Ashe Elton Parker

A Writer of LGBTQ+ Characters in Speculative Fiction

Tag: Radiation

Radiation Follow-Up

This entry is part 35 of 44 in the series Breast Cancer Posts

This won’t be a very long post. Honestly, my radiation follow-up was rather anticlimactic, which is what any cancer patient wants, I imagine. I certainly did. Dr. Poppe was pleased with my breast’s condition, as it has made a complete recovery from the burns it had developed.

Over the course of the visit, I saw a resident as well as my doctor. Resident happened to be going through his second residency—he used to be an OB/GYN doc, taught a little, and decided to care for cancer patients. He did not look old enough to have had teaching experience.

Both the resident and Dr. Poppe gave me breast exams, and my doc discussed with me my hormone suppressant therapy regimen. There was some slight confusion, as Dr. Colonna had put in my notes she wants to put me on Tamoxifen instead of the combo therapy I’m on now (she called me about this some few days ago). Once all that was straightened out, Dr. Poppe and the nurse chaperone filled out a form for me to give to the receptionists regarding my next visit for radiation follow-up. It’s to happen a couple days before my birthday in November. LOL

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 Sim

This entry is part 30 of 44 in the series Breast Cancer Posts

At three in the afternoon, 26 February of this year, I had my radiation simulation appointment.

This was pretty involved, compared to the radiation treatments themselves. After changing into a hospital gown open in the front, I was taken to the radiation chamber. In this room they have the radiation machine. It’s kind of hard to describe, but it has a table/bed with a slightly-propped up head beneath an overhanging unit which actually administers the radiation. I’m sure the head of the bed can be lowered, but for this it was left propped up and had my mold on it; there’s a slot in the table, and a protrusion on the bottom of my mold so it doesn’t slip. The techs covered the table and mold with a sheet, and there was a little butt-rest. After I got on the table, they tucked a knee pillow under my legs.

Then I laid there for about half an hour or so while they did various things.

First was positioning me. After commanding me to lay like a lead weight, the techs proceeded to quote numbers at each other (ninety-nine five is a popular one) and adjust my position minutely. This involved tugging the sheet beneath me, pushing my legs around, and making sure my upper body was properly positioned in its mold. They then drew circles around the tattooed dot on my right side and between my breasts.

They took X-Rays to mark my position so they could do comparisons later to make sure I’m in the same position for radiation treatments. The head of the machine moved as well, I guess so they could determine where it should be for optimum radiation dosage. An oblong oval was also drawn on my breast, one end going around the inside of my areola and extending to past the seven o’clock position on my breast. This was done in black marker; they also made another mark in green to assist with their adjustments of the machine.

They had a Pandora music station playing and allowed me to choose what I wanted to listen to, so aside from paying attention and asking questions whenever a tech was in the room with me, I got to relax to some good music.

When they were done, one of the techs told me not to wash off the black ink on my breast ’cause they’d need it for guidance the next day. I told him that might be a challenge, half-joking, and he offered a Tegaderm patch and stuck it on the portion of the oval which extends past the seven o’clock position. That done, I was escorted back to the waiting room and returned to the changing room from there to dress.

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.

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