving me here and there and adjusting me here and there. They are matching up my marks to these red laser lights everywhere. I am in the Matrix now? The first day took half an hour. My arms were achy from holding on to the bar
I had no idea I felt so modest. It is a big deal. All I can do is try my best to get through it. Which is easy in that it does not require much conversation from me. In fact deep breaths, coughs, a lot of talking just means more work in getting your body in the perfect position. The more work it is the longer you lie there. The more relaxed you can be, the better to get your body into position. Yeah, like that is a really easy request.
The girls finally leave and this big sci-fi machine like thing crosses over my left breast. It reminds me of Hal in the movie 2001. It makes this noise – whoosh like a pneumatic door opening.This thing is circular, with a large glass patch on the flat side facing you. You can see beyond the glass the hatch that opens and closes slowly according, I’m guessing, to how much radiation is to come out. It zaps me from the top with this high-pitched whine. It moves slowly across my left breast to zap me again from the other side. There’s a hint of warmth as it does it. I count seventeen seconds each side and it’s over.
I worry about things as I lay there – can I look at his? Will it hurt my eyes? Will I get cancer in my eye if I keep looking at it? If I stick my tongue out at the video camera up on the wall, will the girls see it?
After my second day I couldn’t sleep that night. I stayed up late and cried. I was angry, and resentful. Fucking cancer. Now I am allowing myself to be radiated. Is this really worth it? What’s the worst that could happen if I said fuck this. I don’t know why I am feeling so resistant but allowing this to enter my body is hard to grasp. Maybe it’s the thought I am tied down to being close to home. I am committed for the next seven weeks, Monday through Friday at 2:30 pm. I can’t go away for more than a weekend, now can I? No pajama days either. I have such a hard time wrapping my head around why I need this. I had the surgery. I had the chemo. Am I really supposed to believe I still have cancer cells left?
Well no. For some unknown reason chemo doesn’t quite get to the breast like they would like. The radiation works differently. More direct. It works locally and prevents recurrence. Without it, my chance of recurrence goes up 25%. The risks are skin rashes, heart failure (because it’s on the left side and so close to my heart), spontaneous rib fractures years later, dry cough. Boobs can swell, shrink, pucker, misshapen, permanently darken or lighten. Do they really know? The rules are no sunblock on the left upper quadrant of the chest, no Jacuzzis, apply this expensive lotion three times a day, no wire bras, no sports bra, cotton bras only. Do you know how hard it is to find a cotton bra my size with no wires? I didn’t. I’m wearing these cheap Target $5 camisoles with a bra shelf inside that barely holds up anything.
Accumulative fatigue is the most common side effect. Fatigue is also the most common side effect of Herceptin and a side effect of the new drug I started, Tamoxifen. Jeez! If I can get out of bed by the end of April, it’ll be a miracle.
I am starting to feel the effects of fatigue. I was told today that the first three weeks are the “honeymoon” because you feel so good. I think at this point I’m three weeks, there about, into it. I better get on that trail soon!
April 14, 2013
Links to the entire series about Patti’s battle with cancer listed below: