What a whirlwind the last six weeks have been! It’s hard to believe summer is well underway.
I thought I would wait to post an update in The Pink Sisterhood Series until I finished radiation and had my first follow up with the Nurse Practioner. I also wanted to allow some time to heal a bit. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your continued prayers and patience!
Thankfully, my radiation did start as I had hoped it would when I went in for my next appointment. In The Pink Sisterhood ~ Part 3, I had talked about being worried that it would get put off again for some reason. Luckily, that was not the case!
All things considered, I am so blessed that I only had to have 15 radiation treatments and NO chemotherapy. I know it could have been much more serious than it was. Thank goodness for early detection!
The radiation treatments ended up being scheduled over a 4 week time period. Since my first appointment was on a Tuesday, the first week of treatment was only 4 days. Then the second week started out with Memorial Day, so it too was only 4 days. The third week was 5 days. Leaving the last two days for the fourth week.
I was amazed at how quickly these four weeks went by. Each appointment was only 15 to 20 minutes long from start to finish. Surprisingly, it took me longer to drive to each appointment! I was so impressed with the quality of care I received from the staff at the cancer center. Their kindness throughout the entire process has definitely touched my heart. They allowed me to keep my dignity during something that can feel very intrusive.
What did an appointment entail?
The appointments were scheduled mostly around the same time each day. This definitely helped me to plan the rest of my day. They also accommodated me for some other appointments I had scheduled previously allowing me to maintain some normalcy in my life!
I certainly admire all of you who continue to work full-time jobs during your treatment. Not to mention all the other stuff you do!
Each time I arrived I was signed in and given an ID bracelet from the receptionist. It was always so nice to be welcomed by smiling faces and a warm hello from them! The receptionist always greeted me by my name which made me feel like I was more than a number.
As soon as I had my bracelet on, I would head back to one of the dressing rooms. They had me undress from the waist up and put on a hospital gown. Some of the other ladies and I would joke that we certainly were fashionable in our lovely blue gowns! Robes were also provided if I wanted one as well.
The radiation waiting area boasts a large picture window that overlooks a lovely garden. They even have a bird identification chart to help identify the garden visitors you saw while waiting! Thankfully, my wait times were always very short.
When it was time for my treatment, one of the radiation techs would come for me. They always asked me in a sincere way how I was doing. This went a long way in making this entire experience not so scary. I honestly can’t say enough good things about this amazing team of technicians. Their ability to instill calm was amazing!
Positioning for a treatment.
After entering the front of the treatment area I provided my birth date each time. Then I headed back to the radiation area. Once there, they would have me lay down on the treatment table with a cushion under my knees.
My head was turned to the right and my arms were placed in a special apparatus on either side of my head. Once I was in position on the treatment table, the technicians would place warm sheets over my legs and arms. I really appreciated this as it helped me to relax a bit.
Then it was time to make sure I was in the proper position. This is where those 20 stickers all over my torso came into play! Usually after slightly shifting me one way or another I was ready to go.
Then a bolus was placed on my skin directly over my lumpectomy scar on my chest (my cancer was at the very top of my breast). A bolus is a flat rectangle shaped piece of rubber-like material, which increases the radiation dose to your skin and to the tissues right below it.
From this point, they would then position the radiation machine precisely where it needed to be. Once it was in place, they would leave the treatment area for their safety.
On the ceiling above the treatment table, was a lovely mural of a blue sky with puffy clouds which simulated looking out a window. There was always music playing softly in the background as well. Both of these simple things were very comforting to me.
Since my head was turned to the right for treatment, I would watch the center of the radiation machine take the shape of my treatment path. Each little bar moved into just the right position that was designed specifically for me. While I watched this I would try to remember to say a prayer that the radiation would destroy any remaining cancer cells that were still in my breast and armpit.
After the machine was in place, with the help of an intercom, they would gently direct me from the next room to take a deep breath and to hold it. Sometimes they would ask me to breath a bit deeper or to exhale slightly. Holding my breath moved my heart muscle away from my chest wall protecting it from the radiation.
Each time I held my breath at their command, they would radiate my breast. I was surprised at how quiet the machine was during this. There was only a slight whirring or hum. Of course there were noises while it moved around me, but all in all, it wasn’t bad. It kind of reminded me of a robot.
Once the treatment was complete from that angle, the machine would rotate around to the other side. Then the treatment table would shift slightly to line me up to treat the other side of my breast and the armpit area.
Several times during the 15 treatments, additional X-rays were taken to make sure everything was set up properly. Even then the appointments still went very quickly.
After the daily treatments.
After the first few treatments, when I would sit up afterward I became very dizzy. The techs were very supportive while I regained my balance making sure I was okay. They also reassured me that this was typical and was a result of laying flat and not moving for a period of time. Thankfully as my treatment progressed this became less of an issue.
Once treatment was completed I would head back to the dressing rooms to change. Then I usually went home to rest for a bit. Sometimes I would run a few errands if I wasn’t too tired. As the treatments progressed, I would feel a bit more tired following them. Generally, a quick nap took care of any fatigue and I kept up with my regular routine.
For me, continuing to keep up with my normal routine was very helpful. Luckily, I felt good enough to do so.
Once a week, I would meet with my Radiation Oncologist and she would make sure everything was going as it should. She was always willing to answer any questions I had. During each visit, she also examined my skin in the radiation field and explained in detail how to lessen any discomfort I was experiencing.
The number of hot flashes I experience daily has definitely increased as well. Hopefully, this will get better as time goes on since these are not fun!
How the radiation affected the treatment area.
During the first week of treatment, the area looked sunburned with a bit of a rash that looked like prickly heat. I would apply the lotion that was suggested as per my doctor’s recommendation. The skin was somewhat itchy but still was not painful or sore yet.
The second week of treatment the area looked very sunburned and starting to become tender. Maybe it was a good thing that during the first 2 weeks I only had 4 treatments each week.
The third week, which consisted of 5 treatments, definitely showed much more tissue damage as well as the formation of some blisters and a bit more discomfort.
The last two treatments the fourth week did make the area even more tender. Honestly, I never knew what radiation burns were prior to this. I know what I experienced was nothing compared to what some women have to go through during their radiation treatments. God bless each and every one of you. You are brave, you are strong, you are loved.
Treatment is complete!
I’m so glad Elecia came with me to my last appointment. Then she too could hear what my Radiation Oncologist’s thoughts were at the end of treatment. I appreciate her always being my second set of ears for stuff like this! Plus she’s always great at asking just the right questions!
As I left the radiation treatment room for the last time, I had the honor of ringing the end of treatment bell that hangs on the wall outside the treatment area! A patient was kind enough to donate this lovely brass ship bell as a way for patients to signify they had completed their treatments.
Before I went up the hall to see the Radiation Oncologist, I received hugs and well wishes from the radiation techs and nurses. When I was back in the waiting room with Elecia, one of the nurses presented me with a certificate of completion for my radiation treatments. How thoughtful!
The nurse took Elecia and me into the examining room explaining what the next few weeks would bring. She discussed how the burn would get worse before it would get better and that I could expect it to fully bloom about a week to 10 days later.
The Nurse Practioner came in and examined the treatment area and discussed what I could expect to happen over the next 2 weeks. She also prescribed silver sulfadiazine to prevent infection and to help heal the burns. She said she wanted to see me in two weeks for a follow-up.
My Radiation Oncologist came in and examined me as well. She also explained everything to Elecia and me in detail. We appreciated her reassuring us regarding how the treatments went! She told me to begin taking Tamoxifen daily now that my treatment was complete.
The burn progression.
Over the next week, the burn got worse. More blisters formed and the skin grew bright red and inflamed looking. Heat radiated off of the area as well. Thankfully the blisters did not weep at all. The prescription lotion was helpful in soothing the blistered and open areas and in protecting them from infection.
The burn peaked 7 days later. It was uncomfortable to have my clothing touching this area. I wore a lot of oversized t-shirts during this time period. If I drove, the seatbelt also irritated it. As per the treatment team’s recommendation prior to starting treatments, I replaced my bras with ones that did not have underwire.
Sleeping became difficult for me as well. I normally sleep on my side, but could not, as laying on either side was terribly painful. Instead, I did my best to lay flat on my back when I slept. Which made me stiff and sore in the morning. But once I was up and about, I felt better.
At the peak.
Luckily, during the peak of the burn, the blisters that had formed in my armpit and under my breast the last full week of treatment were starting to feel better. But where the bolus had been was a different story.
This ended up being the most painful and inflamed area I had. I think the pain and discomfort were due to how thin the skin is in that area.
If you place your hand on your heart like when you say the Pledge of Allegiance, that’s the area I’m talking about.
By the tenth day after treatment ended, I was feeling much better! The blisters were disappearing and the redness was lessening. By days 11 and 12, I was FINALLY able to lay on my side again to sleep. I kept the area moisturized like I was told to do. This seemed to help keep the peeling and itchiness from being so bothersome.
The two week follow up.
When I returned for my 2-week follow-up, the Nurse Practioner was very pleased with how well I was healing! She discussed with me in detail what the next year would be like with appointments and such.
I know I still have a long way to go and that there are lots of appointment in my future, but I am incredibly thankful for the top-notch treatment I’ve received so far.
I’m grateful that I have a small break before I go in for genetic testing in August. Then I am scheduled to see my Oncologist in September followed by my next mammogram in November.
Finding joy in keeping busy!
Even though these last 6 weeks were difficult sometimes, I found great joy in keeping busy!
I’ve been reading my friend, KariAnne Wood’s wonderful new book called, So Close To Amazing: Stories of a DIY Life Gone Wrong . . . and Learning to Find the Beauty in Every Imperfection. You may recognize her from her Thistlewood Farms blog. If you don’t know who she is, please check out her blog! You will absolutely adore her!
I’m honored to be a part of her book launch and have truly enjoyed getting to read this sweet story early! I hope you will consider pre-ordering her book which is due to be released on September 5.
So Close To Amazing is told straight from her heart. There are a lot of tickle-your-ribs laughs as well as touching stories about her life on her farm in Kentucky. KariAnne makes you realize that being so close to amazing and getting it almost right are really okay and that perfection is overrated!
This memoir also has wonderful DIY projects throughout that anyone can do no matter your crafting level! My next post will have more details about this wonderful book and how KariAnne was instrumental in me starting to blog!
I had the privilege of writing a guest post on The Crafting Nook by Titicrafty recently! This was the first time I’ve done a guest post. It was a wonderful learning experience and Cami was so helpful. The project was about how to Create a Rustic Frame with Birch Wood Slices. I hope you will take a moment to visit her blog to check out my project as well as all of her other fantastic posts!
The kindness of others including those in The Pink Sisterhood.
In the Pink Sisterhood Part 3, I mentioned the gift basket FULL of wrapped gifts my sister gave me. I had the best time each day after treatment opening a gift from that basket! They had numbered each one so it was fun looking through them to find the correct package.
There were all sorts of goodies in there! From lovely organic soap to candles and even dill pickle chips…each one made me feel loved and very special. Thank you from the bottom of my heart ladies! I couldn’t ask for two better sisters!
After the first week of treatment was completed, I met my sisters for the weekend at the beach house we had rented for the next week. The cancer center was kind enough to move my Monday appointment to after 4 p.m. so I could enjoy the beach a bit more before coming back after the weekend.
Then on Friday that week, they scheduled me at 8 a.m. so when I was done with my treatment, I could head back down to the beach for the last night of the trip!
We had planned this beach trip prior to all of this happening so it was great to have this to look forward to. This beach trip was a true blessing for me. It allowed me to get away from everything for just a few days.
To me, nothing soothes the soul quite like a walk on the beach collecting shells and sea glass. I am so thankful I at least was able to go for 3 nights to the beach!
All of the cards, calls, texts, etc. have definitely kept my spirits high as well. I truly appreciate everyone’s kindness since this whole thing started.
A few takeaways…
Cancer has taught me so much about myself and who I am as a person. I know we’ve all heard this numerous times, but it really is true, life is too short so don’t take it for granted, live it to the fullest. Be kind to other people as you don’t know what they might be going through. Smile often. Hold the door open for others. Say please and thank you. Be grateful. Be encouraging. PRAY!
Everyone’s journey with cancer is different and unique. This post just happens to be what my personal journey is about. I thank you so very much for following along and supporting me.
If you are dealing with cancer ALWAYS talk to your doctor before trying anything to alleviate your pain, etc. Please do not assume because it’s on Google or someone suggested you try something that it’s okay for YOU during YOUR treatment. Make sure you follow what your doctor recommends for you specifically.
And last, but certainly not least, I cannot stress the importance of early detection enough. Please, ladies, do NOT put off your mammograms. I probably would not have even been able to feel this tumor for a few years as it was so deep and small.
If you have any doubts about anything, do not hesitate to get a second opinion. That small still voice inside our head can be very powerful! Don’t ignore it.
So what’s next on the blog?
An uplifting and fun post about my friend, KariAnne at Thistlewood Farms. Please stop back again soon! And as always, let me know if you have any questions or comments!
FYI: If I were to compare how getting a comment makes me feel, it would probably be how I feel when I eat bacon…REALLY HAPPY! 😉 So please leave me a comment below!