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  • Writer's pictureStephanie

Radiation and my first tattoo

I apologize it has taken me so long to write an update; I just haven't had the inspiration or energy to do so.

Radiation started last Monday. Today was treatment number 7 of 20. I am chugging right along and feeling pretty good! Like chemotherapy, side effects of radiation have a cumulative effect and I've been told side effects should start after week two. These include fatigue*, burned skin, peeling, etc.

So what does my radiation therapy entail? There are a few things that take place before treatment begins. First, I had a consultation with my radiation oncologist, Dr. S. He is fabulous and I know I am getting excellent care. Next, I had to come in for a "simulation" -- basically a CT scan. There are two possible courses Dr. S could have taken for treating me: supine (lying on my back) or prone (lying on my stomach). Dr. S was emphatic that both methods be explored in a "dry run" - having the setup of radiation therapy but not actually receiving any radiation. We started in the prone position. Here is what the setup looks like:

The simulation was run and to my great surprise, Dr. S came into the room after and said they could not have asked for a better result. He felt confident this was the best position for me and decided I did not need to be tested in the supine position.

Prone radiation is a newer method that is used in order to direct the radiation away from the heart and the lungs.

Lastly, I had to go through "mapping"- you lie on the board and have a bunch of stickers and marks put on your body to try to line you up perfectly to the radiation beam. The worst part of this for me was that I have a very sensitive back and every time they touched it to place a mark, I jumped! I felt so bad for the tech but I couldn't help it.

Now in order for these marks to be beneficial, they needed to be permanently put on my body. This required a total of six '"tattoos" to be placed on my body. I wasn't concerned about this, as I was told they would be about the size of a freckle. But what I didn't realize was that these freckles would be blue! Any Friends fans out there? I felt like Phoebe when she goes to get her tattoo but chickens out and ends up with one blue dot. Instead of admitting she couldn't go through with it, she says that it is a tattoo of the world, as her departed mother sees it. So guys, I have six world tattoos on my body!

Two of my tattoos

I am being given 16 rounds of prone radiation therapy to my entire left breast and I go in five days a week for treatment. It takes about a half hour to get to the hospital but I am only there for about 30 minutes Tues-Fri. Mondays I meet with Dr. S, so I end up being there closer to an hour. After these 16 rounds are done, I will have four rounds of targeted treatment to my tumor site. I am not sure yet what position I will be in for this -- this morning I went in for another simulation prior to radiation to test the supine position for the boost. The reason they would use this position is that for the boost, the radiation does not need to penetrate as deeply, and therefore, my heart and lungs should be perfectly safe.

So here's what a day in radiation treatment looks like: I wake up bright and early and get dressed in one of my two Radiant Wraps. These are awesome wraps designed by a breast cancer survivor for women in radiation. They make things easier (and more private and comfortable, not to mention more stylish) and when you are going somewhere five days a week, simple is FANTASTIC. I head to the hospital, walk in past the first waiting room to a second waiting room where I wait with other radiation patients to be called in for treatment.

First day of treatment, wearing one of my Radiant Wraps

Something that I have found unique to radiation treatment is that because everyone goes five days a week, you see the same people every day, making it possible to get to know some of the people around you! I actually really enjoy that. Today I met a woman who has a story very similar to mine and it felt so good to converse about our situations.

So then I get called back to the treatment room, get on the board and two techs work to make sure I am in the exact position I should be. Then I receive radiation from the left side for one minute, the machine moves and I receive radiation from the right side for one minute. I hop off the board, gather my things and head home. It is much quicker than chemotherapy, but it is more inconvenient because of the need to be there five days a week.

And there you have it! Hoping and praying that the rest of my treatment continues to go smoothly.

Some fun updates:

  • My eyebrows and eyelashes are "growing like champions", as my husband would say. We also like to see how the hair on my head grows each day!

  • I was able to go to my first social outing since I started treatment. It was a surprise birthday party for my cousin. It felt good to get out, but I burst into tears as soon as I left. Emotions are a funny thing and I plan on doing a post about that soon, but I was surprised at how emotional I felt trying to "reenter" society.

  • My husband has set up our deck and I am loving the sunshine and fresh air!

  • I've been able to spend more quality time with my nieces and nephews and I could not be happier. I went to a school presentation by my oldest niece and my youngest nephew came over to my house last week.

  • I was able to go to Easter dinner at my parents' house. I was surrounded by love, laughter, food and family and it was the most normal I have felt since I was diagnosed in August.

  • I went to Easter dinner fully intending to wear my wig all day but I quickly became GI Jane, and it was liberating.

Updates & Prayer Requests:

  • Pray that my radiation therapy continues to go well and that I have minimal (or no) side effects.

  • Continue to pray for my stomach issues and my restless leg.

  • The cancer that was removed during surgery came back triple negative, but with some additional information on a fourth receptor. I still do not know how or if this will impact my treatment following radiation therapy. I meet with Dr. T, my oncologist, June 25th so I will have more information after that.

  • I can feel my energy slowly coming back! I was able to take a walk yesterday with my sister and nephew and it was wonderful.

Thank you for continuing to check up on me and for following me on my journey!

All my love,

*To learn more about cancer-related fatigue and how it differs from normal fatigue, please click here.

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