Category Archives: radiation

Thoughts on Radiation

I’m scheduled to start radiation (30 treatments) in two weeks. Everyone keeps telling me it’s a “piece of cake.”  Could you tell me a little more about your experience and give me any advice.

Sometimes advice is a peculiar thing.  On one hand I want to calm your fears, but on another, I should be honest.  Radiation wasn’t a walk in the park for me.   I actually go back and visit people I met in the chemo room and miss the nurses sometimes.  I don’t miss anything about radiation accept that I liked my doctor.  So the best thing I can do is be honest with you on my experience and tell you what went right and what didn’t go so well.

First, I don’t believe anyone can tell you exactly what it will be like for you.  Everyone is radiated differently.  I was told it would be “cake” too, and unfortunately it wasn’t.  Here is why it wasn’t easy for me.  I had inflammatory breast cancer.  This meant I had to be radiated from my chin to within an inch of my last rib and then it also wrapped around to my back and my upper back had some radiation as well.  This wasn’t cake because I had something like 8 fields they had to line up every day and every week they had to re-measure.  Here is a question you can ask your doctor:  how many fields will be radiated.  I can’t say for certain, but I think most is just one or two depending on if both breasts had cancer or not.  Both of mine did….**sigh**. 

The first time you go to radiation will take longer.  This is because they are measuring where you will be radiated.  They will re-measure every week because they have to, just in case you had weight loss/gain, etc.  You will have to remain perfectly still.  This is why, when you have your mold made you feel 100% comfortable, because you will be stationary in that mold during radiation.  My mold was horrible.  I must have been in a very awkward position after my mastectomies, because it dug in to me in one arm.  And both my arms would go numb.  I wasn’t allowed to move or they would have to totally start over…..whatever that meant.  All I know is they begged me to stay still.  I was in a lot of pain the first time.  They couldn’t even finish and I sat there under that huge machine and cried.  It was probably one of the saddest moments I remember during treatment. 

I dreaded measuring day.  But the other days did get better, and most of the time I would be out within an hour.  You will lay on a skinny bed and a very large machine will move around you.  You won’t feel any of the beams.  You probably won’t see any light even.  Every other day they may lay something over you.  This acts as a layer of skin so your actual top layer of skin gets nice and toasty.  That sounds horrible, but I’m pretty sure that’s what it’s for.

The best thing I did during radiation is to MOISTURIZE!  I religiously did this every night and every morning.  At night I used pure lanolin (you can buy this in the nursing mom’s area of Target called lansinoh or at a health food store).  It was super gooey, but I did it right before I went to sleep and then wore an old t-shirt over it.  It was mostly absorbed by morning.  Then I used aloe after my shower in the morning before radiation because it soaks in very fast.  I would also use grape seed oil sometimes at night as well.   My radiologist was very surprised I didn’t blister at all.  I just got red, and I wasn’t really miserable at all during the treatment.  I did start feeling burned in the last week. (I din’t use anything they gave me BTW)

I still have my tan lines.  I’m still red a year and a half later.  Mainly just a red strip under my breasts for some reason?  I fractured a rib a while back most likely because the bones get brittle from radiation.  I didn’t even realize it so it must not have been too bad. 

I really hope only your breast will be radiated and the fields will be minimal.  It will probably be much easier like your friends tell you.  But for me, it was hard.  I have a hard time saying which was more difficult, chemo or radiation.  I cried more, and prayed more for God’s strength during radiation than any other time during my treatment.  

I hope that wasn’t miserably honest.  I didn’t like radiation very much.  The actual treatment experience was far worse than what it did to me, I will say that…..if that makes sense.  The laying there, hands over head, etc.   I’d really like to tell you it was super easy, but then I wouldn’t be honest.  So I decided it would be best to be honest.  So I have been.  It doesn’t get worse than what I’ve said above.  I’m not hiding anything.  Hopefully that makes you feel better!

I can say with almost complete certainty that you will make it through.  Just not sure I would say it was “cake.”

And here’s the really great thing!  You will get through it!  It will be like you went on a really great tropical vacation and missed a spot when lathering on the sunblock…only you didn’t. (**sigh**)  I joke that they really need to make radiation rooms smell like a tanning salon because it feels like that when you go every day.  Maybe a little ambiance like the sound of waves crashing against the beach would help too. 

Here are a few links I wrote during radiation:

Save the Skin: Part 1

Save the Skin: Part 2

Picture Day

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Healthy and Happy

Life is normal.  Everything is normal.  I eat.  I sleep.  I feed the kids.  I water the kids.  They grow.  I study.  I work.  And life goes on.  This is good.  This is very good.

I’m enjoying my kids.  Although, I have an (almost) three-year old little boy, and this makes life rather challenging.  I was at the family doctor the other day and I had Elijah busy with my iphone playing games through most of the visit, but at the very end, my lovely little boy got bored and started throwing a very monstrous fit about something (there are so many these days I can’t remember why he throws them anymore).  The doctor, who is very cool and very patient with all my kids, looks at him for a few seconds and says…….”Yup, there’s that testosterone kick’in in.”  So he’s a bundle of energy.  And thanks to my class (I’m taking Lifespan and Development) I’m reminded that at age three a child will be busier than any other point in their life.  So we’re just holding on for the ride right now and we’ll weather the three-year-old storm.  At least I think we’ll make it…..well, at least Elijah will make it.  He may leave a mess in his path, a little hair in his chubby little hands from his sisters maybe, a tidal wave from the tub, but we’ll get through somehow…..lol.

So I’m doing well.  I’m taking a class finally.  And I’m doing pretty well.  Even my teacher has told me I’m doing well.  I think she wants to encourage me…..here I am, 37 year old woman, three kids, recent cancer survivor, pastor…..I’d be encouraging me too….lol! 

I’ve lost the weight I gained from radiation.  I know, don’t ask me why I ballooned during radiation, but I did.  I gained 20 pounds.  All I can theorize is that I was so tired that my body slowed down.  I was completely opposite with the weight gain/loss expectations.  I think you’re supposed to gain in chemo and lose in radiation.  I did the opposite.  I lost in chemo and gained in radiation.  Now, it would have been nice to have been the other way around because then the losing would have been last.  But no,of course not, that would be too easy.  But after some diligence and some pavement pounding, I am almost back to pre-radiation and pre-baby weight. 

I’ve been running.  I ran a 5K race last weekend at my college reunion.  It was just a fun run, but I ran it in under 30 minutes which was a nice little achievement for me.  That, and I didn’t walk.  It’s always good to run the entire race when you actually set out to do so.  And I did.  And I’m relieved, because it would have been really embarassing to have to walk during a race at your 15 year college reunion (especially when I ran cross country for 4 years in college!)

I love my job.  I love the people I work with.  I love being in ministry.  I love praying with people and for people.  I love the care aspects of ministry.  I like planning new ministries.

I like my new breasts.  It’s taken a while, but I finally feel like they are either adjusting to me or I am adjusting to them.  It took us a while to get aquanted, but now I think I like them.  I’m going to let them stay.  I can see the scars lightening.  Post-digger is relaxing a bit so things are evening up.  I’m heading back to see Dr. D in November.  I’m still undecided about implants.  But if you asked me today I would say “I’m doing it.”  The problem is, that tomorrow might be different.  And until I can feel really sure about it, I’m going to wait.  So when I go back for my visit I’m going with a boat-load of questions to ask him. 

And finally, I love not having doctor appointments.  My next appointment (besides seeing Dr. Plastic) is an actual physical in December.  I haven’t had a physical in 2 years since life has revolved around only cancer. 

It’s good to be healthy.

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Lanolin: Save the Skin (part 2)

It’s become apparent to me that lots of people are out there searching for relief from the pain of radiation.  The reason being is that my post on “save the skin” gets the most hits of anything I’ve written….lol!  WordPress gives you your top posts daily and that one is the one that gets the most hits usually.  The second one is the boob cake from my “bye-bye boobs party.”  Not sure about that one, but it is what it is….lol! 

So after I posted the “save the skin” post I realized I hadn’t included my very favorite moisturizer that I used regularly throughout radiation.  Even now I use it almost weekly on my reconstruction scars. 

When I was nursing my children I discovered a product that would heal my cracked nipples over-night.  If I was ever getting sore I just dabbed some on and by morning, whatever soreness was completely gone.  Lansinoh is basically pure lanolin.  It’s ultra gooey so I would only put it on at night before bed and I only used it a few times a week.  But it is probably the best moisturizer out there for dry skin.   It’s pretty thick but if you put a glob on your skin and wait a few minutes it will soften from your body heat and then you can rub it in to your sore radiated skin.  Go ahead and do it thick, it will soak in by morning. 

You can get it at Target and it looks like this

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Clergygirl Cancer Councel: “Save the Skin”

My skin has taken quite an assault through this breast cancer journey.  First I had glowing clear skin through chemo.  I’m not really sure why that was, but for me it must have killed everything including blackheads. 

Then it was the port and my mastectomies.  My first scar lines. 

Then it was radiation.  My radiated area wasn’t just a 4 inch by 4 inch area.  Because it was inflammatory breast cancer and it was in both sides they radiated my chest, back and my neck up to my chin. 

Most recently my skin has taken a beating in my reconstruction.  I have the tummy tuck scar and scars around each breast.  And as far as I’m concerned, I don’t want to spend $15 on a bottle of scar gel from the drugstore when it will only last me a few days.  Seriously, I have that much scaring to deal with. 

I don’t admit to being an expert in skin healing but all of my doctor’s have been amazed at how quickly my scars have healed and how well I fared in radiation. I guess when you radiate that large of an area on both sides they don’t have much hope that you’re not going to blister and bubble.  And guess what…..my skin never broke.  I got red, very red, but my skin stayed clear.  So I’m going to share a few things I have used and am still using as I recover from the reconstruction.     

aloe

Aloe.

Everyone likes aloe for burn relief.  I went for the purest aloe I could find.  I love putting aloe on in the morning because it absorbs quickly and I can get dressed without feeling like my clothes are getting all gooey.  

 

turmeric1

Turmeric.

You can find a link in the main page sidebar for the use of turmeric during radiation.  Not only is turmeric thought to fight tumors, but it’s good for the skin.  I took capsule form throughout my radiation and started taking it again through my reconstruction for wound healing.

 

nature_bounty_natural_vitamin_e_oil_2_5oz_reviews_91706_raw

Vitamin E.

Overall well known for scar healing.  I lather this on at night before bed.  It’s also great as massage oil for working to loosen the scar once it has healed.

 

ComfryCompSlve

Comfrey.

I know….comfrey?  If it’s spring where you are, comfrey is starting to emerge from it’s winter slumber.  Since being diagnosed with cancer I have dabbled in herbal healing.  A friend teaches classes near me and made me a wonderful comfrey infused olive oil after my mastectomies.  I used every last drop.   I found a comfrey-aloe salve later and have used that most recently.  You really can make your own if you want, all you need is comfrey leaves, roots and olive oil!

 

 

GrapeSeed

Grape Seed Oil.

This is probably my favorite of all of them.  I have a blend of grape seed and vitamin e oil and I use it religiously before bed, and after my shower.  There is lots of research that says grape seed oil protects from skin cancer and aids healing.

Updated:  I’ve added another great skin moisturizer I use here.

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One is the happiest number…..

One more!  Monday is my last radiation treatment.  I have weathered well.  My skin is red and sore but not too much itching and no open wounds.  As of Monday I have only had radiation to my right scar area called a “boost.”  My skin doesn’t feel like it’s healing yet.  They say radiation is “the gift that keeps on giving,” so I would imagine it will be a few weeks before I start healing.  I do feel like I’m getting a bit more energy back so I’m glad about that.

My eyes are doing a bit better but I still don’t see well out of my glasses so writing much is difficult.  Hopefully I can write more in the next few weeks.

Update

Once again I am silent.  Sorry for the gap in my postings.  I am suffering from severe sunburn and temporary blindness.  Sigh…..if it’s not one thing it’s another. 

My eyes have been dry and I have noticed I can’t see out of my glasses and even my contacts were blurry.  So I finally saw an optimologist who said I have to wear my glasses.  My glasses are little help so I can barely see as I type.  I guess the epithelial layer of my eye is completely gone and has to repair itself.  He said he sees it in people who have had a bad virus.  I don’t recall anything but who knows after all the drugs in my system.  Hopefully it will heal this week and I will be able to see out of my glasses and hopefully wear contacts again.  Until then I can’t drive and can barely read.  It is not fun.

Besides that I have 6 more treatments and am sore.  I have become fond of Jeremy’s very well worn and soft undershirts.  I have a feeling I will be wearing them under my clothes this week.  There’s not much I can do for the pain but wait it out this week.  On the good side my skin is fairing well and the doc is quite pleased.

Thanks for praying me through this.  I am so grateful!

A Less Than Perfect 10

10 more to go.  I am sufficiently burned.  I look a little like my chest went on a great tropical vacation and left the rest of me behind. 

That and it’s starting to itch and get bumpy.  

I am trying to be strong but admittedly taking pain meds every morning to get me through.  I am praying my skin makes it through the next two weeks. 

I’m almost there…..I’m almost there….

Ramblings….

I haven’t been all that great about writing.  Everything is going pretty well so I guess there isn’t much news.  No news is good new as they say….lol.  I’ve been busy,  So busy that I’m not sure if its radiation that is making me tired or just being mom to three kids.  I have invested in large boxes of whole wheat pop tarts for breakfast because I just don’t have very much energy in the mornings.  I try to justify them because they are organic whole wheat, but junk food is junk food regardless of organic.  But I’ve decided that eggs and french toast are for weekends right now and my kids will get by. 

I’ve also been dealing with some eye problems.  My eyes have been bloodshot and iritated for a month or so.  At first I figured it was allergies but then last week I started thinking “Jen….when you put something off and tried to diagnose yourself last time….look what it got you….cancer!”  So then I started to let my mind wander which is never a good thing.  I saw my family doctor who thought it was dry eye and gave me some ideas to try.  Today, when I was in for my dose of herceptin at the cancer center I talked to the nurse, who called my oncologist.  She said to see my optometrist.  Duh.  Sheesh…..why do I only think optomitrists prescribe glasses?  Anyway.  I have a new optomitrist who I like very much so I went back to him and he was incredibly helpful.  Basically the cells in my eyes are turning over due to the chemo and I have really dry patches.  I’m sure I don’t have it exactly right…..but basically it feels better to wear my contacts because when I blink the contacts keep me from scratching the eye ball.  So he loaded me up with new solutions and eye wetness remedies and I’m set for a week or so to see if it gets better.

So between tiredness and having issues being able to see well enough to read and type….I apologize for my lack of blogging.  I will try to do better.

On a very sad note….Mitch Thomas passed away last week.  He had battled lukemia for quite sometime and gave a good fight.  He touched many lives in the process.  Pray for his new wife, parents and family as they grieve and process his passing at such a young age.  You can leave messages at his blog listed to the left.

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Picture Day

I always dreaded picture day in school.  Waiting to see how the picture actually turned out and if you’re smiling with your eyes open.  And then all the other girls gathertogether to analize each others pictures while there you are with a “half-drugged” look.  Oh yeah…..and then you get to cut them up and write cute little messages on the back…..

I still dread picture day…..only now I get it every five days with radiation.  Every five days my radiation takes three times as long and I can’t move while they align me, take pictures and then treat.  The reason they do the pictures is because by law it is required just in case your body changes drastically in five days.  Weight gain, loss, etc.  This was my third time and It was almost unbearable.  My left arm has decided it does not want to stretch above my head and immediately looses circulation when raised. 

Today the techs did not want me to put my arms down, but I finally had to.  I just did it.  Then we had to re-align……ugh….radiation is no fun.

I will not be reordering extra copies of these pictures…..

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Juggling Life With Radiation

So far my only side effect from radiation is nausea.  Not as much as last week but its still there. 

This radiation schedule is kicking my butt though!  I can’t keep up!  I have to go in every day.  Then I go to physical therapy twice a week and last week I had to go get a dose of Herceptin.  Then I have to shuttle Meleah to preschool now and get Charis to and from school.  I knew it would catch up to me and last Friday it did. 

I had a great physical therapy session and for some reason I thought it was 3 pm when really it was 4 pm.  You can guess what happened.  I had missed the girls pick-up at 3:30 and 3:40!  Both my girls were waiting for me!  Not only that but I had invited Charis’ friend over for the evening!  I called Charis’ school and someone had taken her and her friend home.  And then I raced to pick Meleah up.  I was sobbing when I got there and thankfully the school is very understanding.  I was 45 minutes late!

I am happy to say Meleah is no worse for wear and still wanted to go back to preschool.  She adores her teacher!

I had such a great therapy session too….when I left I could lift my arms fully over my head without my ribs hurting.

Oh well….such is life and thank God it was Friday:)