Oh, my goodness, y’all…it’s been months since I’ve written to you! The last time I blogged was just after my surgery. As a reminder, I had a double mastectomy and lymph node removal performed in September. Since then, so much as happened!
After my mastectomy, because I was going to be doing radiation after, I had to have temporary tissue expanders put in (rather than breast implants). Every week for 6 weeks after my surgery, I would go see my plastic surgeon, and they would add some saline to the tissue expanders…to slowly inflate them completely. Wow! These things will hold a lot of fluid, which makes them very heavy and very hard! The only good thing is that when I lay down, they don’t go anywhere. When I shake my shoulders or chest, these girls…Don’t. Go. Anywhere. It’s pretty funny. So, we got them all filled up and settled…just in time to start radiation.
After surgery, but before radiation, my oncologist began me on my long term hormone treatment regimen. For the next 5 years (and maybe up to 10), I will take Anastrozole, to decrease the production of estrogen in my body. Because my cancer was hormone positive, we want to reduce any opportunity for random cancer cells still floating around to have any hormones feeding it. One little pill every night for the next many years. Additionally, I also get an injection every 4 weeks of Zoladex (for the next 5 years), to shut down my ovaries and stop them from producing estrogen, as well. Can anyone say, Hot Flashes?? 🙂
I began radiation the first week of November. I wasn’t sure what to expect during radiation, but it was somewhat less traumatic than most would expect. I did treatment 5 days a week, Monday through Friday, for about 7 weeks. Every week day, I would arrive at the radiation clinic…put on a lovely blue gown and wait for my amazing tech – Anna. She and her assistant would line me up on the table (marked by 3 “homie dot” tattoos, as I called them) and then leave me in the room. The machine would swing out two arms to take 2 x-rays, to ensure I was lined up exactly right. Then the linear accelerator (radiation beam delivery part of the machine) would align to hit me with radiation. I had four places (fields) that were radiated each day, for about 15 seconds each; plus an additional 3 seconds on two of the fields. And then I’d be done. Each treatment only took about 20 minutes from in the door to back out, with only a little of 60 seconds of actual radiation delivery. You can’t see or feel anything at the time. It’s very much like getting an x-ray taken.
Other than having to leave work early every day for treatment (which was a big paid), there were two other big inconveniences during radiation. One – because they were radiating the center of my chest and over across my left breast, they had to be careful not to radiate the right breast…how do they achieve that, you ask? Well, let me tell you. They had to remove almost all of the fluid from the tissue expander in my right breast. LOL Yep. I had one DD+ breast, and one empty breast. That was fun. <<eyeroll>> Two – because radiation basically destroys everything in its path, I had to take extra good care of my skin. So, I had to apply three different lotions, three times a day…NINE applications during the day. Sounds easy enough until you have to stop basically every hour to go to the bathroom, get halfway undressed, apply either RadialPlex cream, Aloe Vera gel or Aquaphor ointment, wait for it to somewhat dry, then get redressed and get back to the meeting or whatever I was doing before. Like I’ve repeatedly said before…cancer is so inconvenient. 😉
We did take a short break in the middle of radiation, and we went to Mexico for Thanksgiving! It was amazing! Just the three of us, some time to just relax and forget about everything that had happened in the previous 12 months. And God bless my plastic surgeon…he filled up that empty tissue expander for me before my vacation, and then emptied it back out again when I got back so I could get back to radiation. I rocked that bathing suit top like never before. And did I mention…with these tissue expanders…since they don’t move, I don’t have to wear a bra anymore. That’s right…#Winning.
My skin did pretty well with radiation until just after we got back from our vacation, and I only really struggled for the last 7 treatments. But radiation builds in your system, so once I finished treatment, the impact to my skin kept building for another week or so. But about two weeks after I finished, it was so much better, and by three weeks after I finished, I was completely back to normal. I now have what looks like a nice square tan that goes from under my arm down to just below my breast and over to the center of my chest. No permanent damage. Here is the worst of it just after I finished treatment.
On December 17, I completed my last radiation treatment. This officially released me from all of my cancer treatment. I rang that bell!!! 5 months of chemotherapy, double mastectomy and lymph node removal, followed with 28 radiation treatments. Done!!! Praise God, we made it. ❤
Now, I’m just waiting to have my “exchange surgery”. This is when I’ll get to have these tissue expanders removed and have my permanent implants put in. Tissue expanders are only temporary…and man, they are uncomfortable. The have a rigid plastic back, sitting right on my ribs. They are hard, heavy and just not a lot of fun. Unfortunately, because of the damage radiation does to the skin and tissue, I have to wait until at least June before I can have this surgery. So, now we just wait. All is good in our house. My hair is growing. My eyelashes and eyebrows grew back in completely (yay!). And we are settling back in to a normal routine that doesn’t involve daily or regular treatments. I still have frequent doctor appointments, just because I have so many doctors now, but they are more spread out and I actually had a week recently with no appointments!
I go for my first post-treatment scans in April. So, my fellow prayer warriors, I just ask that you pray for us that they call come back clear. We have no reason to believe they will be anything other than perfect. Until then, we are happily enjoying 2020!