Tuesday, February 28, 2012

"Radiation Information" (Being a poet again!)

You got that right, Maxine - especially as I am going through rads! 

I am far enough along in my radiation treatments (had 19 of 33 today), that I am beginning to experience tender, rashy, itchy skin in the radiation area.  I have searched ad nauseum on the breastcancer.org community forums & have googled for answers on what is the best products to "prevent" and/or "heal" skin problems.  Then, today, I found that someone posted an answer to those questions written by a Radiation Oncologist.  It was eye-opening as to what is actually happening to the skin during radiation & what control you do or do not have over what happens to the skin.  To make a long story short, this RO said there is nothing you can put on the skin to prevent irritation & nothing you can put on the skin to heal the irritation.  The RO said just to use whatever makes your skin feel better during this period.  Well, I have indeed found a couple of suggested creams & ointments that do soothe the tenderness & itching.  So, it is what it is, & just make the best of the situation.  Don't try to manage something out of your control!   Also, I have considered burning my bras because they rub & bind - ha! I agree with Maxine again here:

So that you won't have to go look up this message written by a RO to radiation patients going off the deep end & getting & giving bad advice  about radiation, I copied & pasted it here for your own knowledge - for either yourself or someone you love that is going through radiation.  It certainly has helped me to realize it is what it is & the importance of dealing with it as it is - not as some of the ill advice given out there in cyberspace.

Hello- I am very sorry for your pain and suffering. I am going to offer some information, but it is important to me that you understand I am not arguing about what you have been through or trying to minimize it- just helping you with the terminology.

Radiation wounds are not really burns, and they are not rated by degree. Medical professional who are trained in radiation usage will generally not use degrees to rate the wounds. Instead, they will use "grades" from the internationally accepted CTC (Common Toxicity Criteria) that is used by all major cancer research organizations (that is why it is call "common"). The reason you can't use degrees is that burns start at the top, and spread downward, and the "degree" of the burn has to do with how far through the skin thickness it caused damage. That isn't at all what happens with radiation- therefore the degree system isn't very useful. .

Radiation wounds are not "damaged" skin, per se, as much as they are "missing" skin- let me explain- radiation causes skin to fail to reproduce properly, and thus as you "use up" your normal skin, like we all do all day, there are no new layers of skin coming up from the bottom. So eventually the area can ulcerate. This might look like a thermal burn, but it has very little in common with a thermal burn, and the treatments for thermal burns will not help much.

Let me be clear- many skin reactions don't need, nor will they find benefit from a 100 dollars worth of potions and lotions from the herbal medicine shop. You expect me to say that because I'm a doctor. Perhaps some will stop listening to me now because I don't think that a plant from the middle of the jungle ground up and slathered on your skin will fix the problem (why would it?). But, allow me to also say- most skin reactions don't need, nor will they benefit from 100 dollars worth of laboratory chemicals stuffed into a brand name prescription from the pharmacy.

Neither approach will help heal the skin very much, and neither will prevent the damage in the first place. Do I believe in natural cures? You bet. Your body, in its natural amazing way, can regenerate skin without lotions or potions or pills most of the time. Very few radiation reactions need serious supportive care, most (not all) will just get better. Of course, there are some severe wounds that will require medical attention, but without an understanding of what is wrong, no one, be they MD, DO, ND or Shaman, can be expected to properly assist you.

Now, keep in mind, I said herbal potions and laboratory chemicals won't heal the wound much faster- I didn't say they wouldn't soothe the area and ease your suffering while your body repaired the damage. That they are very good at. For a grade I skin reaction, a good non-alcohol containing aloe is about as good as anything that costs a hundred times of much, in my opinion. I would rather a patient use aloe, but there are also some lidocaine containing topical medications that are helpful if they insist. Colloidal silver (a very natural medication for the record, despite being sold at the pharmacy) can inhibit the growth of bacteria, although it may not cure an active infection. Infection in general is actually not that common in radiation wounds- but it can happen and should be treated when it does.

Rarely, radiation wounds do need more assertive supportive care. I'm truly very sorry that you had to experience such a situation. Keep in mind, you don't have to clear or remove dead skin from a radiation wound like you might from a thermal burn- at least not aggressively. The problem is missing skin, not damaged skin, or at least that is the more logical way to model the situation.
Missing skin can't be healed with an herb, or a medication, and missing skin sure as heck can't be scrubbed at until it isn't missing anymore. Missing skin, for the most part, needs to wait until the body grows more skin. That can take 2-4 weeks for very mild reactions, to several months for serious radiation injuries.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Halfway Point of Radiation!

This Friday will be the halfway point of my radiation treatments - 17 of 33 scheduled treatments will be completed!  Yippee!  So far, so good with the side effects.  Have not yet felt "radiation fatigue", but they say that plus the skin redness, blisters, etc., usually happen the last couple of weeks.   I'm getting used to the daily drive to Dallas - have had no traffic problems or weather delays!  Usually we get snow or ice in February - but is is forecast to be in the 80's tomorrow!!!  Can you believe it?

I had a "Halfway Point Radiation Celebration" lunch with good friends I've had since high school (some since 1st grade!) at Mia's Mexican restaurant yesterday in Dallas.  They have been a constant source of support & have kept up with my breast cancer journey on a constant basis!  They have certainly been an important factor in me getting through all this!  We had a blast visiting & laughing!  We're planning another one in mid-March when radiation is completed!!!  Then I'll get 6 months off for my radiated skin to recouperate before I go through major reconstruction - newly constructed breast, breast lift & reduction on the other side, & a tummy tuck.  I'm eating healthy to counteract cancer recurrence & to just be fit & healthy!  I should be at my optimum weight when I go through reconstruction - yay!  I have already lost almost 30 pounds just eating healthy & not dieting!

Here's a pic of the girls from yesterday's lunch.  Four out of  the ten of us in the pic have had breast cancer. Always do your self breast exams & get regular mammograms!  All 4 are survivors!  : )

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Great 1st Week of Radiation!

I've had 7 radiation treatments & they've all gone well!  I have not encountered traffic on my route from Arlington to Dallas any day!  No side effects - just a little tan!  The valet parkers are so pleasant & accommodating!  (Last week, they parked my car in the lot across the street instead of in one of the few "rad spots" in front of the facility so I could leave my car at UTSW & go with a friend to lunch & the movies.  When I got back to get my car, the valet literally "ran" across the street to get my car so I would not have a long wait.  I immediately went into my purse & doubled his tip!)  The  check-in clerks are full of smiles!  The other rad ladies in the dressing area, aka "holding cell", are full of "have a good day" wishes & smiles.  The rad technicians are kind & efficient!  I have no complaints!  I am 7/33 through with this journey.  What common fraction does that convert to??  I want to have a big celebration party after my last rad on Mar.19!!!!

There are only
5 weeks  1 day   2 hours   20 minutes
until radiation is over!
(As of Feb. 12.  Not that I'm counting!)

Thursday, February 2, 2012

"Radiation Agitation"!

Staying Positive!!!!

 Well, I just thought I was starting starting actual "radiation application" on Feb. 1st!  After all, I already had my "radiation consultation" last week!  And everyone said I would be out of there in 15 minutes - NOT!  I had a 10:00 a.m. appointment.  I waited in the downstairs main lobby for 45 minutes before they came & graced me with their presence!  The "radiation technician" finally came & took me up to the 2nd floor "radiation station"!  She explained in her "radiation narration" that they were running way behind & that I would only be getting "radiation simulation" xrays today so they would have a proper "radiation calibration" on their machines!  (Sigh.)  I changed into a hospital gown & waited in the "radiation location" for 15 minutes...enough time to get a lot of "radiation education" from other BC patients concerning their "radiation frustation".  They ALL complained of their burned skin that felt like elephant skin & the breaking down of their skin.  They told me to get aloe vera gel - only the clear, alcohol free.  They talked about how they had to sleep with their arms over their heads & putting cushiony fabric under their arms, etc., because of the pain of the radiated area touching other body parts.  Yikes!  I told them I didn't want to hear any more "radiation complications" because it was giving me "radiation trepidation"!  Luckily, I have great supportive friends that offered their "radiaiton inspiration" positive feedback.  The "radiation exploration" xrays took 30 minutes & after a couple of hours I was finally out of the "radiation location"!  SO, I start actual "radiation application" today, Feb. 2nd, AT 6:00 P.M.!!!!!  The ONLY appt. slot they had for today.  More "radiation frustation"!  Nothing like going & coming in rush hour traffic on I-30!!  Just as bad news was when she gave me my "radiation duration" grueling schedule:

6:00 PM - Feb. 2   (yuk - rush hour traffic!)
8:15 AM - Feb. 3   (yuk - rush hour traffic!)
7:45 AM - Feb. 6   (yuk - rush hour traffic!)
7:45 AM - Feb. 7   (yuk - rush hour traffic!)
7:45 AM - Feb. 8   (yuk - rush hour traffic!)
8:00 AM - Feb. 9   (yuk - rush hour traffic!)
11:45 AM - Feb. 10 - 17  (Love this time!)
10:45 AM - Feb 20 - Mar. 19   (Love this time!)

The 10:45 AM is the time I requested, it just takes 2 1/2 weeks to get there.  I requested this time so I could get the treatment done by 11:00 - 11:15 so I could then meet friends in Dallas somewhere for lunch.  Girls just wanna' have fun!  That is my motto & the ringtone when one of my friends calls me.

Well, even with my above complaints, I feel GREAT mentally & physically today.  Bought some workout clothes yesterday, as I am joining the Lifestyle Center at my friend's church.  We are working out together & that makes the time go so fast!

I am praying for "radiation toleraton" & will have "radiation jubilation" on March 19th, my "radiation graduation" date!  Then, it's a 6 month wait for the plastic surgeon (to allow "radiation complication" to heal - then it's DIEP reconstruction!

Only my Speech Pathologists will understand my love for play on words because they have it, too!  If all this verbage was too much for the rest of you, I'm sorry for my "radiation fixation"!  (And, I promise during my "radiation duration" I will have "radiation appreciation" because I am thankful I have one of the best cancer facilities (UTSW) only about 40 minutes away, because I have wonderful friends to offer support when I get down, because we are planning some "girl lunches" after rad treatments (we wtill think of ourselves as girls, not old ladies!), because I have great insurance to take my money worries away, because this treatment will help save my life & it is over in 6 1/2 weeks, & because I know my Lord & Savior will get me through it!