I met with the radiation oncologist for the first time.
This was just an information session, a chance to ask questions and get a peek into the radiation process.
The radiation oncologist is in charge of my radiation treatments. She works with my oncologist (in charge of chemotherapy), my oncology surgeon (focuses on removing the cancer) and my plastic surgeon (focuses on making the girls ‘pretty’ again).
Here’s a preview of radiation treatments.
I’ll meet with the radiation oncologist weekly.
Radiation will start 3-4 weeks after surgery. After the drains are gone.
There will be about 33 treatments.
Radiation treatment is handled five days a week for about 6 weeks.
In the event a holiday interferes with the 5 day a week schedule the missed treatment will be tacked onto the end.
Identifying the area to be radiated
The first time I go in to have radiation I will undergo a simulation session which may take several hours. This is so the machines are set up to target the correct area.
During the simulation session I will be marked with ink lines. These will define the area being targeted by the radiation.
The marks will be from the center of my chest to under my right arm and from beneath my breast up above my collar bone to encompass the area where cancer was found.
My radiation oncologist is going to pre-emptively radiate lymphnodes that cancer could spread to next, which is why the area that will be radiated will be larger than just the areas where cancer was found.
The ink lines will be covered with tape for the duration of radiation treatments. I can take showers, but I have to be careful not to scrub them off.
I’ll wear the tape over the lines for the duration of radiation treatment. They’ll be visible depending what type of clothing I wear.
Each treatment will last about 20 minutes.
During radiation treatment I have to be as still as possible.
Radiation treatments do not make you radioactive.
I probably won’t have tattoos. The doctor said she’s used them before, but it’s easier to line up the machines if there’s a line to follow instead of just three little dots.
Do’s and Don’ts
The tissue expander that will be placed during surgery will have to be deflated before radiation begins.
The tissue expander will remain deflated until after radiation treatment is over.
I can’t wear deodorant with aluminum in it while I’m having radiation treatment, though I was assured that Tom’s deodorant would be okay since there’s no aluminum in it.
One of the pamphlets said ‘no alcohol’. I felt like an alcoholic for asking, but I had to know why. My doctor laughed, then assured me the ‘no alcohol’ rule was for people whose cancer was caused by alcohol consumption or have, say, throat cancer. She said for breast cancer it shouldn’t be a problem.
(It remains to be seen if I’ll be allowed to drink while on the medication following surgery. The cancer I have is fed by estrogen, so I have to take hormone blockers for five years after all of this is over. I don’t know if I’m allowed to drink while taking that medication, but I have hope that an occasional glass of wine is going to be okay.)
Short term side effects
There will likely be some skin irritation and redness. Think ‘nasty sunburn’.
Fatigue, though not nearly as bad as chemotherapy
Long term side effects
The skin targeted by radiation ages faster. The texture of that skin might be permanently different after radiation treatment. It might be more leathery, less soft than other skin.
The area being radiated will encompass some lung tissue which could be scarred. My doctor said this scarring might affect my ability to run, maybe slowing me down some. Since I’m already slow, I’m okay with that. Also she said there’s no reason not to continue running throughout radiation.
Since the lymph nodes under my arm and under my collar bone will be removed during surgery and/or destroyed during radiation, I have a 40-50% chance of developing permanent lymphedema in my right arm.
Some studies have shown that radiation can damage the heart and cause heart attacks later in life. My radiation oncologist said that the studies are not conclusive on more modern technology, and the some of the technology is too new to have long term data. She did encourage me to live a heart healthy lifestyle just in case.
And, finally, while radiation is very effective at killing cancer cells, it can also cause cancer elsewhere in the body. Leading me to conclude that everything causes cancer, and further reason to want a glass of wine.
I know that’s a hell of an information dump, and that’s just from the Q&A session. I’m sure more information will follow.
Today’s silver lining: Seeing another piece of the puzzle.
What’s your silver lining today? I love comments!
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