Out damned spots! or, my tattoos no longer trigger my carcinophobia

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Yes, this is a photo of my chest. If you look down to the lowest loop of the necklace (made by me, 8mm moss agate beads and tiny black glass beads) you’ll see just above that strand one of my radiation tattoos. No big deal, yes? But when I see it every single time I look down, every time I spill something on myself (which is alarmingly often), every time I look in a mirror, it is a big deal. It smirks at me “Hi, I’m still here, maybe you’ll need me again.” Or it proclaims “Hey! This woman had breast cancer!” Or it snarks “Ha. Thought you wouldn’t think about cancer today, did you? Gotcha. Think about it.”

But, the joke is on the tats.

Two weeks ago I went to visit the office of Dr. Sean Rice, Toronto plastic surgeon, founder and director of Rice Cosmetic Surgery, thanks to a press release issued by Ashworth Associates, and a number of articles and TV news spots on Dr. Rice. In the month of October, Dr. Rice waives his fee, all of it, for removing radiation tattoos from breast cancer treatment.

First, I had to get clearance from my radiation oncologist. No problem. Then I made the appointment and spent ages preparing mentally for a procedure that was not medically necessary (I do not like pain of any kind). I’ll go through the whole experience because it was so short! In the door, greetings from two really lovely—beautiful—women, go to the procedure room, snap a pic of my chest, put on cool glasses, lie down, swab, a whooshing cold rush of air, three electrical zaps, and done. I couldn’t believe it. I originally said I would only get the centre one removed, but it was SO EASY I asked if I could have the second one zapped as well. They use new technology for tattoo removal, a PicoSure laser, which is apparently light-years ahead of the standard equipment. I was Polysporinned and bandaged, and told to keep applying lots of Polysporin and they would scab up and in three or four weeks I would be tattooed no more.

Oh yay!

That’s one more thing crossed off the list of things to do before I go back to work.

I cannot wait to be able to look down and see no reminders of radiation…

 

 

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MRI reveals adrenal adenoma: NO BIG DEAL!!!

What the CT scan showed, and the MRI detailed, was simply an adrenal adenoma, a noncancerous tumour.

YAY!!!

Join me and Spidey in a dance of cancer freedom!

Yes, this is what I did once I got out on Queen Street in front of St. Mike's. I was ecstatic! I love this gif, thanks to http://gifvault.com/dancing-gif-111.html/dancing-gif-111

Yes, this is what I did once I got out on Queen Street in front of St. Mike’s. I was ecstatic! I love this gif, thanks to http://gifvault.com/dancing-gif-111.html/dancing-gif-111

I have spent so much time and energy convincing myself and Tessa that I would be told I needed a biopsy this afternoon that when Dr. Brezden told me I was clear and could now go home and celebrate, I didn’t know how to respond. I was in a daze of sorts. I wandered out right past the desk with my blood req in hand and they called me back to set up the next appointment. They thought it was pretty funny that I had forgotten the drill already. They set me right up with a printout of upcoming visits to St. Mike’s: I have a plastic surgery app’t, mammogram, and checkup with my cancer surgeon in November, and see my oncologist on December 18, exactly one year from my sentinel node surgery.

From the hospital I went to my place of work, picked up a fellow editor friend, drove to her house and this happened:

Only when Diana opened the bubbly, she did it like a pro, with a pop and no loss of champagne. Pic from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/richard-jennings/holiday-champagne-buyers_b_4325064.html

Only when Diana opened the bubbly, she did it like a pro, with a pop and no loss of champagne. Pic from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/richard-jennings/holiday-champagne-buyers_b_4325064.html

And then this happened:

Hmmmmm, this was tasty. Made me wish I had a driver so I could have indulged more. This pic courtesy of http://www.matfenhall.com

Hmmmmm, this was tasty. Made me wish I had a driver so I could have indulged more. This pic courtesy of http://www.matfenhall.com

So, this is the confirmation that there is no discernible cancer in my body now, after chemo, surgery and radiation. Thank you to the many doctors and nurses who have taken care of me, and thank you to my family members and friends for their prayers and positive vibes and healing thoughts. It looks like everything worked.

I should sleep very well tonight!

Thank you all ♥

Do you smell something burning?

This incredible hand-beaded bag—Genie's New Hangout—by Sherry Serafini has nothing to do with this post about side effects on the skin from radiation treatments. Photos to illustrate the post would be gross. This beading is gorgeous. Better to look at, by a long shot! Find Sherry's work at ww.serafinibeadedjewelry.com.

This incredible hand-beaded bag—Genie’s New Hangout—by Sherry Serafini has nothing to do with this post about side effects on the skin from radiation treatments. Photos to illustrate the post would be gross. This beading is gorgeous. Better to look at, by a long shot! Find Sherry’s work at ww.serafinibeadedjewelry.com.

Oh yeah, that’s my skin. Ick.

When I started radiation, I obsessed over whether my skin would burn dark red or just sunburn red, maybe just pink, or not, in particular if I would end up with weeping, oozy, open sores. I heard about a full range of skin effects from women who’d been through it, from a light sunburn, to a full sunburn, to the dreaded weeping, oozy, open sores.

After three weeks, I had a rosy pinkiness to half of my chest, underarm and back. My weekly appointment with the radiology oncologist came up, and I told him how I was really worrying about the full five-week effect on my skin, even though I knew he couldn’t possibly predict what would happen with me. I said I would appreciate knowing even a rough percentage, based on all the breast cancer patients he sees, of women who end up with raw, open burns from their radiation. Overall, he said, maybe five per cent.

FIVE PER CENT!!! I was torturing myself over five per cent?!?! What a doofus. I stopped worrying.

Less than a week later the skin under my arm turned black. For a little while I thought it was because I wore a black top and the copious amounts of moisturizer I was applying picked up the black colour from it. Then the black crumbled off to reveal bright red, raw, oozy me. Of course, with triple negative, and no actual primary site, I would fall into the five per cent of women with weeping second-degree burns. My radiation oncologist prescribed a silver sulfadiazene cream (Flamazine) to prevent infection, and for the first time since May 22, I was glad my nerve endings didn’t work in my arm and underarm area—it feels creepy, but it doesn’t hurt. Thank God! Because the sight of it turned my stomach.

When I saw my plastic surgeon during the last week of radiation, undressed from the waist up—of course, I feel like a poorly paid stripper since last October, ripping off my tops, sweaters, bra and gown for almost anyone—she gingerly lifted up my right arm and said, “They fried you, sister!” She sure spoke the truth.

Radiation is finished now. The sleeping continues.

Girl irradiated

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Today I am four-fifths of the way through the radiation portion of my breast cancer side trip. I was in a bad place when I started radiation—sad, scared, not too brave and strong, and not in a mind space to be confidently ticking off the days. So, here’s a recap:

After a triumphant poisoning of my entire body, I had a complete pathological response to that poisoning, known as a cPr. That was the best-case scenario from chemo. Then I struggled over bilateral mastectomy, one side only, lumpectomy, partial mastectomy, radiation only (and I mean a kind of tortured inner wrangling with my emotional self vs the opinions of the medical people, who did not have consensus, mixed up with blogs and forums and discussion boards by women who’d made the choice and were living with their choices, happy or miserable). I had my fancy customized bilateral mastectomy, and after the pain and “discomfort” I must admit I have healed up pretty good. Then, on July 4, I started radiation.

Before the actual radiation began, I went for a simulation appointment, where my chest and breasts and armpit were measured six ways to Sunday in an effort to pinpoint exactly where the radiation beams would be directed and at what angles and for what spread. It was not an unpleasant procedure, nice techs—one guy and two girls—and the tattooing of four blue dots didn’t even hurt. Unfortunately, one of them is front and centre between my breasts and  and up three inches—visible with almost every summer top I own. It looks like I’ve been doodling on myself or dropped a teeny blob of ink there. Oh well.

Why do I need radiation? Speaking personally, I want to zap any and all bits of cancer left behind from the mastectomy and lymph node removal. There’s hours of cutting and scraping and poking about during that surgery, and God only knows what might have been missed or dislodged. Radiation zaps the tissue were it is pointed, in my case to four “fields”: entire right breast, right axilla, and because my cancer is metastatic, the internal mammary lymph nodes and supraclavicular lymph nodes too. Radiation that is delivered to these areas kills off the good cells as well as the bad, but the healthy cells can build themselves back to working order, while the cancer cells are weaker, and research has shown that doses of radiation delivered daily will kill off the cancer that is left. I HOPE!

My radiation treatments are at Princess Margaret Hospital, every day, five days a week. The appointments are scattered throughout the day, which I thought would be disruptive but turned out to be good—I come in as scheduled, some days at 8 a.m., sometimes at 5:40 p.m. Treatments are always on time, and many times I have come in early, even by an hour, and I’m always seen quickly. I’m called in, change into a gown, then go into the treatment room where I lie in a narrow table. They place a form under my knees to keep them bent and my back flat. I take my arm out of my gown and place it up over my head in a metal arm rest so it’s always in the same position. The two technicians then ask for my birthdate, rhyme off measurements and numbers to each other, sometimes cover me with a sheet if the gown doesn’t want to stay up. Lately, they also strap me down with a thick, wide Velcro band (a new practice since a patient at another hospital reportedly fell asleep on the table and rolled off) (I practise deep breathing during my radiation, but I have never been close to relaxed enough to fall asleep!). Then the techs step outside the treatment room to their computers, and the linear accelerator does its thing, whirring and beaming and then rotating around the table to get various angles on me. The whole thing, from gown on to gown off, takes 15 minutes. Nothing hurts. Nothing feels sick. I say a cheery thank you and see you tomorrow, and they say the same.

Side effects from radiation:

  • my skin is burning—you can see one patch in the photo above, and there is more under my arm, on the breast, and on my back. I put Aveeno and Lubriderm on every day, but some areas are getting worse, so the nurse gave me ProShieldPlus, which is the stickiest, gooiest stuff I have ever felt.
  • I hurt on the inside—apparently radiation can cause swelling of the tissues in the chest and armpit, and I’m feeling that. Nothing that tylenol or ibuprofen can’t fix.
  • fatigue—i am sleeping far too much. On a typical day when radiation is in the morning, I can sleep from noon until 5:30, then 7:30 to 11, when Luka wakes me so I can actually go upstairs and sleep until 4 or 5, when I wake and worry until I fall asleep again, always lightly, until I get up at 6:30 or 7. A variation on that one is sleeping from noon until 8 p.m., then going upstairs to sleep through until 4 or 5. Today, Saturday, so no radiation, I woke at 8, fed the animals, slept from 8:30 to 10:30, Skyped with Tessa and woke up Luka, slept 11 to 4 p.m. and have remained awake all evening. This is a feat!

I have one more week to go. Yay!

 

Enjoying cPR

 

Some girls celebrate with a mani-pedi, others with a new pair of shoes—this girl celebrates with silky gravad lax. Image courtesy Donald Russell: http://www.donaldrussell.com/ultimate-gravadlax-salmon-f104.html

Some girls celebrate with a mani-pedi, others with a new pair of shoes—this girl celebrates with silky gravad lax. Image courtesy Donald Russell: http://www.donaldrussell.com/ultimate-gravadlax-salmon-f104.html

 

Feeling just like King Julien

I’m still basking in the glow of my cPR (complete Pathological Response), and trying to spread the love back to everyone who sent their prayers and positive vibes my way through the first six months of this unwelcome side trip in my life. I wanted to do some kind of celebration, maybe a real party, but that would involve all kinds of planning and energy that I don’t have, so after the pathology appointment Tessa, my man and I headed for the St. Lawrence Market. When I was an editor at Toronto Life magazine and later at WHERE, the market was one block away, and I would be there at least twice a week, usually more. I love that place, but since working at CAMH, getting there is a virtual impossibility during the week, and I’m happy to stay out of the downtown on the weekends, so going there was a huge treat. On the list of the celebratory purchases were a full pound of Domenic’s house-cured gravad lax with lemon zest and dill, St. Urbain bagels (Montreal style, baked right there), Jelly Belly’s (my fave), Callebaut milk chocolate chips (not for baking, just for precision portion controlled eating) and other little treats. We ate the gravad lax right from the butcher paper as we were driving home—and there was still plenty left for a vodka toast when we got there (yes, I have read the articles, I had barely a third of an ounce, thank you). We said we would properly celebrate when things return to the new normal anxiety-wise.

 

Shaking off that anxiety angst

I’m working on it, although I haven’t had a chance to really catch up on all the quality sleep I missed while twisting in the how-much-cancer-is-left?? wind. Luka was still on his Ottawa school trip this morning, and I had no appointments to get to, so I planned a good, long lie-in. Unfortunately the message was not relayed to my brain, which pinged awake at 6:40 and would not shut off.

But I didn’t have an endless loop of what-if-it-spread-past-the-original-five-nodes-and-the-chemo-doesn’t-work thoughts. Instead, my mind just wandered around: should we try to visit my dad this Sunday? Will my breasts take a two-hour drive each way? Maybe some tensor bandages and the sports bra together? What would he like for a present? Normal thoughts. What a relief! (I just read that over, and I crack myself up. Asking yourself if your breasts can stand a two-hour drive is a normal thought?)

 

Radiation planning

The morning after the good news appointment I was at Princess Margaret  Hospital for 9:30 to sign consents for radiation. I was in an excellent mood, feeling very positive, on time. I met my second-in-charge radiation oncologist and my radiation tech, of course had to whip off everything above the waist—what else is new? I’m surprised my pharmacist and dentist don’t ask the same thing—and when the doctor started to explain radiation, I asked if it was OK if I recorded our conversation. Either Tessa or my man has accompanied me to particularly info-packed appointments, and if I take notes I have them as a back-up should I forget something. Plus, as treatment goes on, I have found it difficult to actually grasp some concepts, so recording seemed like the best plan. My sisters and I often record doctor visits with our parents so we can share info with the other siblings. But my new doctor said no. I blinked. I explained that I was alone, that I was very anxious (hadn’t been up to this point), that chemobrain was making me stupid, that note-taking was physically laborious and required too much concentration to be able to keep up. She said she would talk veeeeerrryyyyyy sloooowwwwwwllyyyyy, and I lost it. I started shaking and tears literally bounced out of my eyes and down the front of my stupid hospital gown. She handed me a box of tissues and asked if I would like to take a moment. Yes, I’ll have a moment in early 2001, after Luka was born but before Graydon got leukaemia, when Tessa was dancing and my marriage was still intact. That would be nice. I choke-sobbed for a minute or two, then splashed my face and opened the door and took notes I can’t even read.

I will have 25 doses of radiation, five doses a week, to my right breast, axilla, and because my cancer is metastatic, the internal mammary lymph nodes and supraclavicular lymph nodes too. It can’t start until my plastic surgeon, Dr. Musgrave, gives the word that my healing is sufficient. I see her on the 18th, and then radiation mapping on the 26th, and then we see when I start. Radiation should start four to six weeks after surgery, so I should be on track.

 

Dining like a queen

This afternoon the lovely lady from Presidential Gourmet arrived and delivered dinners four and five: rainbow trout and a quinoa and grilled vegetable salad, and a baked pasta with garlic bread. I cannot say thank you enough to the Good Food Fairy who has made it possible to have delicious, healthy dinners five nights in a row—no planning, no grocerying, no prep and virtually no cleanup. It is incredible, and appreciated by all of us. And it couldn’t have come at a better time: I have just enough energy to really enjoy the spoiling!!