By Tanya Dodd-Hise
Chemotherapy finally ended in mid-October, and soon plans were being discussed about starting radiation. I had another surgery that I was waiting to have approved, one that would, for all intents and purposes, be my version of reconstruction. The surgeon needed to go back in and remove more skin and fat, as I remained a bit deformed and misshapen after the double mastectomy in April. Once the second surgery was approved, I spoke with my Oncologist, and he said to proceed with it before starting radiation – otherwise I would have to wait a while, until my skin had completely healed from treatments. And I did NOT want to wait any longer.
Surgery was performed December 2nd, with an overnight stay at the hospital, and then it was back home and back to doctor appointments, follow-up appointments, lab work, and consultations to plan for the next round of treatments. Once I consulted with Dr. Ilahi, my Radiation Oncologist, it was decided that I could get through the holidays and begin radiation on January 7th. I was beyond thrilled! During the interim, I had gotten a follow-up PET scan, and on November 14th was given the report that there was no evidence of previous tumors in any of the areas where it had been given. In other words – the chemo had worked and I was cancer free! This made me really question why I absolutely needed to continue on and put myself through radiation; but Dr. Ilahi said that it was an extra measure to help prevent it from coming back – like, by a large percentage. So with that information, I knew that it was something that I needed to do, as much as I did not want to do it. For myself. For my wife. For my children. If it increased my odds of STAYING cancer free, then hell yes I would be doing it.
Thanksgiving and Christmas came and went, and I began to slowly start feeling better after chemo life. Dragging my feet, I went in and started the routine:
Treatments would be every day, Monday through Friday, at 3:30 PM, for six and a half weeks
Dr. Ilahi would see me every Wednesday to check my skin
There would be 33 treatments, of a particular dose, and none could be skipped
Since it is like sun damage, the negative effects would build, each week getting a little worse (and would end up like a bad sunburn…so they said)
Fatigue would be a side effect, but it wouldn’t get too noticeable until around week four
Anna (one of my radiation techs) showing the machine of my torture…LOL
Me, on the table, about to begin treatment
By week three, my skin was already a ruddy red color, all across my chest on the left side (where they were radiating). I battled with nausea, which boggled the doctor and techs’ minds, because supposedly nausea is not a common side effect when getting radiation in the chest area. But then again, EVERYTHING makes me nauseous. By week four, I started getting tired. And I started noticing, for the first time, that my left armpit was getting really dark. They were blasting me in the armpit, too?? I had no idea. By week five, I was getting really tired, really easily. My chest became blistered, but no skin had opened up. I developed itchy, little, red bumps on my upper back from exit radiation. My armpit got darker red, and started to hurt. By week six, I was tired. Like, bone dragging, dawg ass TIRED. I was using up to four lotions/creams at a time, multiple times per day, on my chest and armpit areas. They both hurt and itched all the time. By the final week, which would only be three days, I was beyond ready to be finished. I could barely stay awake during the day or evenings, and couldn’t wait until kids went to bed at night so that I could retire to our bed as well. I had prescription hydrocortisone for the itchiness, and was using it rapidly. And with three days left, my second degree burns under my arm had opened up, now requiring Silvadene cream twice a day.
It got to the point that I was in tears.
Shot of part of the chest burn, just a few days from the end
Three days from the end, and it finally got the best of me.
The 2nd degree burns under my arm (and yes, they got worse than this)
But the end was in sight…
For more on Tanya Dodd-Hise you can visit her blog
Photo Credit: Richard Bonser