Friday, 30 September 2011

End of Week 6

Another burn session completed.

Seven black dots around my lumpectomy scar are the only evidence that I have received the second phase of rad treatment. I've had such a smooth run that I feel guilty to wish for this last treatment to be without any nasty burns. I will, nonetheless. Throughout, I have been most concerned about keeping my skin moisturised. And, for this reason, I have knocked back a few opportunities to swim. Give me a few weeks. I can't wait to get in the water and let my skin dry out, or whatever it wants.

Today, I read over a handful of my earlier blogs. Those experiences seem like so long ago. And, I suppose it has been a long journey. From March of this year, I have heard far too much about breast cancer. I guess I can expect that to continue. Only now, it will be about how I don't have it. Do you think I'm smiling as I type this?

As the husband and I drove to the hospital, this evening, we (seriously) were discussing how this has been, surprisingly, a great year. Yeah, yeah, there have been some lows. But, overall it's been pretty amazing! That probably makes my life before April 4 sound awful. It wasn't. Truly. Anyway, who would want to give cancer the satisfaction of ruining more than a few cells. Not me.

Yesterday, I saw my physio for the last time. That's sad. Look at my word choice. I actually refer to her as "my physio". I know I have mentioned this so many times, but the staff have just been so incredible. So supportive, professional, diligent, attentive, encouraging, sincere, patient, generous... At any other time I would have looked upon the sign "Enter as strangers, leave as friends," in the radiation department, as corny. But, that really sums up what the staff desire in their work place. The men and women remember what was spoken about the day before, they are interested in my family and have shared my excitement in coming to the end of my treatment. It's strange. How do I explain to the radiation doctor, the physio and radiation therapists and the receptionists, who have shown nothing but kindness, that I never want to see them again? That's not being ungrateful is it?

I am going to start lifting weights tomorrow. I am so keen to do a workout. I feel totally ready for it.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Radiation Therapy 26 of 30

I couldn't see the speckled ceiling tonight.

My radiation treatment is different now. For the last 25 treatments the machine, which has a circular face, would aim for an identified square around my right breast. Now though, the treatment is to focus on the cavity; this is where the cancerous tumour was removed. I'm told, that it's the final "mop up". Should the surgeon not have removed enough tissue, should the chemo not have killed off all cancer then these final burn sessions should do the trick. Attached to the circular face of the machine is an applicator. The applicator stretches from the face of the machine to within centimetres of the cavity. The treatment is only superficial. So there is no risk of the radiation damaging organs, even though it is administered front-on.

While the therapists lined me up (the measurements will be recorded and my last four appointments will be a lot quicker), I noticed my name on a metal plate. At the point closest to my cavity was a small plate. It had an oval-like shape cut out. I questioned the nurse to which she replied that the plate was especially made for my five treatments. It directed the laser to the exact measurements of the cavity. Wow! I felt pretty special. That small plate is very expensive. And then, at the end of it all, it will be melted down and used to create another for a future patient.

Of course, I asked the lady whether this would be painful. It's not. Now, the dark square would heal. It is only the cavity that will continue to burn. Enough about cavities...

As the machine "beeped" (this is what it does when the laser is on) I counted slowly to 25. That was it. I heard footsteps and then I was told to relax my arms. The whole appointment took 15 minutes. It was a good thing too, because I had the husband and the two children waiting for me.

I am still sporting some crazy looking fingernails. And, I am so surprised that I am still having hot flushes. It's really annoying. I still get the night sweats too. I'll have to check with the chemo doctors (next month) to ask how long all this menopause stuff is going to hang around.

I'm feeling pretty good. I'm probably a lot more tired than I'd like to admit though. Even though I'm not having naps, or feeling particularly sleepy, I am definitely not as motivated as I would usually be. That's ok, I suppose.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Radiation Therapy 25 of 30

I was on my back. My upper arms were held in place by arms rests. Both hands clutched a bar each, above my head. I looked up. It would have been nice to stare at a beach scene or a colourful garden (like dentists often have). Instead, my view was the same as that of a school classroom's ceiling. You know, the off-white rectangles with a scattering of tiny black dots. The two radiation therapists alternated between talk of measurements and general chit-chat. I smiled. I was pretending to be interested in what they had to say. I tried desperately to block out Savage Garden's overplayed "The animal song" (hang on, I would do that anywhere...). The fact is, I had just been told some exciting news and I wanted to shout it out.

Today, was the last of my current radiation treatment. My last five days of treatment will focus on burning the cavity. I know I'm not finished, but man, I was so excited!

When I returned to the car, I cried as I tried to explain to the husband the change in treatment. He totally did not get the tears. They were tears of joy. And, probably also of relief. I don't know what I'm going to be like on Tuesday, of next week.

Actually, there was more good news. Tuesday was confirmed as my date of completion. I had this feeling that I might receive another day off; delaying my finish. Not so.

During chemo, the husband and I spent quite a bit of time brainstorming ways of celebrating. Now that we are days away from hitting our final destination, we have no idea what we are going to do. Either way, I am going to find it very difficult to be still during that last radiation treatment.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

End of Week 5

Last weekend, my right, upper arm had felt swollen and heavy. I wasn't sure what caused it. This weekend, I have the same feeling in my arm. I know what it is now. The rads. It's nothing too serious. And, I know that it will go away.

The hair on my head is growing! Actually, my scalp doesn't look so fair anymore. It's nearly the same colour as my face. It's sad. It won't get to see the sun again. Too bad! Bring on the full head of hair. I now have enough hair on my legs to wax! I have never, ever looked so forward to removing leg hair as I am right now.

Today, I was carrying child number two (this one gets babied too much!) and running, when child number one stopped to ask, "Mum, aren't you tired?". Child number one was so used to me declining to do stuff because I was tired that it had become a habit to ask such a question. I was so proud to respond that I wasn't tired, that chemo was over and that I won't be so tired again. Bam! Take that chemo. Take that rads!

I did some exercise yesterday. It was just a twelve minute AMRAP of 10 sit-ups, 10 air squats and 10 box jumps. I was very slow. At one point I felt sick. Anyway, that little workout has given me the kick-start to get back into the exercise. For a good while now, I have been trying to do a pull up. We have bars at the back and I decided that every time I went to the backyard I would just try. Surely, by trying so often, eventually I would have the strength to be able to do one... Yes. Success at last. For the first time, I did an unassisted pull up. I was so thrilled. I have since been able to do another. It's probably taken a good few months to get that one. This week, I really want to start focussing on doing two. The doctor had actually told me not to do them but, hey, if it makes you feel good...

I'll be seeing the doctor tomorrow. I'll have nothing to report. I'll be smiling.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Radiation Therapy 22 of 30

I am so excited to only be having eight more radiation appointments!

Today, I met with the physio. The swelling in my hand is only minor now. For that reason, I don't need to wear the glove. However, I am planning to do some exercise this weekend (it's been a while) so it will be interesting to note whether the swelling returns. I also learned that chemo can stay in your system for 12 months! I thought that I was rid of chemo. But, it seems it's still around for a while longer. I suppose that explains why some people experience tiredness for 12 months after treatment.

I am feeling better everyday. My hair is growing! Surely, within a month I will be able to toss out the scarves and wigs. Actually, I'm getting used to being the bald ol' git. I don't like it. But, it's not so strange to see myself without hair.

I thought I was past chemo side effects but some are still hanging around. I had a heavy upper arm on the weekend. And that is likely to be from chemo. My nails are more white than they should be. The skin on my feet is peeling again. And, the skin under my nails is weird.

Radiation however, has not got a hold on me! While I haven't been interested in exercise (so maybe I am tired), I haven't felt fatigued. There is a dark square around my right breast. It's not red though! No burn. Woohoo!

With my energy returning, I have been back in the kitchen inventing some paleo recipes. I made this yummy orange cake. And, with oranges so cheap I've gone a little crazy with this one. It's gluten-free, dairy-free and sugar-free.

On the way to the hospital, this afternoon, I was thinking about how I'll feel once I have finished the radiation. Even now, when I type that, I get this feeling inside like I just want to burst. Burst with excitement. CAN'T WAIT!

Friday, 16 September 2011

End of Week 4

I had such a good laugh yesterday. It was one of those laughs where you really need three mouths because you can't get it out of the one. I was telling the husband about how earlier in the day, I was pulled over by the police for a random breath test. Even before he greeted me he had a real good look inside my car. At the time, I thought it was very thorough of him to do that. And then, as I told the story, it struck me, I must have looked so suspicious with my wig. He must have assumed that I had robbed a bank and was still wearing my disguise! Well, it was so funny at the time. One of my wigs is actually losing hair! I hope it holds out until I can go without it.

Overall, I have had a great week. Some days I feel so tired that I desperately need an afternoon nap. Other days, I am able to power through. I try to do as much as I can in the morning because it really isn't until the children have their nap that I am able to gage whether I will need to join them.

We love loud music. We make a list of our favourite songs and then dance. It's so much fun. It wasn't long ago, when the very thought of standing up and moving would make me feel dizzy and reaching for the nearest "bed". Now, it's something I can totally bring back.

My nails have actually continued to lift from the nail bed. I don't think the nails will fall off completely; it's just not a good look. That with the Michael Jackson glove...

At my physio appointment, this week, my measurements were taken again. This week, my hand and arm showed no sign of further swelling. So, until I see the physio, I only have to wear the glove for half the day. I actually feel pretty confident that I could go without the glove and not have swelling.

My burn sessions have been going very well. For the most part, I am seen to straight away. On other occasions, I actually haven't worried about the wait because it's a chance for me to chat (no kissing) with other cancer patients or their support person. It's so interesting to hear other people's stories. Again, the whole idea of what seems to be a great deal of the population getting cancer, seems to baffle others too. One lady shared how three people in her immediate family were all diagnosed with lung cancer. And, there didn't seem to be any particular connection. It certainly is strange that so many are suffering in the hands of this disease.

I didn't have rads today. I don't know why, but I was given the day off. As if I was complaining...

Monday, 12 September 2011

Radiation Therapy 15 of 30

Pins and needles, the dark square, normal hands, no more peeling and drying my hair. But where to start first, the fatigue.

It was only yesterday that I remarked here, and to the husband, that I think I am not so tired. I spoke too soon. After a morning out, I was absolutely exhausted. I invited child number one to share the bed with me and we slept all afternoon. Child number two is far too exciteable so didn't get an invitation. I slept soundly. I slept well. And, when I awoke I felt alert enough to handle the rest of the afternoon and evening.

So, for quite a while now, I get pins and needles in my fourth and fifth digits of my right hand. It's not because they are getting squashed as I sleep. In fact, I have noticed the oddness of this sensation because they were not in a position where the blood circulation was cut off. I spoke to the doctor about it and she suggested three reasons: 1) swelling is pushing on a nerve 2) chemo has affected a nerve or 3) I received nerve damage during the surgery. It's not that I'm worried. We just get told all the time that we must report anything. The pins and needles go away just like any other, with a bit of movement. At this stage, I am just to monitor it to see if it worsens. I'm thinking it's something to do with the chemo. I don't think I had it after surgery.

My dark square (I am still amazed at the straight lines), I am told, is going to get very dark. It's not red. I am so grateful for that.

Just this morning, in the shower, I noticed that my hands were't looking so weird. Since chemo, the palms of my hands were a different colour. Nothing drastic. Subtle. I've had these hands for long enough to notice the change in hue. It seems though, that my hands have returned to their normal colour. As for my feet...

My feet, which were peeling and also a different colour, seem to be getting back to normal as well.

(I am certainly painting a picture of someone who is quite strange. Dark squares, inhuman coloured hands and feet, peeling skin...)

While there were changes in my body and emotions one thing for sure has not changed, and that is my attitude towards having hair. I have not, in the least, accepted this bald state. While I don't look as strange (to myself), I desperately want hair coverage on my cold head. It's very funny actually, that most mornings I shock myself because I run my hands through my hair to discover there is none; when doing sit-ups in the dirt one session, I thought to myself, I don't mind if my hair gets dirt in it; other times, I catch my reflection and see someone who looks like me with a turban on. I have never got used to being without hair on my head. For the last month, I have had a little smile to myself every time I dry myself. I would always dry my head last because it would leave the towel with too many pieces of hair to count scattered all over, rendering the towel unusable. Even today, I was overjoyed to be able to dry my head first. Cool.

I actually created some new paleo recipes last week but was so not-in-the-mood to write that I haven't been able to post them. I'll have to get back into the swing of things.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Rads: End of Week 3

Rads are going by very quickly. I can't believe that I am now halfway!

The third week is meant to be when the skin starts to turn red. For me, this has not happened. While I have felt that the area under my arm is sensitive, it's not red. Funnily enough, I have noticed a dark square around my right breast. The square's corners actually each meet at a tattoo. It's a credit to the accuracy of the machine. I am going to make the assumption that the later I begin to turn red, the less likely I am going to experience a severe burn.

I wasn't nervous this last week, at all. I have not been questioning whether I am doing the right thing. I'm not even scared about the machine malfunctioning, and burning a hole through my chest. What does worry me though, is my body odour.

When I receive the radiation, I hold onto bars above my head. This means that my undeodorised arm is exposed. While I can deodorise under one arm, I can't do the other. It's not good. Even a shower before treatment, is just not enough. It's a concern. When I took child number two to a trial Spanish lesson, I kept my arms at my side for fear of becoming the stinky parent. I'm not convinced that that tactic worked. Next time I go to that lesson, I am going to put on loads of perfume and hopefully I will be able to redeem myself.

This last week, I met with my physio. I was so excited when she measured my arm (at various points) to discover that all my figures had improved. This strange looking glove was doing its job. In fact, my hand (where the majority of the swelling was occurring) had reduced by one centimetre after wearing the glove for one week! The lovely physio is unable to explain why I am experiencing such swelling. She went onto explain that perhaps it is simply how my body has reacted to the surgery and chemo. Should I not have exercised, it is her assumption that, the swelling may have been worse. So, I have been wearing the glove happily, knowing that it certainly produces results. I am regularly able to see my bones and veins in my hand now. That pleases me. What a bizarre achievement...

As I enter the fourth week of treatment, I am beginning to think about my follow up appointment. This is booked for four weeks after radiation. It is when I meet with the surgeon for him to check for the presence of cancer. His response, I'm sure, will not be to provide me with a guarantee of being cancer-free. It is more likely to be about statistics. But, I think I am likely to get more nervous about that day, as it approaches.

My food choices are going very well. I am starting to feel as though I am getting on top of the fatigue. Maybe, I am getting used to living with the fatigue? Imagine being normal? I'm going to feel indestructible!

Anyway, I am feeling confident that this is going to be a good week.