Monday, January 18, 2016

Radiation Simulation

My hair, 11 weeks after the
last chemo treatment
Last Thursday I had my radiation simulation in preparation for my upcoming therapy. The short version of this is it's an appointment where they set up you and the machine so your therapy is precisely targeted to the right areas, with as little involvement of the unaffected organs, etc., as possible. I'll give the full blow-by-blow below.

I start therapy this coming Thursday, and I will get 33 treatments--28 to the whole breast and 5 boosters to the tumor bed. The only real side effects this time will be a sunburn that slowly worsens until it blisters and fatigue--but hopefully the fatigue will be nothing like chemo (should be much easier based on reports from sister warriors).

I have to say, I'm a little bummed to still have to face this. I've had weeks of not having cancer and starting to feel normal, and it's daunting to face yet another treatment and its side effects--especially since I'm in remission. I know it's necessary to prevent recurrence, and there was never a doubt in my mind I need to do it, but I don't wanna. So there.

I am still recovering from everything I've been through so far. My hair is growing back at a satisfying rate, on my head as well as body hair. While I'm still frustratingly far from even a normal fitness level (much less where I was at before getting sick), I'm able to exercise a bit and you may have seen my dailymile reports on facebook. I'm doing light weights, walk/running on the treadmill, and taking short rides on the bike I got for Christmas (my first real attempt at this as an adult). I'm pleased with how I'm doing considering all I've been through, but it's hard to be patient knowing it will take a long time to get back to where I was. Especially since radiation will slow me down again, although I plan to do as much as I can to keep trying to improve.

I'm back to dancing a little, although my range of motion is still limited so I have to be careful what I do and with whom I dance. I'm able to do just a little more each time I go out, which is gratifying, and although I'm exhausted when I get home, it's totally worth it. One more piece of normalcy returning.

Details of my radiation simulation:

(bearing in mind that every place is different, so other people's experiences may vary)

When I arrived at the radiation center, they showed me to a dressing room where I was to remove anything I was wearing on top and put on a gown with the opening to the back. There was a locker to put my clothes, purse, etc., and a wrist thingy for the key. There was a women-only waiting area, where I was pleased to see there was a jigsaw puzzle to work on rather than the typical fashion magazines that hold no interest for me.

They then took me into a room with a CT machine and had me lie on the table. My gown was undone, so my whole torso was exposed although I didn't really get cold. They covered lefty when they could, which was nice for some sense of modesty. Some people, through this process, feel very exposed and emotionally uncomfortable. For me, I figure so many people have seen and/or felt up my breasts by this time, what's the difference? There were three female techs working on me, and they were all very sweet. Had I felt nervous or unsure, I think they would have put me right at ease. I'm a pragmatic sort of girl and just wanted to get it over with.

They had me put my arms over my head with my hands behind my head and my face turned away from my affected breast (err...lack of breast). There was a sort of bag under my shoulders that would become a mold to ensure I was in the exact same position each time I went in, and they worked together to quickly get it in place and set. Although my arms were not really comfortable, it wasn't long before they at least felt supported. I do not have good range of motion in my shoulders even not considering the surgery, but it wasn't an issue.

I ended up lying in that position for a total of about 40 minutes, which was pretty uncomfortable and my hands fell asleep. However, I shouldn't have to do that for so long again as future appointments will be 10-15 minutes. There was a pretty forest scene on the ceiling lights, so I had something to look at, plus it took away the harshness of the lights.

Anyway, after they got me all set, they did a quick CT scan purely for mapping purposes, not diagnostic. They left me there while they consulted in the other room amongst themselves and the radiation oncologist. They made marks on my skin with sharpies, which was a little weird just because I couldn't really feel it. They consulted some more. Finally, they came in and gave me my three tattoos, which are permanent. There is a dot near my collar bone, one near my breast bone, and one on my side below my armpit. The first two I barely felt a little prick, since I have almost no sensation there, but the third one was nowhere near the surgical site (so therefore full sensation), and it felt kind of like a bee sting. However, the discomfort quickly went away.

Finally, I was allowed to lower my arms and put my gown back on. They led me to an exam room to talk with the RO. He looked at my lack-of-boob and pronounced it highly acceptable, checked my hands and arms for strength and range of motion, and told me the nurse would go over skin care and answer any questions about the procedure. I got dressed, met with the nurse, and that was it. All told, it was about an hour and a half. I did not get to see the radiation machine, but I figure I'll see enough of it over the coming weeks. I'll go in every day, Monday through Friday, and meet with the RO on Thursdays.

That's all I can think of. Feel free to message me or post a comment if you have questions!

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