Wednesday, January 30, 2013


33% (1/3rd) of the way done with radiation. My skin is pink, but hanging in there. It is clearly outlined where the treatment is occurring, which looks great in a v-neck. Nothing like showing off a straight line of pink from the bottom of your sternum to the top of your clavicle. What is cool is it passes directly through one of my blue freckles. It appears worse under fluorescent lights. Currently, not too sore. Along with Jean's cream twice a day they gave me some Aquaphor in sample sizes to apply after treatment which seems to be helping.

I ran two days in a row (well, mostly because it was 60 degrees today about 30 degrees warmer than it has been and I couldn't waste the day). Feeling better running most of the time and it looks like my bedtime has creeped up to 8:30 pm which I will take.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Slightly Splotchy

My skin has begun to feel like it is slightly sunburned and at this point is only a little splotchy. Not really uncomfortable, but just a little something to know it is there. Oddly enough, this makes me feel better, like radiation is a real treatment and not an elaborate prank. I think having gone from chemo where you could watch and feel the treatment go into your body and the side effects were pretty evident 1.5 weeks in (taste changes, dry skin, hair starting to fall out) to the invisible world of XRT amplifies this feeling.

My hair is growing quite well. I still have bald spots, but they are getting fewer (mostly in the front, like male pattern baldness). My hair is still growing in with 3 colors (brown, blonde and white), but the brown is becoming more prominent (and helping with not having such gaping spots of scalp showing). The metallic taste is now gone the majority of the time, except when I get thirsty, but much better. I am finally able to put my contacts back in (my eyeballs were too dry from the Taxotere) and I am able to eat chocolate! Yay! I may have pushed it a little too hard as I ate 1/2 lb of pretzel M and M's this weekend, but GI system is still function normally; Win.

My stamina is much better. I stayed awake until after 9 pm the last 3 nights and I ran 3 miles today. Random tangent: two men were working out at the gym today and one was giving the other nutrition advise (I love to listen in on what people think is good nutrition). This one guy was telling the other that he should eat 2 cups whole greek yogurt with at least one cup whole milk blended with whey protein before he came to gym next time. He told him it had to be the "high fat stuff" because that would help him burn more fat while at the gym Oy vey.

This was all I could think of:

This week's music being pumped into the XRT room were different, but all enjoyable. There was some Frank Sinatra one day, country music the next, but my favorite had to be Friday. Below is the song that was on for all of Fridays treatment (and yes, that is how quick treatment is):

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Chicken Wings

Today was day 5 of XRT and I am now 15% done. Every 5th appointment is xrays to make sure they are hitting the spot and not my lungs (thank you) and a follow up with the radiation oncologist. To fully appreciate this story, however lets back up to the weekend.

Saturday I went to the gym for about 2 hours (including walking home) and while there decided it would be a good day to try triceps dips. Well, it took "feel the burn" to an entire new level. It felt like my skin was being pinched by my sports bra, but it really wasn't. I felt like I was just working through the scar tissue from having my lymph nodes removed and did 3 sets of 12. Later, because I am sick in the head, I was bragging to my mother about what I did. She was not impressed and began to question if I should be doing everything at the gym. Last night we had a conversation that went like this:

Mom: "Do you really think you should be lifting weights? I mean you could be changing the area they are treating."
Me: "Yay ok Mom (in my best check this crazy lady out tone)"
Mom: "I'm serious. I think you should ask the doctor before you keep lifting"
Me: "Fine" [what a brat]

Today at my appointment after the doctor had checked my skin (and was happy to see no burning or issues yet-thanks Jean's cream) she asked if I had any questions. Me and my smug self sighed and said "Yes, my mother wants me to check if I should be weight lifting" knowing that of course the doctor would say yes, totally fine. However, to my surprise she responded "Absolutely not. You have had surgery on the axilla,  you cannot be doing that. How much weight have you been lifting?" Me: "Light, between 10 and 50 pounds". Doctor: "No. You can lift 3 pounds". Whaaaaaaaaaaaaat?! Then I decided that this piece of information would change her mind. "But, I was a competitive runner before all of this" "You can still lift weights with your legs". How being an athlete was going to change the need for radiation to occur on the same spot every time and for me to not change the landscape I am not sure but I was willing to throw it out there.

So for now I'll keep my skinny chicken wing arms and just run, lift legs and keep working the core. Running is getting better and I actually got into 8:30 minute mile pace for awhile during today's run. Progress.

For those of you keeping score that would be Mom: 1,397 Sara: 3

Friday, January 18, 2013

9% Done

9% done with the magic that is XRT. Without having to have xrays, radiation is about a 10 minute process.  Once the team is ready for me its head into the treatment room, go limp body so they can line up my tattoos and laser beams, treatment then off to work. Pretty simple. So far no burning, but already applying Jean's cream twice a day to prevent it.

While chatting with one of the Radiation Techs (she has been at the hospital for 29 years) I mentioned that my mother worked in radiation at the hospital when the site first opened. Well all the Techs were so interested they found one of the employees (one of the receptionists) who has been in the radiation building since it opened and this is what she dug up:

Here is Mom (right center) with her radiation friends and my brother in his best Osh Gosh (I'm in her belly here!)
Above is a flier from when the center opened

And here is an enlarged photo (that's Mom on the left!) 

Well, now I will never finish my radiation treatment because my mother will have killed me for the above photos. However, it is interesting to discuss with her how different the treatment is now. When the site first opened for breast radiation patients sat in a chair and the chair rotated around the machine. That just seems like one really bad amusement park ride. I think I'll take laying down with a bean bag mold and the starship enterpirse rotating over me. 3 treatments down, 30 more to go!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Just because you can't see it, doesn't mean it's not Real

Well, that was weird.

Today was my first radiation (XRT) treatment. The MBTA cooperated with my first treatment and got me into work on time. After I changed into my pink johnny my XRT badge alerted the radiation techs to my arrivals. While I waited for my treatment I added some pieces to the 1000 piece puzzle picture of doors they have in the waiting room. After 10 minutes one of the techs came out and led me to another smaller waiting room. This one did not have a puzzle. On principle I sat there and did nothing.The tech told me there was a little more set up to be done.When they were ready for me they bring me into what will be my treatment room, which is different from where the simulation was done.

First up, was my bean bag cast. From the simulation machine they use the data to create a cast where I tuck my head and rest my arms. I climbed onto the table and tucked into my cast. From here the radiation techs ask that you go limp body so they can position you correctly. There are two lasers in the ceiling and using my tattoos and the laser beams them maneuver you into a position. Really this feels like a childhood nightmare, the one where I showed up late for school, shirtless and people are using their laser pointers to point. Today because it is the first day they have to take some Xrays to make sure the minimal amount of lung is involved. Yes, thanks lets leave the lungs alone.

In order to have Xrays taken they need me to move my arm a little because my elbow is sticking up to far. They use my middle tattoo and a flexible ruler to line me up properly. After 15 minutes or so of line up I am ready for xrays. At this point both my hands are asleep. However, in this room they have a different relaxing painting in the tiles. It looks a little like this:

Ok the mountains were a little snowier, and the above is a picture of Lake Sunapee in New Hampshire. However, the photo reminded me of Lake Sunapee and did the trick of putting me in a happy place helping me not move for the 27 minutes of set up. Thankfully, this is the longest set up for all of the treatment. Xrays will happen every 5th treatment and should now only add 5 minutes on.

Next, came the absolute weirdest part: the treatment. The radiation tech says, "ok we are now officially all set up, you will not hear, see or feel anything, but you will be getting your treatment".  Alright. So he leaves the room and I lay still and the machine that looks like the starship enterprise rotates around my body. When it makes one full circle another tech comes out and says: "all set". All set? Am I being punked. I feel like someone took out a magic wand and went "Ta da". Actually, I think the whole thing would have seemed less weird if that had happened.

Knowing that down the road I could have some skin issues from the XRT this is the song I had stuck in my head the entire set up/treatment time:

1 Down 32 to go.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

3 Blue Freckles

Today I had my simulation for radiation, also known as hands over your head while laying on a bean bag so they make sure they put your tattoos in the right place. This was an interesting process. First up is a return to the pink johnnys. These are the ones I wore for my ultrasound and MRI biopsies and they are made to open in the front. Hello old friends.  Once back in the pink and some consent forms signed you head into the CT scanner room for radiation simulation.

First thing they ask me why I am there. I say for Left, errr I mean right breast radiation set up. The radiation oncologist starts shouting from the back room. "Right! Its the Right!". Ooops. Good start.

Then you put your arms up over your head and lay back on a bean bag. This is a suped up bean bag. Two radiation techs, once your in a "comfortable" position, smush the bag into proper position and then press a button. The bag then hardens and the computer remembers this position for all of your treatments. As if I already didn't know that computers were smarter than us...

Once arms are in place the radiation oncologist comes in and marks you up with a purple sharpie. Then the radiation tech takes wire stickers and puts them on your chest at certain locations and they move you in and out of the machine. They had a soft rock station on and they have a couple of ceiling tiles removed and put in a picture that looks like this:

I have terrible range of motion. It goes along with my lack of flexibility. Keeping my arms over my head becomes uncomfortable within the first 5 minutes. After 10 minutes my hands are asleep and I hate all lighthouses ever made. At 20 minutes I am singing along to the Huey Lewis song as distraction: 


I am then able to distract myself with thoughts about back to the future and nutrition discussions with one of the radiation techs as she piles more hot blankets on me. By the 30 minute mark my neck is getting tingly and my shoulders are screaming. But, I am done. All that is left is to give me tattoos. Here is the exchange:
RT: "Ok. I am going to give you 3 tattoos. They are on each side under your ribs and then one in the middle so we make sure we can line up the laser and machine correctly. This  might pinch and feel weird because these are spots where you normally aren't pinched". 
SO: "Great. I am ready for my sweet tats!" (Clearly serious)
RT: "Yes. I will now mark your sweet tats". (In the most monotone and clearly not appreciative of my sense of humor voice)

Anyways radiation starts next Wednesday and I have a badge to alert them when I show up to have it done. For now, one of my good friends pointed out I have something in common with Phoebe Buffay. 

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Rebuilding Process

Operation Regain Fitness is in full effect (along with everyone else who had a New Year's Resolution it would seem) especially since I'll get a week without radiation beamed at my body and the chemo is out of my system. I renewed my gym membership and Friday and today ran and lifted at my bare bones gym. My head under the florescent lights at the gym makes me look like Dean Pelton from Community (see below) and you can't see the good layer (and by layer I mean millimeter) of peach fuzz I have.
Although,  his arms are bigger than mine. But, hey that's why I'm back at the gym. On Friday my workout attire made it pretty clear as to why my head is bald (NFL hot pink breast cancer awareness shoelaces, under armor t shirt with giant pink ribbon across the entire back and hot pink sports bra). It was pretty much like having "Yup, I'm fighting Breast Cancer" emblazoned across my shirt but with symbols instead of words. 

Because there are patches of ice around my house I have started back running on the "dreadmill". I knew I was running slow, but when the machine tells you the pace, that hurts a runners pride.  This morning while at the gym at 7:15 am and despite there being well over 20 other treadmills open some dude came in and got on the treadmill directly on my right. Yes, way to challenge yourself man trying to keep up with the bald woman.

This is probably the least amount of weight I have ever lifted since I started lifting weights. I'm trying to keep it realistic (and lets be real I'm pretty week), but I was totally afraid to do the bench press. Knowing that my pectoral fascia had been removed during surgery my overactive imagination had me afraid that while benching I would totally tear the healed area and then my arm would fall off and spray blood Quinton Tarantino style all over the gym. Also, think I need to stop reading Game of Thrones as it seems to be affecting my imagination. I am happy to report that my arm and body are still intact after weight lifting twice so far.

Here's the energy level (and song that pops into my head) as I enter the gym:

After the gym my body feels like this Michigan player:

Either way it's progress. Now to work on the staying awake past 7:55 steps. 

Thursday, January 3, 2013

A Slight Scheduling Snafu

Today's meeting with the medical oncologist went off without a hitch. Blood work was great. Body weight according to the scale says it's unchanged. I keep telling my mother that people just didn't realize how ill fitting my pants were before all this happened. She staunchly disagrees. We talked about the 5 year plan, also known as Tamoxifen and couple of research trials I could enter to prevent recurrence. One involves a vaccine, and if I have the right type of immune antigens (HLA) I can enroll in that study for 3 years. If I cannot enroll in that study, then there is a 2nd one to test the long term efficacy of metformin, a diabetes drug, being used to see over 5 years if it protects against recurrence of breast cancer. Both interesting and both are double blind studies, so either way I could end up with placebo (sugar pill), but seeing as I will still be on the Tamoxifen, there is no harm in participating in either study.

I have 5 O'Clock shadow head (hair is growing!) and feel pretty darn good right now. Good news is that I should continue to feel this way.

Microwaving Delay

The New Year's holiday was creating a back up at the radiation oncologists and unfortunately my appointment had been scheduled as a follow up and not a new set up for radiation. Let's just say my radiation oncologist in her strong Russian accent made it clear that this was frustrating to her and that because of the back up they were not able to do the set up today. As cancer treatment goes, here is some more hurry up and wait. So my marking tattoo and time with the Physicist (Dr. Sheldon Cooper, perhaps?) is delayed until next Tuesday. The doctor did tell me that being tired is the exception not the rule and that because I am so small chested that I really shouldn't burn (too much). Yay barely A's!

The news of the delay was annoying to say the least as I am looking forward to being done. I threatened to eat my feelings in cupcakes after, but my mother convinced me perhaps actual lunch would be better. Given that I still can't tolerate chocolate, real food was a much better option. Now to work on not inhaling my food.

In light of today's events calls for some Physicist (fictional) bloopers