Radiation Week 1

Happy 2016!!!
Just returned from a two week trip to England and I can easily say it was one of the best trips of my whole life. We spent much needed quality time with Tom’s family and Granddad, walking around the country side, eating and drinking in old English pubs, and attended an epic wedding in Bath on New Years Eve – it was magical. I’d been waiting for this trip since August, not only because I am utterly in love with England and Tom’s family, but because I would finally be getting a break from all this hospital business – I was in the hospital literally up until the day we left!

My British Babe standing in front of a most gorgeous Bath countryside

My British Babe standing in front of a most gorgeous Bath countryside

But here I am, back in good old SF, just having returned home from my 4th radiation treatment. I started on Tuesday (the day after we returned from the UK), and will have it every day, Monday through Friday for 5 weeks, finishing on the 9th of February. It’s a fairly quick procedure: I SPRINT in (so far, I’ve been late every time- sorry!), scan an ID card to let the nurses know I’m there, change into my very own robe (given to me by Radiant Wraps and UCSF) and before I know it I’m lying on a table under this crazy space-aged machine that has a million bells and whistles and I think to myself how smart these nurses must be to operate this spaceship that helps cure cancer. After a little bit of adjusting and pushing and pulling, I’m finally in the right position and its radiation time. The actual radiation therapy only lasts about 2 minutes or so, and it’s painless and not too uncomfortable.

*What is Radiation Therapy?
It is an effective means of treating cancer, and in some cases, non-cancerous conditions. Radiation therapy uses high-energy beams to kill cancer cells.
*Why Radiation Therapy?
The use of radiation for cancer treatment began at the turn of the 20th century, shortly after Marie Curie purified radium from pitchblende (one of the main mineral ores of uranium) in 1898.
Radiation kills cancer cells by causing the production of “free radicals”. This process changes the DNA of the cancer cells and prevents them from reproducing. The cancer cells die when they can no longer multiply and the body naturally eliminates them. Healthy tissues are spared the effects of radiation because they can repair the DNA changes unlike the cancer cell. In addition, normal tissues are shielded as much as possible while targeting the radiation to the cancer site.

I was told that over time, the skin hit by the radiation becomes very red and feels like a sun burn, but after going through what I faced in chemo, I’ll welcome a little sunburn. And after all the years of using baby oil while sun tanning, I’m pretty much a pro at dealing with sunburns. (Don’t tell my doctor about the baby oil thing)….
But JUST in case, I've been lathering up with an extra thick treatment cream after every appointment to make sure the really ugly side effects won't happen,

Radiation Treatment

A couple of weeks ago I met with the radiation oncologist to discuss whether or not I would need radiation. Well, the discussion wasn’t a very long one and after about 2 minutes of chatting, we were scheduling a date for my first treatment. Radiation will start on January 5th and go every single day for 5 weeks. Leading up to this treatment, I will have to get small round tattoos going from my stomach up to my shoulders so I can be lined up perfectly in the machine every day. I guess tattoos are there to remind us of a certain life event so there you have it – I won’t be forgetting about radiation any time soon after I’m done!
One of the side effects that the doctor told me about is if the radiation treatment starts to open up my incision from surgery where they cut out the cancer, I will immediately have to have my expander taken out, all the excess skin cut off, and forget about ever having breasts again. This is a small chance but still scared the heck out of me. Sounds painful and scary and my fingers and toes are crossed that my incisions were sewn tighter than tight.
After all the scheduling and talking about side effects, the oncologist did an exam, where she felt a small mass on the same side where the original cancer was. She couldn’t tell what it was so she called in a few other doctors to take a look/feel, but no one could really say for sure. I was told that I need a sonogram right away, and if it’s cancer, it would need to be cut out before radiation.
I just had a double mastectomy and you’re telling me that I could have cancer again. Apparently that’s possible and with the luck I’ve had, I can’t rule out that it’s not what I hope it’s not.
So there I am, laying on an exam table again with the cold gel and probe sliding around on my (fake) breast, which has no feeling by the way, so it definitely was not as uncomfortable as the first sonogram I had back in March, but still just as nerve wracking. Three more doctors were called in to look at the images, and still, nobody could tell what the thing was so I was ordered a mammogram for the next day.
**Side note – I started taking my hormone therapy drugs a few days prior to this appointment and was still getting the hang of them, which involved not realizing that you have to eat with them, or else it isn’t pretty.
Ok so next morning I take hormone therapy drugs and make my way to the hospital. I am in a hurry so I skip breakfast to make it to the mammogram on time. I will tell you that the only thing more painful than a mammogram is a mammogram with expanders. While I was being pulled and flattened and stretched in all different directions, I started to feel a bit woozy and before I knew it, I went from standing up in the imagine machine to laying on my back in the middle of the exam room, looking up at the ceiling wondering who and where I was. I also had 6 nurses surrounding me, trying to get me to come to. After about 45 minutes of not being able to sit up, I finally picked myself up with wobbly legs to finish the final image. It really never is a dull moment these days.
After my doctors looked at these images, they concluded that the mass wasn't anything to worry about but that I should keep an eye on it. It’s funny how I’d just gone through this major surgery in hopes that I would never have to hear that again, but ok, I’ll keep an eye on it.
As I drove home that day, I couldn’t stop thinking about how I’m so ready to be done with this cancer stuff.  

Putting my legs up after my fainting spell.... I got quite a lot of compliments on my shoes that day!

Putting my legs up after my fainting spell....
I got quite a lot of compliments on my shoes that day!

“Wait-No-You’re-Not-Cancer-Free” Follow Up Appointment

I’ve obviously been very bad with sharing information over the last 3 weeks so here goes everything that has happened since my appointment with Dr. R on the 28th up until today, November 12.

Dad, sister and Tom take me to the appointment to speak with my oncologist, Dr. R, and we are on a serious mission. We’re all pretty worked up about the “cancer-free” / “wait-no-you’re-not-cancer-free” situation. We did the usual 2 hour wait for the doctor and finally the woman of the hour arrived. Naturally, we all had about 40,000 questions about my cancer - “So AM I cancer free now?” “Does she need radiation?” “Will the cancer come back in the future” “WTF?!” and so on and so forth…
The answer about radiation will have to wait until November 23rd, which seems like light years away to find out important information like this. I just want to get these horribly painful expanders out of my chest, get the permanent implants in and be done with it.
Dr. R said they would be discussing my case in the tumor board on the following Monday, which they did, hence the meeting/evaluation day I've been scheduled for on November 23rd. That is when I will be tested, evaluated, pricked and prodded - my new normal. Hopefully I’ll be getting those results back rather quickly and I will find out if I need this darn radiation or not. My gut is telling me I will, but who knows in this crazy world of science.
The end of the meeting closed with Dr. R looking very deeply in to my eyes and explaining to me that the next 5 years of hormone therapy will be hard. She has a way with words - sort of comforting, but at the same time, real, and scary as sh*t. Apparently, the therapy I will be on causes depression, menopause and a lot of other embarrassing topics that you just don’t want your dad to hear about. I wanted to shout at her, “don’t you see what I’ve already been through over the last 8 months?! I already am depressed, I already am going through menopause, fatigue, anxiety……. BAH! I can’t do this, I just can’t! Can I just have a few years break from being sick, pretty pretty please?”
Well, I’m not one to make a scene so obviously didn’t say that, and pretty sure the answer would be no, so I just sat there, listening, trying SO hard to hold back the tears because, that would be the most embarrassing thing….Crying in a very emotionally intense meeting? Sometimes my brain doesn’t make sense. When I scanned the room for a quick look at family, I could see that my sister, dad and Tom were on the same page as me. Holding back the tears that were welling up, faces confused, body language, defeated.
We left the hospital feeling tired and drained, thinking this is NOT over, but we really really wish it was. Tom could sense the scared sh*tless vibes I was giving off and gave me the most comforting embrace I think I’ve ever had in my whole life. That’s one of the things I will remember the most from the day of the meeting from hell. In a time of need, being hugged so tight like you’ll never be let go from someone you love is hands down, the best feeling in the whole entire universe. Also, my team just being with me was a life saver.
Having lunch together afterwards was the smartest thing we could have done. We decided booze and dessert was much needed too. 


With Good News, Comes Some Not-So-Good News.

I had a doctor's appointment on Friday to fiiiinally get all the lumpy padding and bandaging off my chest. After the nurse took off the deformed bandages, turned out what was underneath didn't look so different from the dressings! I have been referring to my boobs as "Frankenstein boobs" ever since. My dad says Frankenstein was a beautiful person. I am not agreeing. 
The good news is that it's almost Halloween. Just jokin...
The good news is that they will not look this way forever but right now, it's as uncomfortable as it is ugly, which is A LOT. It feels like when they replaced the muscle and tissue in my boobs, they replaced them with 5 or 6 very lumpy rocks and just smashed them all in there. They also look like they have been run over by the very same truck that ran me over when I was receiving the Benadryl IV many months ago. I'm stoked for this truck to stop messing with me. I swear if you look closely enough, you can see tire marks on my left boob. Anyway, come December I will get the permanent implants and I am 100% certain they will look better than what I have now. They have to. They just have to. 
So the good news I refer to in the title of this blog is that so far, everything has been on track and I'm on my way to being a normal human again. Chemo is done, 1 surgery is out of the way, only 1 procedure left and then I can skip off in to the sunset with my new, perfect, cancer-free boobs.
Turns out that's not exactly what's about to happen. My surgeon informed me on Friday that they found cancer in my lymph node. 
I'm still kind of trying to comprehend the news, because after she told us, she said it wasn't really that big of a deal, but then said I might have to do radiation, and then she left the room. So my appointment partner, Tom, and I were left pretty speechless, trying to pick up all these pieces that Dr. E just threw at us then left us with...
Every single time I've had an MRI or mammogram or check up and the doctors say "There isn't any cancer in your lymph node, this is a good thing!!", I've always thanked my lucky stars, because I've always heard that to have cancer in the lymph node, is NOT a good thing! 
Dr. E said that my cancer metastasized (a word I am TERRIFIED of) and traveled in to my lymph node. The positive part is that they took out that lymph node, but there could still be some cancer in the other lymph nodes and that's why I may need to do radiation. Currently, I am very frustrated with my surgeon because she was the one that told me I was cancer free about 3 weeks ago....
Tomorrow I have a doctor's appointment to find out if I will need the radiation and what the metastasized cancer means. Not that you haven't already, but I will need some positive vibes thrown my way tomorrow because this news, on top of having painful, stiff, lumpy, road kill boobs, is not my idea of a good time. 
Thank you to everyone for your support - besides all of this cancery stuff, I feel like the luckiest gal in the whole world. My support system is above and beyond. I feel very very very very veeerrryyyy grateful.