Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Radiation or Sleep Deprivation?

This afternoon I felt a desperate need for a nap, so....I took one. It was raining like crazy outside, so the ambiance was perfect. The thing is, I cannot decide whether this "nap need" was related to the radiation treatments, or if it was merely the result of sleep deprivation. Last night a wild storm flew through Winston-Salem, and since we have one of those weather alert radios which comes on and squawks if there is severe weather coming, I was awakened numerous times during the night. Also, I did attend an exercise class today following my treatment, so I could be a bit more tired than usual anyway. I will be curious to see how I feel tomorrow afternoon, and if the "rack monster" will call my name.

I am beginning to see a bit of change in the condition of my skin where the radiation is focusing; there is some redness and a slight itch, which I am expecting to get worse. I have armed myself with Cortisone cream, Udder Balm, and benadryl. I think it is pretty funny that the skin cream recommended by the doctor is Udder Balm. What could be better for my particular situation?!

Yesterday was my day to have an appoinment with my radiation oncologist. She and I meet every week, and I love it that she has specific topics she covers at each meeting. Usually I think of radiologists as doctors who do not care for much patient contact - who are more focused on the technology than on the individual being treated. However, Dr. Evans is exceedingly personable and spends quite a bit of time answering my questions and trying to find out what I want to know. Yesterday we talked about exercise as a way to prevent recurrence. Apparently, 30-40 minutes of exercise at least 4 times per week greatly enhances ones odds of surviving this cancer. The research does not clarify exactly why this works, although I think she said that they believe that exercise activates/envigorates the "killer" T-cells. Whatever the reason, you can bet that I am putting my nose to this grindstone for all I am worth.

I really like Dr. Evans because she seems to embrace the world of integrative medicine. We have talked about vitamins and other supplements, and she spoke of what she does in her own daily regimen. And we have discussed dietary "no no's" like concentrated soy products. Interestingly, she has spotted in my nature that need to have some control or be taking steps toward a goal, because she mentioned something that had occurred to me during the past week: that I might feel a bit of a let-down after my treatments are complete, because then all I can do is "wait and see." Because I know this about myself, I am glad she is giving me some concrete things to do: exercise; take appropriate supplements; and avoid or reduce intake of certain foods, such as concentrated soy, alcoholic beverages, etc.

All in all, I am still feeling well and happy. Crazy, huh? I examine this perverse nature of mine, and find it puzzling. This "project" of having cancer is somehow envigorating to me. Plus, it seems to offer a great excuse for an afternoon nap.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

A Wine Whine

Instead of dreaming about alligators, I'm dreaming about wine. I have cut back on my consumption of alcohol because of all the recent studies that underscore the connection between cancer (particularly of the breast and the colon)and alcohol consumption, and I miss it. I miss preparing supper with a glass of wine on the counter for intermittent sips as I chop or stir or mince or saute; I miss the way the taste signals the end of the "working" day (even if I have laundry yet to fold); I even miss the way the wine glass feels in my hand.

Last night I had a fairly vivid dream featuring a splendid bottle of wine which I was thoroughly enjoying, until I woke up. There was not much to the dream except for my delight in the sipping and savoring of the wine. The wine felt unusually viscous and velvety in my mouth...somehow thicker than wine should be, but pleasurable in every way. What does this dream mean? I haven't a clue. All I know is that I don't particularly miss my breasts, but I do MISS MY WINE.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Into the Frying Pan

One of the best things about this radiation regimen is that I signed up for an early morning appointment - 8:15 - so I am forced to get up, get dressed, and get out the door earlier than has been my habit since my younger child got out of high school. Yes. I had become quite the slouch, hanging around in my pyjamas until 9 AM on many days. So, these days I am turning over a new leaf, and getting radiated, to boot.

So far, everything is smooth as glass. The Cancer Center continues to get high marks for efficiency, pleasant surroundings, and gracious staff. And more warm blankets too! I have a nifty little barcoded card that I swipe upon entry to the waiting room. My name pops up on a screen, I head for the dressing room, grab a gown, strip, put my stuff in a locker - and before I can settle in with a good magazine, one of the technicians comes to get me for my 15 minutes "in the beam."

Before starting treatments I went in for some preliminary visits which included the "tattooing visit" and the "making an upper body cast visit." The body cast forces me to lie in exactly the same position each visit. The tattoos, of course, show the technicians how to line up the machine to zap the right places. So, when I reach the treatment room, I lie on a table with my body settled into the preformed cast. The various techs shift me this way and that, pulling my hips an inch left or right, my upper body another touch to the side. All the while they are calling out numbers like 94 point 3, 97 point 1. Who knows what it all means. I trust that they know what they are doing. Before long they say they are ready, and with no other preamble, the nuking begins. There is nothing to feel, not much to see other than a sign that shines, saying "Beam On," and before I can get really comfy, the whole shebang is over.

Today is Day 5 out of 33 treatments. So far there have been no discernible side effects. I expect that it will take another week or two before I see the burning or feel the fatigue.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Too Busy to Write About Having Cancer

I feel the pull of fall activities, much like the pull of the bathtub drain...a vortex which is sucking me into a swirl of busy-ness, away from the relative peace of the summer. Admittedly, much of this activity has been fun: a wonderful boat trip on the St. Lawrence River and exploration of the Thousand Islands region of Ontario and New York; a trip to the DC area for a wedding and a delightful visit with friends; a short but sweet visit with daughter Sarah, who was in the wedding; and a quick lunch with son Gordon in Lexington, Va. where he is attending law school. Nonetheless, the inbox is filling up with reminders of places I need to be, articles I need to read, meetings I need to attend, etc; and I am finding less and less time to write this blog and less and less time to pay attention to living with to eat, think, relax, supplement, medicate.

Today I was ENCOURAGED, even compelled, to write because I pledged that I would blog today for The Army of Women, which I wrote about in a previous post. I am struck by what a powerful vehicle the Internet is for sharing important information quickly and efficiently. What a boon for organizations such as this Army, which needs to recruit nationwide, one million women of all ages, ethnicities, health stages, and locales, to help in the research to find the causes of breast cancer.

So...please consider joining this effort. If you do, you will hear about research projects which you might be eligible to participate in. However, signing up for the Army does NOT obligate you in any way. There is no cost to join, and they are not asking for donations. They just want women to sign up to hear about the studies and possibly decide to participate in one or more. A study might involve nothing more than filling out a questionnaire, or it might involve giving a blood sample. In any event, YOU decide whether to participate.

Now, about using the internet - if you sign up, please tell others. If you are on Facebook, update your status by writing: "I signed up to STOP breast cancer before it STARTS. Have you? Join today at , then copy and paste this status update as your own." Because I am such a neophyte blogger and computer-use-challenged, I cannot seem to insert the PSA video which I want to share. If you are interested, go to and search for Army of Women. There is a great video with Susan Sarandon narrating which I would like everyone to see.

A final note: I have finished chemo, and my hair is growing back - all gray so far - but my eyebrows and eyelashes have disappeared here at the very last minute. I start radiation on October 11. This will last for six weeks and involve going to the Cancer Center for a brief "zap" every week day. I feel just fine, and I am interested in this next phase of treatment. I gather that I may have a bit of a tough time with burning, since I had a mastectomy rather than lumpectomy, and there is less tissue to absorb the radiation. Most folks with lumpectomies do not have as much burning. I guess I can stand a couple of weeks of burning and itching. I was signing a release form concerning the radiation on Monday, and I noted that the reason for radiation, stated in the form, was "to prevent recurrence of breast cancer." I jokingly said I would sign to have the treatment, if the doctor would sign to guarantee that outcome. The nurse/technician did not think that was funny...or else she just was not accustomed to people making jokes about cancer and death rays. And on that note, I end this epistle.