First things first, I have hair again! It is long enough to shampoo, and to feel the wind blowing through it! I can't tell you how happy I was on the day those things happened! It is not long enough to comb yet, but no worries, it has gotten pretty thick since it first came in. It does throw me off a little though when cleaning up...
How? Well, if I find ponytail holders, my habit is to put them in my on hair until I get to the bathroom to put them away (You can imagine just how wacky my hair looked when I was a teenager picking up 5 or 6 big scrunchies). So I pick up a ponytail holder, subconciously know I have hair again, and reach to put it in my hair. I usually stop about halfway through the motion with a look of chagrin. My hair may be one-half to one full inch long, but that is definitely not long enough for a ponytail holder. :)
Nextly, radiation has started, and finished. I was happy when I met with my Radiology Oncologist and she said I would only have 5 weeks of radiation. Whew! Super glad we got rid of that extra week.
Now, what with me being sick, I didn't go back into the surgeon to get the tissue expander expanded anymore. I was satisfied with it, and didn't want any additional pain I could avoid. So I went in to the visit with Dr. Ingersol's office. She is the radiation oncologist. I met with her, and she noticed I had a skin infection starting around the scar on my left lump(which I had kind of noticed but not thought was anything like an infection until maybe the day I went in to see her). Oh, and it hardly seems like a breast anymore. Seeing as how there's a sack of water making it big, there is no nipple, and really, no skin sensation there anymore. I can feel pressure, but that's about it. Anyways, so Dr. Ingersol marked up the lump to make a border around the infection to see if the antibiotics she was prescribing were working. Then she left me with Aaron, one of the radiologists. Now, there are three radiologists in this office, plus the nurse who works with Dr. Ingersol. The nurse's name is Karen. Then we have the radiologists: Aaron, Darren, and Karen. Crazy, huh?!
Anyways Aaron took me to the simulation room, and explained the process, showed me around, and then got to business (all the while keeping up a steady stream of jokes). This room is just like the radiation room, just the machine only takes x-rays, and doesn't shoot cancer-killing radiation. So, you walk into the room, and there is a table laying in front of a large machine that has a short, fat arm sticking out above the table. They put a special board on the table that has a slight incline. It has a resting place for my head, and stirrups for my arms to go into so they meet above my head, with a vertical bar to hold onto. So I lay on the table, and put my arms up, and because there are lymph nodes in the neck/shoulder area, I have to lay looking slightly to the right so they zap just that area, and not my ear too. So he shot a bunch of x-rays, and made marks. When he was all done, he got out a bottle of ink and a needle, and made me 5 "dot" tattoos. I am going to pretend they are interesting, like microscopic sailing ships. Or maybe, I will get another dot close to the first ones, and add a bit smile for smiley faces. The tattoos are to use to line up with the laser-lights that shine out of the ceiling and walls of the radiation rooms.
Then he took me to get a quick scan done somewhere else in the building, and I was done for the day. I came back a week later to start radiation.
Now, I had 6 areas they started out zapping. Neck/shoulder area from the front, then the back. Then the affected breast from upper/right twice, and the same general area from my left, more shooting straight at my side. Now this arm that is shooting radiation at me has a glass plate with a "+" centered on it. Behind the glass, there are pins that are the approximate size of the fat teeth of a comb, but not tapered. These pins rest right against each other, and there are two sets that meet in the middle. They can move the pins independently and use them to form the different specific shapes that they need to radiate, so I don’t have any overlap in the radiation fields that are right next to each other, and so they don’t zap what they don’t need to. When they would zap my breast from the upper right I could watch the pins move during the zapping, so at least those two zaps got more or a sweeping pattern than a blanket open zap.
Each zap took about 20 seconds. I would come in with my hospital robe and jeans on. The radiologist (whoever it was that day, they all took turns), would hold up a pillowcase (or a piece of fabric about that big) in front of my chest. I would take off my robe, and hold onto the pillowcase while I got onto the table. Once I was on the table with my arms and hands in place, they would fold the pillowcase so it covered the un-affected breast. So I’m all ready, and they move the table with a control to get it pretty close to where I needed to be, and then would nudge the frame I was laying on to get me all lined up with the laser-lights coming out of the walls. They would get me all lined up, and the radiation machine “face” all lined up. They would then turn on a light and mark with a marker the lower end of the neck/shoulder field. I think I was only drawn on more often in high school when I would write all my homework assignments on my hand!
So, they would zap the neck/shoulder top, come in and raise the table and move the radiation machine face around to beneath the table to zap from below. Then come back in and move the table and radiation machine face for the breast zaps. Zap, zap from above right, come in to move the machine face again, and zap, zap the left side. It only took ten minutes, tops. It did take longer on the days my allergies where acting up and I had to cough in the middle of the zapping. I had to fight the reflex to cover my mouth when I coughed. When I did move to cough, they had to come in and re-align me. But they were all very nice about coming in to readjust me when I moved.
So that’s about it for the radiation room. They had a waiting room back in their hallway of the hospital. The waiting room had a restroom and two changing rooms right off of it. They had a tv, and a big puzzle set up, in case you ever had to wait very long. It was one of those harder puzzles. The first day I looked at it, I could find any pieces to match up, and I was so frustrated I wanted to box it all up and start with a different one. After that I readjusted my expectations to be happy if I even placed one if I ever had to wait very long. That made it very much less frustrating.
I met with Dr. Ingersoll once a week. She would check on my progress, and how my skin was reacting. It developed into a pretty bad “sunburn” on the areas that really never saw the sun. I am ever so thankful that has healed up now to just funny looking tan lines. The last week of radiation I started to realize how hard it was getting on my body. I didn’t do much during the day just keep an eye on the kids and play on the computer, so I didn’t notice. Then I took my girls for a walk around our little block. I hadn’t even made it the corner only three houses away, when I felt my legs and arms just telling me how exhausted they were. After that I decided to stop feeling guilty about my computer time until I was done with radiation, and really my body told me it was okay to do more.
And that’s radiation.