February 3, 2020 - What Could Be Better...
Today marked my 5th day of radiation. I have 23 more to go. I began the radiation journey last Tuesday, and barring no unexpected twists, March 5th will be my last day.
Before cancer so rudely entered my life, I really didn’t know very much about chemotherapy or radiation. I knew they were both cancer treatments. I knew they weren’t much fun. I didn't really understand the nitty gritty. I have learned a lot over the last 8 months.
Radiation has been interesting. It is actually a very quick procedure. Unlike chemo, which consumes a full day for infusions, radiation only consumes about an hour a day, and that includes travels to and from the hospital. However, it is 5 days a week.
The radiation machines are booked every half hour, and those radiation nurses know how to move. They are quick and efficient. And as a bonus, radiation has added to my ever-increasing cancer knowledge and vocabulary.
Because my cancer tumor was in my left breast, I have to worry about my heart. Well, I don’t have to worry, but boy when you start reading articles, you can’t help but worry. Dr. Google is a scary place. My new concept is DIBH. What is DIBH? Well, when I receive radiation, I get to practice Deep Inspiration Breath Hold (DIBH).
When you take a deep breath and hold it, your diaphragm (a large, dome-shaped muscle located at the base of the lungs) pulls your heart away from your chest. This is known as a deep inspiration breath hold (DIBH). DIBH protects the heart during radiation therapy for breast cancer.
A potential problem with radiation therapy is that women who have cancer of the left breast may be at risk for heart disease from the radiation treatment. This is because the left breast is closer to the heart, which means it may be in the radiation field. (The lung may also be in the radiation field.)
If the heart receives radiation during breast cancer treatment, women may be at greater risk for coronary heart disease. This potential hazard may be further increased if a patient is also receiving chemotherapy at the same time, or if the woman is at higher risk for heart disease in the first place. The overall likelihood of damage to the heart depends on several factors, including the radiation dose and how much of the heart is exposed to the radiation. This risk is present no matter the dose of radiation—even low doses.
Yea! Now isn’t that a fun fact? You can thank me for all the knowledge that I am bestowing. It is well known in cancer circles - cancer is the gift that keeps on giving. It touches everything.
At least receiving radiation isn’t very painful. When I receive radiation, I am lying on a hard table, very similar to a PET scan or MRI table. There is a large machine that rotates to the precise place so that I am lined up perfectly. They have very specific coordinates and angles that they aim the radiation machine.
I have to lie perfectly still. I am required to take a deep breath and hold it multiple times during the radiation session. There are at least 2 times that I must hold my breath for at least 30 seconds. Other sequences require only about 15 seconds. I know 30 seconds does not sound like a long time, but it is. Trust me. My endurance is not there after being sedentary the last 8 months. It is also super-scary. The nurses assure me that if I do breathe, the machine stops. Hmmmm, I hope that is true.
And on a side note, thank goodness that I am not a smoker and never was. I couldn’t imagine going through this with compromised lungs.
Public Service Announcement: For any adults out there who smoke, I’m not judging. But, Quit! For any young adults or even adults who don’t smoke, don’t start! And for goodness sake, don’t vape!
And with all cancer treatments, the side effects are groovy. Thankfully, radiation is much easier than chemo. The 2 main side effects are skin damage and fatigue.
Skin damage varies from person to person. I could experience mild redness and itching, or it could be severe burning and peeling skin. It is like a severe sunburn, but you experience it every day. I am equipped with specific lotions and creams to help. So far, I do not have any issues, but the nurses warned me that the symptoms could occur around the 2nd or 3rd week.
The fatigue is a different story. I’ve been hearing that radiation causes fatigue, but truthfully, I poo-pooed it. Chemo was so bad; how can radiation make me more tired?
It does. And it is a different kind of tired. It is full blown fatigue. For me, it wipes me out. I really want to lay down and rest my head. I did not feel this level of fatigue with chemo, and I’m only in the second week! I will make it, but I sure am happy to be in my jammies early. I have been told that like chemo, the effects are cumulative, so I have that to look forward to.
On a positive note, my hair is slowly growing back. I mean, it is just peach fuzz, but it is soft and downy like a newborn. When I don’t have my wig on, I can’t help but rub my head. And, I can see my eyelashes growing. You do need a magnifying glass to see the growth, but it is there. I’m not ready for mascara, yet, but it won’t be long! Last week, I tried false eyelashes. It was hysterical. Jamie said it looked like I had a caterpillar on my eye. Needless to say, those went back in the drawer.
My eyebrows are a different story. They are just gone. I do hope they grow back, LOL! I've never been a good artist, so it is not easy for me to use an eyebrow pencil to draw TWO eyebrows that look even. It is quite the challenge.
On a Happy Birthday note, the one and only Jamie Kranking celebrated a big birthday last Thursday, January 30th. The running joke in our household is that I always miss his birthday. We have been together for 26 of his birthdays, and it is safe to say that I have been out of town for at least half of them, this year included. One day, he may forgive me. I know he already has…
The calendar has now turned to February and I’m on the last leg of intrusive cancer treatments. I am feeling great, albeit tired. Jamie had a birthday, I am back to work, and KC won the Superbowl! What could be better…