Monday, May 16, 2011

Radiation and Other Spring Activities

I completed week 1 of radiation on Friday with very little drama (the server was down at the hospital on Thursday, so I had to come back later in the day, but I'm still on schedule!).  For those of you who don't know much about radiation (I suspect this is most of you), I'll describe it the best I can.  I told you in the last post that there are little black marks all over my chest, covered by little pieces of tape.  The first day of radiation lasts an extra long time because I have to have x-rays taken.  Basically, I change into a hospital gown and lay down on a table.  Then a green grid appears on my chest (kind of a laser light show) and 2-3 lab techs (who are all wonderful, lovely people) pull and tug on my gown until the green grid lines up perfectly with the marks on my chest.  This photo shows what the machine basically looks like.  The bed I lay on remains still (but my arms are back, behind my head, holding onto a handle bar), and the machine rotates around me, doing it's thing.  I imagine it's shooting little lasers at me -- it honestly all seems so sci fi when I'm laying there. 

 The normal routine lasts about 5 - 10 minutes from the time I lay down to when I'm allowed to relax my arms and get up off the bed. The most important thing to note is that I do not feel anything when the radiation is happening.  It's only a couple hours after treatment that I start to notice tightness and redness.  To remedy this, I simply do my physical therapy stretches and cover my chest in aloe.  The most annoying thing is the radiation burn (basically like a sunburn).  I have always prided myself on keeping my skin protected from sunburns, so to look down at my chest and see old-looking, leathery skin is no fun.  This is when I have to remind myself that it's so much better than breast cancer!  As of today, I have 22 treatments to go (4 1/2 weeks).
I've continued to get a positive response to my hair, along with requests for more pictures (sorry for the delay).  Here is the latest, taken last night:
In other news, our yard is looking fantastic these days, thanks to a little hard work and a lot of help from mom-in-law, who was here for Mother's day, and Jenny, who was here after my surgery.  I managed to plant a flower bed and was sore for a week afterward.  My body just isn't used to doing much of anything anymore.  But I'm building back up my strength and endurance, slowly but surely.
Flower bed in front of house -- vinca and impatiens

Foxglove on side of house

The most unusual-looking plant, leatherleaf mahonia, on side of house
Jenny, who visited at the end of March, with the self-watering container she constructed and tomato plant

Left:  tomato plant Jenny put in self-watering container.  Right:  same type of tomato plant that I neglected for way too long.  Guess which is healthier?

Herbs and other plants on back patio, now with fun green stands, thanks to mom-in-law

Gorgeous blue hydrangea bushes in the back yard

Front porch adirondack chairs painted and assembled by Aaron.  I picked out the paint color :)    

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Hair Diaries and Boring Cancer News

Sorry for the delayed post.  I really am determined to document my hair growth in a timely manner!  This week I turned the corner from being fuzzy-headed to actually looking like I have an intentional hair style.  I can comb my hair.  The other night at dinner Aaron remarked "you're hair is sticking out on the side."  I had taken a nap earlier and it had gotten messed up.  I HAD BED HEAD!   After months of no hair, I have to retrain myself to check things over in the mirror before leaving the house.  I have not done anything to style my hair, but now when I'm out in public instead of the stares and "oh, I wonder if she has cancer" looks, I'm getting compliments.  "I love your hair."  "I love your hair color."  I get a kick out of saying "Thanks!  It's natural!"  People have no idea I'm excited to have hair of any color.  See for yourself:
It's still coming in very blond and surprisingly straight.  I mentioned in a previous post that most people's hair grows back curly after chemo, at least at first.  I hadn't given a thought to the texture of my hair until a cancer friend (the unflattering term I give to wonderful people whom I never would have met were it not for cancer)  recently commented how straight it's coming in.  No Taylor Swift locks in the immediate future, but that's okay.
In boring cancer news, I had my CT "planning" session with the nice radiation people, and we are all set for a start date of May 9.  The planning session consisted of me laying in a CT machine, arms behind my head (This made the nurse comment "You have good arm movement!"  Those physical therapy sessions are paying off!), while my body is scanned for ten minutes or so.  The scan produces a 3D image that doc studies, and then the lab people come in to put black X's all over my chest with a Sharpie and cover the marks with clear tape to mark where I'll have radiation.  The tape is supposed to stay put for 7 weeks.  For real.  The marks show exactly where I need radiation, so the nurses reminded me about 10 times that the tape needs to stay on.  (In the past, they tattooed these marks to ensure they stayed on the body for the duration of radiation.  I guess now they just have faith in their patients to not mess with the tape.)
At the end of the appointment they handed me an "education booklet" with lots of contradictory information about how to care for irradiated skin:  "A lukewarm bath is very soothing after radiation."  "Avoid soaking irradiated area of the skin."  Regarding the marks and tape:  "Avoid direct water contact."  Call me crazy, but I shower every day.  That's a whole lot of direct water contact.  Luckily, the tape is holding up really well so far.  Thanks, "Beekley Pointguards!"  Yes, the company name is printed on each piece of the tape, along with the company's 1-800 number.  Seriously.  I wish I were joking.  My chest is covered in tiny advertisements.
On a brighter note, Mom-in-law and Dad-in-law will be here this weekend to celebrate Mother's Day.  I hope all the moms out there celebrate the best way they know how:  by sending the guys off to the golf course while the ladies drink bloody marys on the porch.  :)