Ashe Elton Parker

A Writer of LGBTQ+ Characters in Speculative Fiction

Tag: breast cancer treatment (page 2 of 2)

Bone Density Scan

This entry is part 34 of 44 in the series Breast Cancer Posts

Today, I had an appointment for a bone density scan. It was made yesterday afternoon for 2:45 PM this afternoon; apparently, they had room to “squeeze” me in this afternoon for whatever reason. This was a VA appointment, and it was for a baseline reading of my bones in line with my cancer after care (the hormone suppressant therapy).

The radiology department is on the first floor (above the ground floor) of . . . I forget which building in the Salt Lake VA Hospital complex. It’s actually a series of interconnected buildings accessible either from the outside or, as I do, from the inside via sometimes extemely long corridors. The “section” of the hospital I had to access is right across from the elevators I usually take up to the first floor—or to AMU for my Oncology stuff. There are actually two entrances to the radiology department, one through a door into a waiting room, or around the “corner” off the main corridor through a double-wide doorway I’ve seen them use for hospital gurneys. I used the door.

They’re remodeling the desk area of the radiology department, so I had to go around a corner to find where they have at temporary setup and get directions on where to go—because that wasn’t, as I thought, my destination. So, down the hall from the double-wide doorway, around a corner, down another hall. At the check in desk, I received questionnaires and a pregnancy form to fill out in the nearby waiting room, which had a door and windows to a parking area.

I filled out the paperwork and waited for about . . . an hour and a half. Why? Because I’d gone early in hopes they’d be able to fit me in sooner. Even after eating lunch in the cafeteria, I still had that much time to wait. I read a book. When the DEXA tech came to get me, I was more than happy to go.

After changing into the sweatpants I brought with me, and putting on the hospital robe (as opposed to gown—it opened in the front and actually fit my plus-size body), I was escorted to the DEXA room. My weight and height were taken, then I was told to lay on a long foam-covered bed, and to ensure I lined the middle of my body up with the white line down the center of the black padding. Then I proceeded to, as instructed, lower my sweatpants to about mid-thigh; their bulkiness and the waistband can cause interference on the X-Ray.

At the foot of this bed was an X-Ray arm. Once I was stretched out on the bed with my fat restrained for the spine scan, the tech had her training-assistant move the X-Ray arm to about mid-abdomen after much verification of where my belly button was. Tech put my lower legs up on a foam wedge and covered my lower legs with another sheet. After ensuring I was comfortable, they set up the X-Ray arm and had it scan my spine from about the point of the sternum to the tailbone. This took several minutes.

Following that, they removed the wedge, turned my whole leg in (which made my hips feel just great—LOL) to get an X-Ray of a narrow portion of my hipbone between the ball joint and the end of my thigh bone, which, according to the tech, is prone to breaking if osteoporosis sets in. Osteoporosis being one of the big side effects of menopause, which my hormone suppressant therapy has thrown me into. For this scan, I was required to use part of the abdominal sheet to pull my incredible roll of fat off where it rested over my hips so they could get a clear picture. They did the scan, first the left, then the right, with a break in between—which I needed, ’cause my right hand started to cramp.

Lastly, Tech strapped my left forearm to a board after positioning my arm just-so; she explained this was the hardest part of the scan to get “right” on subsequent scans because there’s no way to ensure the hand is in the exact same position as it was the first time. They made this scan, then moved the X-Ray arm down my body and helped me sit up.

After we all were certain my head wasn’t going to spin off, I got to my feet and returned to the little half-bath to retrieve my clothes and dress once more. As I had no other appointments up at the VA today, I was free to go, and I was quite happy to do so. I think next time I’ll try to get an earlier appointment if possible.

Radiation Side Effects

This entry is part 32 of 44 in the series Breast Cancer Posts

Radiation treatment isn’t a free ride. It also has some side effects.

Fatigue was a big one for me. I usually spend about 12-15 hours a day awake. Yes, I sleep up to 12 hours daily; it’s just the way my bipolar works. Sometimes I can get by for a few days on anywhere between 6-9 hours, but most of the time, I go to bed and spend an hour or three wide awake before finally dropping off to sleep. Depends, as I said, on my bipolar.

With the radiation, I was getting up at ten in the morning; leaving for my two-in-the-afternoon appointment at around noon because I’m on public transit; getting home anywhere from three thirty to five depending on how long treatment (including waiting, if they were behind) took and if I needed to see my radiation oncologist, followed by the trip home; and going to bed between six and seven thirty at night. I typically got to sleep before eight, I was so weary from the combined radiation fatigue and weekday-daily trips up to the cancer hospital. I do not want to contemplate what kind of condition I’d have been in if I’d had to work as well.

With breast cancer, and I imagine pretty much every other type, they’ll tell you to get lotion and offer a list of those which work best. I didn’t get any of these lotions the first week of treatment. I have since concluded I should have stopped at the store the day of my radiation sim and picked up one of the suggested lotions. Neither did I, once I had the lotion, perform the care necessary for preventing radiation burns with it. I developed these burns beginning the third week of treatment.

They aren’t pleasant. They aren’t fun. So, when told to get lotion, I strongly encourage anyone reading this to get the lotion and make sure you use it frequently and with abandon. My radiation burns developed first on the underside of my right breast, from which skin has been . . . um, I want to say peeling, but it’s not dry. It’s gross. More burns developed early last week under my arm, and those have been driving me batty. They itch, have the same gross peeling-skin as the under-breast burn, and are kept in a constant state of raw painfulness because it’s hard to live life with my arm constantly raised (LOL).

Luckily, I started tending to my areola and nipple before the skin on it got bad. Previously, it had a brown appearance, as though it had been deliberately left to tan in the sun. Now it’s pink again, and the skin coming off it is dry and flaky. It occasionally sends spikes of stinging pain through my breast because the nipple is oversensitive and no matter what I do, there’s some level of discomfort involved in its current condition. I don’t dare go without a bra, though; that would make it worse.

I’ve been putting Neosporin on the underbreast burn consistently, and that seems to be helping. Also on the underarm burn, which also seems to be improving. I now lotion the top and sides of my breast and alternate putting lotion and Neosporin on my areola and nipple.

In addition to these side effects, my breast became quite ruddy as a result of the treatment. This, and, according to my radiation oncologist, Dr. Poppe, some tenderness is quite common and to be expected.

Radiation Setup Appointment

This entry is part 28 of 44 in the series Breast Cancer Posts

Last week, I went in for my radiation therapy setup appointment. This was a bit involved; after an initial meeting with my Radiation Oncologist, Dr. Poppe (pronounced poppy) and a young doctor (forget if he was a resident or actual doctor) who saw me for a few minutes prior to Poppe’s visit, the staff showed me to a dressing room. I of course received two breast exams.

As always, I requested a plus size gown. I’m so glad this place has them. Makes wearing the suckers much less troublesome and embarrassing (for other people; I don’t really care all that much who sees my breasts, and I’m usually required to wear them while my bottom half is still dressed in street clothes). Anyway, I took my happy little plus size gown into the changing room. This had three or four curtained-off changing areas, each with a bench and a mirror, and about five or six lockers. My boobs are good for something; after donning the robe open in front, I overlapped the edges and tucked the sucker up under my breasts to keep it closed while I stowed my removed clothing and satchel in locker #3.

Back in the corridor, I met the nurse who’d showed me to the dressing room and she led me to the prep chamber. Here, they had me lay on a PET scanner bed and uncovered my right breast, having me remove my arm from the hole. Then, Female Tech went over to prep a mixture which would harden to serve as a guide for my radiation visits. While she did this, Male Tech described the procedure. When FT came back, she had me sit up enough to put the plastic-bagged substance beneath where I lay and told me to rest with my arms up around my head and my head turned to face to the left with the explanation I was to remain in this position until the substance in the large square of blue plastic solidified to make a mold of me laying this way. After they had me organized so they could put me into the machine, they taped the edges of the molding stuff around my arms so I’d have some support. This does not mean they wrapped the corners and edges of the blue bag with the molding agent up over my arms, but that they ensured it would provide support so I wouldn’t grow weary and thus possibly interfere with my future radiation treatments. The molding agent was exothermic, and it grew almost unbearably hot while I lay on it, but even that wasn’t too hot; the room we were in was quite chilled due to efforts to keep the scanner from overheating.

Thus trussed, the techs then marked my skin with ink and stuck little metal stickers on me. These were all meant to guide their scanning and other procedures which I’ll describe a bit later. After applying these things, they scanned me, using the stickers as pointers to plan where to put the majority of the radiation, I guess. I couldn’t see anything as my head was still turned to face to the left. Scanning done, they pulled me out of the machine and paged Dr. Poppe.

When Dr. Poppe arrived shortly, he came with the young doctor who’d seen me earlier. Poppe checked over everything, then noticed my porta-cath was still in. This displeased him a great deal, because he dislikes them being in place during radiation, apparently because they cause some interference with correct dosage hitting the spot; see, my breasts are so large, the breast tissue goes right up to my collarbone, particularly with the right breast, which is about one or two sizes larger than the left. I asked Dr. Poppe if he wanted me to see if I could get the port removed prior to treatment, and he fervently agreed with that plan, discussed things with the techs some more, then departed.

Female Tech remained, announcing she would tattoo me next. I asked what this was for. Apparently, they use little dot-tattoos as guides for radiation treatment. After explaining the tattoos would only look like little moles or skin blemishes, she put one on each side under my arms and one in the center of my chest between my breasts. This involved very little. She inked my skin, then I felt a little pinprick she warned me I’d feel so the ink would enter my skin. I didn’t even bleed.

After, Male Tech came back and they removed the stickers and mold, which had solidified at last, and helped me sit up and cover myself. I returned to the changing room and dressed once more, then saw the head of the Radiation Research Study, Crelley, who had me sign a form to join, then made sure I had the okay to go before leaving.

Have talked to Crelley since, and she said I was randomized into the 3-week arm of the research study, where I’ll be getting a higher dose of radiation. This pleased me, especially since Dr. Poppe expressed concern I may not be able to get into the study at all due to consistency of breast tissue and breast size.

Following Final Chemo

This entry is part 27 of 44 in the series Breast Cancer Posts

I’m glad I had only four cycles of chemo. I had it relatively easy and I know it. My friend JA Marlow‘s mother has a very invasive and aggressive form of brain tumor. Early last year, Mother Hen, as JAM’s mother is called, had surgery to remove the original tumor and radiation. She’s been receiving chemo in pill doses at home. Unfortunately, the tumor has regrown, and it’s in an area which is affecting her much more than the original tumor did.

By comparison? My experience with breast cancer is nothing.

It has been my hope that putting my experiences up online would inform and assist other people with breast cancer, if not other forms. With that in mind, I’ll expound a bit upon my last post-chemo experience.

The fatigue was as profound on Wednesday as on most other previous days. I spent most of the day in bed, but was able to get up, eat, and putter around a little bit, though I was never up long enough for a cup of tea with water properly boiled in a kettle. I drank orange juice most of Weds and Thurs, as that was quick, easy, and tasty—so tasty, in fact, I drank my first two gallons before my three-week cycle period ended. It’s probably what helped me avoid getting sick about a week or so later, as I felt the beginnings of symptoms of an illness my mother recovered from just prior to her visit the week after chemo week, to drop off homemade burrito makings and an apple pie.

On the Friday of chemo week, I went in to see my new official (and hopefully permanent) Oncologist, Dr. Colonna (not sure that’s the correct spelling, but will correct it in later posts if it’s wrong once I’ve seen her again), who is specializing in breast cancer up at the VA. She’s the one who sat and talked to me and Mom all those months ago, answering the many questions my mother and I had about various things to do with my cancer diagnosis. She was pleased with my progress and sent me on my way with encouraging words.

The next week wasn’t as bad, PottyTime wise as previous cycles. I think it may be because I entered a heightened mixed-state phase (my bipolar is mixed-state, meaning I have symptoms and presentations of both mania and depression at the same time) and spent two nights out of that week awake because I couldn’t sleep. I don’t suggest this as a method of shortening the duration of the diarrhea, though that’s what it seemed to do for me. By the end of the week, my PottyTime phase was pretty much over as well, but I was not in any kind of condition worthy of being called “human.” I wasn’t a raving lunatic, or abusive, or temperamental. I was Jell-O. And this despite my two sleepless nights not following one right after the other. There were one or two nights where I actually slept between them.

I finally got fed up and shaved my head of all the straggling hair leftover from chemo-balding. Now I have stubble and fuzz. I did this with my women’s fancy wire-wrapped razor in the shower (the wire wrapping is important. Would not have done this without it) since I don’t have an electric shaver I could have used dry as I generally don’t shave my legs, and that’s what I’d use it for if I had one.

Chemo mouth was more severe. The cycle previous, it had spread to throughout my mouth, and this last cycle, it did the same, only drier. For the first time, this part of post-chemo treatment annoyed me. Could not eat anything spicy, as I learned one night when I made French toast (I put pepper in scrambled eggs, and in my Ft egg mixture with cinnamon, nutmeg, and sweetener, with a dash of salt and a few tablespoons of milk), because I think I exhaled flame after that meal. My mouth hurt for several minutes during and after eating that French toast. Hot temperatures were just as prominent, so drinking my tea while it was still very warm was out of the question; tepid was the hottest I could handle. Also, it felt as if my tongue had numerous cuts on the top, though I don’t think that was actually the case. I tell ya, between heat killing the top of my mouth and even the softest, blandest food torturing my tongue, I’m rather amazed I ate at all. LOL

Earlier this week, I went to the Huntsman Cancer Institute for my radiation setup appointment; I’ll write about it sometime next week.

My Chemo Medication Regimen

This entry is part 22 of 44 in the series Breast Cancer Posts

I’ve been wanting to write up an accurate post about this since my first chemo treatment, just didn’t record anything about the process/procedure at the time. Today I did, with the help of a very accommodating nurse named Allen.

I’m required to take two dexamethasone (Decadron) tablets, with food, twice on the day prior to my chemo treatment to prevent nausea.

Day of treatment, I undergo, in the order written, the following medication administration procedure:

1. Dexamethasone x 5 and odansetron (Zofran) x 2. This latter medication is also to prevent nausea. If they come in liquid form, they are administered over half an hour; after swallowing them with orange juice today, I had to wait half an hour for them to be digested.

2. The nurse then flushed my porta-cath with saline solution to ensure there was proper flow for the administration of my chemo medications.

3. He then administered Taxotere (docetaxel), the first of my chemo drugs, running it through a regulator on an IV stand to ensure it didn’t flood my system. This takes about an hour or so.

4. When the regulator stopped beeping, Allen came back in and did another saline flush.

5. Then he proceeded to hook up the Cytoxan (cyclophosphamide), the second medication of my chemo regimen, also running its IV tube through a regulator. Approximately another hour or so. I received my lunch near the end of this and was able to eat all of it without any adverse effects.

6. When the Cytoxan finished, Allen returned and disconnected its administration tube from the starter-IV tube, flushed my port with saline again to clean it out, then injected a dose of Heprin to ensure blood doesn’t clot in my port. He then removed the IV-starter tube from my port and patched me up with a bandage.

After this, I was free to pack up and go, which I did.

Tomorrow, I’m to take another two-pills-twice of dexamethasone. In addition, I’m free to decide if I’m willing to take the other two medications prescribed for nausea: odansetron and prochlorperazine maleate. Suggested dose of the Odansetron is one tablet by mouth every four hours if needed, and suggested dose for the prochlorperazine maleate is one tablet by mouth every six hours if needed, not to exceed 40 MG per day. If needed, I’m to take these two other pills on Thursday as well.

Then, that evening, I’m to inject myself with Neulasta (pegfilgrastim) to stimulate production of white blood cells. This must be administered at least 24 hours following chemo treatment, but not before then, and since I finished with chemo at around 1 pm today, tomorrow evening is an acceptable range of time for me to administer the injection.

This is the most accurate explanation of my medication regimen I have access to.

After today’s chemo appointment, I had to make an unexpected appointment with my head Oncologist, Dr. Weis (correct spelling of his name, I hope) for Thursday at 2:30 pm. My mom will be accompanying me since she has some questions to ask, and we intend to get what information we can regarding my PET scan’s results from him at this time.

After I got home today, I received a call from the VA to arrange another appointment with Dr. Weis, this one slated for the 9th of January at noon. I’m to go to the Lab for this so blood can be taken, and I half expect to be called to arrange another echocardiogram. This is prior to any further chemo appointments I may be making, and my mom clearly believes this indicates I won’t be getting any more. I am, needless to say, not quite so confident of this. I think this is simply an interim checkup and I’ll be doing at least one if not two more chemo treatments following this January 9 appointment with Dr. Weis.

Yesterday, I received a call from the genetic counselor, and she was able to tell me I don’t have any known breast cancer gene mutation. This does not rule out a genetic connection, but as they don’t know all the genes which affect this particular cancer, she was unable to tell me what I might expect in future. She told me she’d send me the information she had, but it hasn’t come in yet, so I’ll post more on it after it arrives.

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