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Saturday, February 13, 2016

Radiation: The Halfway Mark

For 16 weekdays at 8:30 a.m. I have been quietly undergoing radiation the Huntington Hospital Cancer Center. I have 14 to go and will resume on Monday.

Compared to chemotherapy, radiation is a walk in the park.

I am experiencing two side effects of radiation, also known as radiotherapy. One is a fatigue that is just a temporary sleepiness later in the day that requires a nap for an hour or two. This started hitting me four days ago. (In chemotherapy I experienced extreme fatigue that kept me debilitated, in bed, unable to function three days a week.)  

The second is the equivalent of a bad sunburn. I took this not-so-good selfie last night of my left neck and shoulder area. It's also on my left breast, but I'm not showing you that!

Four times a day I slather on creams provided by my radiation oncology nurse to keep my skin soft and prevent peeling and/or blistering, which could lead to infection.

The back door of the cancer center is adjacent to the radiation oncology area. I have a special magnetic card that I swipe to get in. 

I go straight to a dressing room to put on a hospital gown, put my clothes and purse in a locker and take a seat in the comfortable waiting room until someone comes to collect me for treatment.

A little levity in the waiting room:

The radiation room has a very relaxing, spa-like atmosphere with soft, soothing music playing in the background. 

I lie on the table while two radiation therapists align my body perfectly so the beams will do their work properly. Four areas are treated, including the lymph node area under my left arm.

Simply put, radiation is used to destroy undetectable cancer cells and reduce the risk of another cancerous tumor recurring in the affected area.

This machine, an Elekta Linear Accelerator, is what is used on me. You can see part of it in the upper right corner of the photo above, which I snapped.

During treatments, the table remains stationary and the machine rotates around me to deliver the beams to the four specific areas.

If you're as fascinated as I am by how things work, take a look at this video to learn more about how the radiation is delivered.

After my radiation therapy has been completed in a couple of weeks, I will have a series of scans, ultrasounds and what my oncologist calls targeted blood work.

I'm only slightly terrified about the outcome. It will just have to be good news because this has been the most difficult experience of my life and I would like to bid it adieu.

  • I was diagnosed with breast cancer in April. 
  • Surgery was in May. 
  • Chemotherapy was from June to November.
  • Radiation began in January and will end in early March.

In the midst of the fear, stress and turmoil, I have found so much to be grateful for every day and have continued to put one foot in front of the other. Isolating myself and going through all this in silence simply was not an option for me.

I want to give a shoutout of thanks and praise to all my steadfast warriors who have supported, comforted, inspired and loved me through this.

I look forward to the day when I can say, "I am a breast cancer survivor."

Photo credits: Ann Erdman, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, Elekta, Victory Store.