Thursday, January 29, 2009

Pink Panther

Today was Lucky 13 of 16 radiations. Almost done!

I'm not sure if my skin would have held up if I had the usual 30-36 radiation treatments. Yesterday, I was pinked out. Today was the same. It hurts like a sunburn (when was the last time your ta-ta or armpit was sunburned?).

Fatigue is starting, though. Not as bad as the chemo fatigue, which hit like a ton of bricks and hit quickly. This is more gradual. I've also noticed that the chemo fog is back . . . trouble thinking or finding words, trouble remembering! Part of fatigue, tho, is the thinking and find words issue.

In fact, two nights ago, I forgot that one of the burners on our ceramic cooktop had been on. Yeah, you got it - burns. Second degree burns on two fingers. Vic had turned off the burner and removed the pot of pasta for to drain it. The sauce was still cooking; I took off the lid from that pot, and placed it upside down on the burner. Didn't want to get the burner dirty! After stirring the sauce, I went to pick up the lid, putting my hand underneath the lid to grab the top knob. My hand was directly on the burner. It took quite a while of soaking the hand in cool water to get the pain down enough to bandage. Oxycodon was my friend Tuesday night!

It's almost the weekend . . . thank goodness. I need some rest and will hope that the fatigue lessens. But what I've been told by the doc, I keep cooking after radiation stops . . .and the fatigue and sunburning will continue.

Peace and blessings to you!

Monday, January 26, 2009


I lost my cell phone this morning, so didn't receive the phone calls from the radiation staff - notifying me that the machine was broken. Now, that sort of scares me, to think this humongous piece of equipment is broken. Did it fall? Okay, that's MY fear. I won't project it forward. lol

Those thoughts do cross my mind as I'm laying on the table. The machine is large and I imagine it weighs a significant amount. As the big radiation part moves over me, I pray that the weight on the other side stays in place. Just silly I know.

Anyway, no radiation today. My radiation end date is now February 3rd. No missing those 16 zaps. Today would have been No. 11.

Once the radiation therapists left the room last Friday, tears came out of no where. I couldn't stop them, nor could I wipe them -- had to lay still until the radiation ended. It always amazes me when the tears seemingly come out of the blue.

When the sweet therapist came back into the room, she asked if I was okay. I had to acknowledge that the tears just come when I allow myself to think about all that my body has gone through -- surgery, chemo and now radiation. Why do we not give ourselves permission to be sad or angry? Angry at the cancer beast?

As one lady said, who happens to be on her 2nd round of breast cancer, "they can poison us, they can cut us, and they can burn us, but we still survive". Amen!

During the first part of this triathlon - surgery - I felt like I was a breast walking on two legs. That didn't occur during chemo since no one looked or poked or cut the breast. Now with radiation, this feeling is back. Radiation people don't cut, but they poke, write on it and look at it for any side effects. Just flop that baby out for all the world to see.

Listening to Josh Groban's, You're Still You, on the way to radiation, may have started the tears. I have so many mixed emotions about the end of this phase of my treatment. I'm excited, happy, nervous and scared. I am so willing to have a few more rads or a few more chemo treatments. I want the assurance that the beast and the beast's mini-cells are gone - gone 100%.

So back to Joshy. This was the last thing I heard before walking to the building on Friday. It was in my brain, entered my heart and waited until I was relaxed to break through and allow the tears to flow.

You walk past me
I can feel your pain
Time changes everything
One truth always stays the same
You're still you
After all, you're still you

I'm still me. This beast didn't destroy my core beliefs, it didn't destroy who I am. I'm still me!
A loving, darn funny, creative and intelligent creature of God.

You're Still You


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

7 of 16

Almost half way there! Radiation treatment itself is easy and piece of cake.

I am experiencing some sensitivity on the side but do not see any redness. Maybe some brown . . . you think I can get a tan? Whoo hoo!! For those who don't know me personally, I do not tan, even after going to tanning salons.

The skin on the breast is red and it shows some swelling. I met with the nurse and one of the radiation docs after treatment today. They didn't think the redness or swelling was from the radiation treatment, "as it is too soon". Can't believe that the doc did the "must be an infection" routine and prescribed antibiotics. Seven days worth for 35 freaking dollars! Obviously not a generic antibiotic.

I will meet with my regular Rad Onc on Thursday, so we'll see what his opinion is.

Thanks for checking in! I hope things are going well for you!


Sunday, January 18, 2009

They Were Here Friday

six weeks since it ended and it keeps on giving.
or in this case,
Chemo has taken my eyelashes.
They were here on Friday - I saw them.
I put mascara on them before going to work.

Can you see the gap in the middle?

Yesterday, was a laze around the house day, watching last season's 13 episodes of Damages with Glenn Close. So no makeup was necessary. However, today I dressed and put on full-face makeup to go to some friends. . . .and noticed a space between my lower eye lashes. Upon further investigation, I discovered some stumps on the upper eye lid.

My eyebrows and eye lashes had thinned about the 4th chemo which was 6 weeks ago. No biggie, I could fill them in with cosmetics. Revlon's Fash Fantasy has been wonderful in minimizing the loss up to now. But without the eye lash, no covering up now!

The skin around my eyes and on my face has aged at least 10 years with chemo. The skin on my hands has thinned and it is a challenge to keep them hydrated. Papercuts go deep on the paper-thin skin.

This rates right up there with the loss of my hair.

Speaking of hair, I have more growth . . .on the legs and the head. Why couldn't the eye lashes stay and the hair on the legs not return. Or, how about the hair on my face? That could have stayed away! But oh no (said sarcastically), my eyelashes had to fall out now. I guess it could be worse.

But it rates right up there with the loss of my hair.

Here is a link to a picture of the eyes and you can see some of the hair growth. Yes the eyes are a little red, they had tears in them before the picture was snapped. The "fullness" of the hair isn't even - mostly the top is filling in. Sort of looks like a Chia pet.

I guess it could be worse.

So how is YOUR day going?

Friday, January 16, 2009

10-20 mgs Melatonin

I take 10-20 mg of Melatonin most nights. Here is an interesting article about the breast cancer link with low levels of Melatonin. Besides taking your Vitamin D, are you taking Melatonin?

Further evidence for breast cancer-melatonin link
By Andrew Czyzewski
16 January 2009
Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev 2009; 18: 74-79

MedWire News: Postmenopausal women are at increased risk for developing breast cancer if they have low levels of the hormone melatonin, US researchers report.

The findings replicate those of a previous smaller study by the team, lead by Eva Schernhammer (Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts) showing a similar relationship between melatonin levels and breast cancer risk.
“Results from this prospective study add substantially to the growing literature that supports an inverse association between melatonin levels and breast cancer risk,” comment Schernhammer and co-author Susan Hankinson, also from Harvard Medical School.

Previous studies indicate that night-shift work - a surrogate for exposure to light at night - is associated with an increased risk for breast cancer.

Furthermore, results from animal studies and in vitro data suggest that the sleep hormone melatonin may be involved in the induction of neoplastic growth.
More recently such findings have been extended to humans, where researchers have measured melatonin levels indirectly to probe a possible association.
For the current study the researchers used data from the Nurses' Health Study cohort, which included 18,643 cancer-free women who provided morning urine samples from March 2000 through December 2002.

Measures of the melatonin metabolite, 6-sulfatoxymelatonin (aMT6s), were available for 357 postmenopausal women who developed breast cancer through May 2006, along with 533 matched control women who remained cancer free.
Schernhammer and Hankinson found that an increased concentration of urinary aMT6s was significantly associated with a lower risk for breast cancer (odds ratio for the highest versus lowest quartile of morning urinary aMT6s=0.62).

There was no apparent modification of risk by hormone receptor status of breast tumors, age, body mass index, or smoking status.

Melatonin has been available as a dietary supplement in the USA since 1993 and is used by frequent flyers for jet lag and by people who work rotating or night shifts. Whether it has any value as a preventative agent in breast cancer, however, remains to be seen.

The research is published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers & Prevention.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Draw The Circle Wide

Today was the 2nd radiation and it was quick. I was on the table less than 5 minutes - and 3 minutes was spent adjusting my body to the laser beams and the radiataion therapists walking out of the room!

The machine starts on the left, zaps me and then rotates to the right side and zaps again. I think each zap is about 30 seconds.

I am having the "Canadian study" 3 week radiation. The rads are higher, 265 versus 200 if I was doing 6 weeks. I go each day, Monday - Friday, on my lunch hour. Thank goodness for having Saturday and Sundays off!

I did question the large size of the circle (get the song title of this update?) that they drew on my skin yesterday. This entire breast area - and then some - is being radiated. I thought it was going to be a small beam right into the area where the tumor was . . .not the whole freakin' breast. It will be an item for discussion with the Rad Onc on Thursday.

I am to use aloe-vera gel at least 3 times a day - preferrably 4. The gel can't be used within 4 hours of the treatment, so finding time to get 4 in is a challenge. Besides, the gel is sticky and takes a while to dry before I can put clothes on. I can picture me in the work's restroom stall applying gel and fanning the skin until it dried.

I feel good, energy level is coming back up. The two long-lasting side effects from the final chemo are improving. The skin on my palms began to peel and went through 3 layers. The other issue was the red marks underneath the nails and the pain of the nail beds. The marks are still there, but the pain is lessening. Yeah!!

Thank you all so much for your continued good thoughts, prayers and support! This journey would be that much harder without it.

Hugs to you all!


Friday, January 9, 2009


Anticipation, anticipation
Is makin' me late
Is keepin' me waitin'

Dontcha hate it when someone tells you not to move and breathe normally, that's when your nose itches and you want to take big gulps of air to calm yourself?

The 2nd part of the simulation was a piece of cake! I was escorted to the treatment room by a pretty darn cute young man (sorry Vic) and met 2 other Radiation Technologists. All three were very nice and respectful of covering the breast when they weren't marking the skin.

They moved me around a bit on the little table to get the laser beams lined up with my tattoos, then left to take an x-ray. They came back into the room, did some more measuring and moving my body around . . a few more “pictures” and it was repeated a 3rd time. And I was done! Total time was about 20 minutes on the table. The only discomfort was afterwards - to my shoulder that has an old rotator cuff injury.

I found out that I will have two “hits” of radiation in different areas. I asked about it as I want to know if the beams are hitting my lungs or ribs. They will draw a circle around the area on Monday – the Tech made it look like a large area, but maybe she was just gesturing. I do need to find out if they are zapping the lymph node area in the arm pit. They shouldn’t since no cancer was found there. I still need to to find out if I am doing the 3-week Canadian protocol which I think is at a higher dose.

Some of the side effects of radiation include swelling of the breast – and this usually goes away a few months after treatment ends. The skin can become darker and sunburned in the area being radiated. I’ll need to get some aloe vera gel and start using it right away. Thank goodness I kept the post-surgical cotton, no wire, zipper-front bras!

Two main side effects that won’t be seen until years down the road are rib fractures and a cough (radiation pneumonitis). The occurrence is less than 1% for the rib fracture given the new radiation equipment. It’s not something I’ll worry about now, but do want the info for my files. Radiotherapy can damage the heart if the left side is being radiated. I am fortunate that my right side is being zapped.

I just found out that my oncologist is leaving Seattle and returning to Florida. I’m not happy with this. It’s so important to develop a good trust relationship with the oncologist and I have that now. Guess I’ll have to research who else from Virginia Mason Hospital sees patients at the Federal Way satellite office.

Update on Vic:
He has an appointment to meet with the surgeon on February 27th to discuss his Schwannoma tumor. Vic says he is doing okay on the “discomfort” from the tumor. It will be nice to have this behind us.

Hope you all have a great weekend!


Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Luminous Emotions

When I started this blog, it was a means of letting family and friends know what was going on with Vic and I in the land of cancer. Then it became a way to document the procedures. After chemo started, I referred back to the blog to see what happened on which day . . .sort of wanted to know if what I was feeling was “normal”. As if anything to do with cancer is normal.

I also wanted to let other women facing breast cancer know what the journey was like for me. I found it helpful to read other blogs . . and sometimes not so helpful as it scared the crap out of me. But I needed to read/hear from others who had gone before me – not rely just on the doctor’s words of how the procedure was going to be. I should have asked the doctor – “So, when did you have [insert procedure]?” They can’t really know what it’s like unless they’ve been on the surgery table or in that chemo recliner.

It was scary to put out for the world to read that I had hit a black hole of depression after surgery. But it was real and the feelings were real.

We often hear, “S/He is battling cancer”. I thought these words were weird when I first was diagnosed – battle? What battle? It wasn’t until chemo did I understand. Chemo did feel like a fight and battle. A battle to keep nausea at bay with antiemetics. A battle to find something palatable to eat. A battle to make complete sentences or thoughts because of chemo brain. A battle to find strength to go to work (forget strength to do things around the house!). It was just a battle. A trying and tiring battle.

I’ve been very emotional for the past few weeks; tearful. Energy to get to work but zero energy to do anything else. Is it sadness? Is it depression? Is it because I’ve used up a year’s worth of energy and emotions to battle through chemo?

Christmas and Vic’s birthday and the lack of presents started the roller coaster of emotions. Anger at not having the energy I normally have. Sadness.

Some positive and not so positive changes have happened at work. My responsibilities may change once the director returns from her 2-month medical leave. This might be a negative and I need to figure out how I’m going to deal with it. Is this factoring into the emotions the past few weeks? Probably.

I was fearful of the simulation – fear of the unknown. I am anxious about this 2nd simulation coming up Friday – the unknown again. Probably factoring into the emotions as well. But I will make it through this 3rd leg of this cancer triathlon. They tell me it is the easiest of the three.

= = = = = = = = = = =
I wrote the above on Sunday before I forced myself to get out of the house. Most weekends I stay in – I’m self-conscious about the scarf and no hair. I know, I know. I shouldn’t be – but I am. I am comfortable going to work because they accept me. They were there from the beginning and have watched the transformation.

When a customer looks at me and does that double-take – and you cancer survivors know what I am talking about – I just give them a big smile. Do I want to smile? Nope. It’s my way of taking control of the situation. But when I’m in public, I don’t do the fake smile routine.

It was good to finally process all the emotions that have been circling in my head for a few weeks. Acknowledge them. Deal with them. Heal them.

This cancer trip causes your emotions to go every which way. And it can change from hour to hour. And that’s okay.

I've done the research on Triple Negative Breast Cancer, research on the surgery, the port-a-cath, research on chemoland, and research on radiation. It helped prepare my questions for the doctor visits.

Now I'm researching how to have a healthy survivorship . . . a healthy after-cancer-triathlon life. I found a great website - Wendy Harpham on Healthy Survivorship. Here are a couple of her entries that helped me to get out of this funk.

Stressed About Stressing
Psychological Interventions Improve Survival
Indirect Health Benefits


"You see, it's never the environment; it's never the events of our lives, but the meaning we attach to the events - how we interpret them - that shapes who we are today and who we'll become tomorrow." -- Anthony Robbins