December 2, 2021

It’s been a month since my radiation treatments ended, and I had a follow up with my radiation oncologist today. He says my skin is making a great recovery although the pink/tanned color may last a year. I’m not sure how I feel about that, but let’s be honest, a triangular shaped tan across my chest isn’t what ruining my sexy look. Ha.

Frankly, I’m just thrilled that it’s healing well and the pain is gone. I was talking to my mom today about how quickly time seems to be going now. While in the middle of my treatments, the days seemed SO LONG. Now that I’m feeling better, time flies. I know that’s typical. And it’s a great reminder that things don’t last forever. Sometimes good things end, but more importantly, so does the bad. I’m thankful every day I made it through the long days.

November 6, 2021

I love my friends. They always find a way to make me smile and I’m so thankful for that. What a sweet surprise on a day filled with cleaning and putting away the Halloween decor.

Have I mentioned I’m done with radiation? Still super happy about it. Even more happy because my skin is on fire—and not in the good way. I can’t imagine having more treatments now. And I can understand why major burn victims may need to be put in an induced coma. The pain from my localized area is enough to exhaust me. Why does this have to be under my arm where it rubs constantly? Why?

I think I did a bit too much today with my arms. This area felt like it was extra swollen, so I spent the evening on the sofa, reading a new book. But I’m glad I got things put away and the garage cleaned while the weather was warm. And I lasted a bit longer than 4 hours before I needed ibuprofen again. Maybe that’s a good sign.

November 4, 2021

I’m done!! I had my last radiation treatment today! This was me and Patrick.

I brought a box of small cupcakes for the staff and they gave me a “diploma” which was The Ten Commandments of Cancer Surviorship and a bag of items with special meanings.

On my way out I got a hug from the nurse who worked with me the most and even one from my doctor. When I got to my car, this song was on the radio. I couldn’t clap along since I was driving, but I absolutely was happy.

Finally, I got this delivery from my mom, with such a sweet message it made me cry.

I’m so thankful for this day that seemed so long in coming. I’m done!!

November 1, 2021

This is my last week of radiation. Woohoo! It’s crazy how quickly my skin damage has increased.

This is the worst spot under my arm which has just started to peel. My doctor today said that he expects all of my skin to peel eventually. He offered to write a prescription for pain medicine since it’s gotten pretty painful, as you can imagine. However, I don’t do well with those, so I opted to keep using ibuprofen. I’m hoping that continues to help.

The thing no one really tells you about radiation is how much it can tighten the muscles in the area. A lot of my pain is also from the tightness; it’s almost as if my ribs are bruised. I think part of it is that I don’t ever feel relaxed and that tension in my body doesn’t help. So I keep trying to stretch my chest and shoulder muscles regularly. I’m also getting sharp pains regularly along the side that I’m assuming is the surgery nerve damage I was warned about. I’m only guessing (because I forgot to ask my doctor today) that it may be more noticeable from the muscle tightening.

It probably goes without saying that I’m so thankful that this is my final week. Thursday is my last day. And the nurse today said there’s a good chance that without the bolus accentuating the radiation, my skin may not get much worse these last few days. Three more days. I can do it. I can.

October 27, 2021

Well, today I saw my plastic surgeon because it felt like my spacer had fallen on the non-radiated side, and I wanted to make sure that wasn’t abnormal. After waiting over an hour because he was in a procedure that ran overtime, he came in with a med student. I’m pretty sure she must not have seen radiated skin too often; she seemed uncomfortable seeing me. In fact, even the nurses seemed uncomfortable looking at me. One of them gave me a blanket as I was waiting because they keep it so dang cold in those offices. She tried to drape it over my shoulders but finally gingerly handed it to me instead, saying she didn’t want to hurt me. It wasn’t like I was sitting there topless either. I guess the triangle of very red skin peeking above the neckline gives it away.

At any rate, my plastic surgeon has a much different take on my skin than my radiation oncologist. He wasn’t pleased in the least. I got a lot of tips on skin health, including the urging that I drink collagen-infused protein shakes twice a day. Apparently, I can worry about losing weight later. He also said the radiation is melting the stitching across my incision, and if it pulls apart any further, I need to see him right away so he can put in another stitch or two. We then talked about a time frame. I knew that I’d need to let my skin heal for 6 weeks after radiation before seeing him again. But he said with the amount of damage I have, we will also have to do my fills slowly. He thinks it will be a full 6 months before he can do my final surgery where I have my spacers swapped out for the final, soft implants.

Friends, I cried the entire drive home. I barely made it to my car before the tears started. Six months? Another six months with these uncomfortable spacers reminding me of this stinking “journey”I never wanted to be on? UGH. Remember at the beginning of the year when I thought my timeframe had all of this completed by Christmas? Silly, naive, optimistic me. Then I readjusted my thinking to be ok with Jan, maybe Feb. Now we’re looking hopefully at April. I hope it’s not an April Fool’s joke.

So…where’s the gratitude today…Well, my ride home was only 10 mins, so the crying didn’t last that long. I also reminded myself that I have 6 more radiation treatments to get through, and they are targeted differently, so the skin across my incision will now be spared. Hopefully that part can begin healing. My doctor said not to worry about gaining weight, so I’ve been given permission to be my pudgy self. Oh! and the reason for the visit–the fallen spacer–was a non-issue. It’s just my skin on that side relaxing as expected and readjusting the spacer underneath. If I’m honest about it (what else can I be at this point?!) that side does feel better than it did a month ago. So maybe I’ll get used to things after all.

October 26, 2021

I saw my radiation oncologist today since I wasn’t able to see him yesterday. Yesterday the radiation machine needed servicing so my treatment was moved to a later time spot, and he wasn’t available for a skin check. Even though I hate to say it, my doctor was right. My skin got a lot redder than a week ago. It hurts, especially where my skin rubs under my arm. There were some small blisters there I was worried about that broke prior to today’s appointment.

My bright red underarm

While things look intense, my doctor says that my skin is actually looking pretty good all things considered. He suspects it will start peeling soon in some spots.

Tomorrow starts my “boost” week where they will focus the treatment deeper than it has been. That means the sides of my breast will get the main skin effects. I’m grateful that the skin across my scar will be somewhat spared, but I’m cringing at the thought of my armpit getting worse. Gah. If you see me over the next few weeks with my arm in the air, just wave.

October 23, 2021

I’ve been really tired the last few days. When I had trouble sleeping yet again last night, I shut myself in the guest room, much to the pups’ dismay. They love sleeping on the guest bed, but I wanted to try to sleep in, and I knew I couldn’t if they were with me. When they realized I was there at 2 am, I heard them pawing at the door. It took some resolve not to give in, but I didn’t. And I stayed in bed until 9 am, which is at least 2.5 hours past normal for me, even on the weekend. Then after we ran some errands this morning, I was once again exhausted and took a nap as soon as we got home. I’m hoping it’s radiation fatigue and nothing else going on.

I’m thankful for being able to get some rest when I need it. Even if it’s just relaxing on the sofa with this guy.

October 19, 2021

I haven’t been sleeping well. I’m uncomfortable at night; it’s hard to find a position that brings sleep quickly. I want to lay on my side SO bad, but it’s still hard for any length of time. And last night, the dogs jumped into our bed at 2:30 am. After Barley stuck his paws in my face, I kicked them both out, waking Patrick up in the process. I don’t know what prompted their early sneak into bed, but it didn’t help. I was awake from 2 -4 am, after getting to sleep about 11. That seems to be my pattern lately.

So this morning was tough. I was crabby and emotional. Stupid breast spacers. Stupid radiation burned skin. Stupid 7 am start to my job. When Patrick returned from his office hours at the college, he could tell I was having a hard time holding it together. He asked what he could do to make it easier for me today.

I’m thankful that he notices and wants to help. I’m thankful for the yummy pot roast dinner he made today, and the equally yummy Manhattan he made for me tonight. And I’m thankful that he doesn’t judge me for periodically losing it.

October 18, 2021

On Mondays I see my radiation oncologist after my radiation treatment. He asks how I think radiation is going and check for any side effects. Usually he does a visual check of my skin for reactions. Today I told him I thought it was going fine; I said I had a rash but it wasn’t bothering me too much and my skin was red but not too awful. He said my skin would get redder. Well, dang.

I asked if he thought my incision was looking ok since it’s now getting a bit stretched as my skin is tightening. He said it wasn’t worrying him at this point. Then he proceeded to tell me about a prior patient whose skin tightened so much around her implant spacers that her skin started breaking down and the metal piece started coming coming through. Apparently when radiation hits metal, it reflects so it’s like double radiation. I should have put up my hand and said, “nope, stop right there,” when he started by saying he probably shouldn’t tell me this. UGH. Now I’m going to struggle not to worry about my freaking implant spacers. My only saving grace is that apparently hers had been filled too much prior to treatment, and I remember my plastic surgeon saying he was purposely not filling mine more than he did so they wouldn’t pull too much during treatment. I am praying mine is fine, but seriously, I’m going to have to scrub my mind of that visual or I’ll worry too much.

Despite my doctor’s penchant to be blunt and overshare, I appreciate that going to treatment every day hasn’t been awful. Because I see the same staff all the time, they like to chat and share what they’ve done on the weekend and stuff. It makes it easy and I’m thankful for that.

October 5, 2021

Radiation normally happens like this:

I lay on the table with my left arm up and my head tilted right and the techs line my tattoos up to red and green light markers that shine down from the ceiling. The table I lay on moves up and down and front to back. If I’m off from side to side, then they slowly pull the sheet under me while reminding me not to help. Everything is adjusted in millimeters. Once I’m lined up, I have to take a deep breath in and hold it so they can take a computer snapshot for reference. Then they leave the room. The machine arm above me moves slightly to the right and I can hear and see the screen adjusting for the beam. Soon I can hear the nurse telling me to take a deep breath and hold it, and the machine turns on. There is no light, only sound and it lasts 20-25 seconds. When the sound stops, I know I can breathe again before they tell me I can.

Then the techs come back in because they need to put a towel and “bolus” on me, which is a sheet of rubbery material that is supposed to make up for my lost breast tissue. We have to do another deep breath snapshot and sometimes tape the bolus down to make sure it doesn’t slip. If all looks well, then they leave and the machine rotates further to the right. We do two deep breath holds in this position, each shorter than the initial one. The sound changes on these. The first is higher pitched than the second. When they’re done, the machine moves over me and around way to the left. If the bolus has moved, the techs come back in and we do another adjustment. If the bolus hasn’t moved with my breathing, we do one more round here and we’re done. By this time, my arm aches and my hand is numb because through it all, I can’t move. Once, without thinking, I crossed my feet in between rounds and they had to completely readjust me.

Today, as we finished the second one on the right, the machine didn’t move. I lay still, waiting. And waiting. Finally, a tech comes in and says the sensor is acting up and she needs to move it manually. It moves in spurts. Finally, it’s in position and she leaves. We continue. I take a deep breath and hold but there is no sound. Soon they tell me I can breathe but not move. I wait. Eventually, they come back in and say the machine still isn’t working correctly and they called someone in to look at it. They ask my doctor about adding the last round to tomorrow’s treatment while the machine is being checked.

Ultimately, I’m given the option to wait for the machine to reboot or have one more round tomorrow. At that point, I said it didn’t matter, so we wait the 11 minutes for a reboot. The manager comes in to apologize and explain what’s going on. We make small talk and after another readjustment, we are ready to go. Only we don’t.

After all that, the machine wasn’t fixed, so I have to have an extra round tomorrow. I’m assuming the machine will be fixed overnight. I’m not loving the idea that my health is dependent upon this fallible machinery, but here we are. The curtain has been pulled back. Now I know it’s not magic. But you know what I’m thankful for? The device is so precise that it won’t work if it’s not right. That my techs are not only skilled, but legitimately nice. That we were almost done, so I can make it up tomorrow without issue. Fingers crossed this was the only blip I’ll have going forward.