Monday, January 30, 2012


I was looking at photos of myself the other day from before the diagnosis. Back when I had a full head of beautiful hair, more than three long eyelashes and full eyebrows. This cancer treatment really does wreak havoc on ones appearance! The sad truth is, while my head doesn't look that great, it looks a heck of a lot better than old righty. Ethel left quite the mark with her departure and radiation is turning my skin a brownish-grey. I've started referring to myself as "Frankenboob". If I was a less modest gal, I'd post pictures. As it stands now, you'll just have to take my word for it.

Thankfully, it looks worse than it feels, though it looks pretty bad. I showed my parents the edge of my radiation burn over skype - it was a totally PG view by the way - and my poor dad did not do such a good job of maintaining a poker face (don't feel bad dad, I thought it was funny!). The poor guy looked horrified! I could tell he was imagining an amount of pain equal to the way the burn looks. That isn't the case at all. Sure, it's uncomfortable but if it felt like it looks, I'd be in a bad way. Besides, I sort of enjoy shocking people with my burn. There are so few bright sides to cancer - let me have my moments! It probably comes from the same place that enjoys showing people really awesome/large bruises. I can't explain it, but if you are a member of the "bruise-bragging crew", I trust you understand what I'm talking about.

At least, as of today, I am more than half way through radiation. While the road ahead might be tougher than the path I left behind, I know that I am closer now to the end than the beginning. When I started radiation on January 4th, the end seemed such a long way off. Now the end is starting to roll onto the horizon. I'm not sure what state my Frankenboob will be in when it gets here, but at least I know the end is closer than it was when I started.

My hair is starting to come back in on my head and my eyelashes and eyebrows are starting to fill in. I don't know how long it will be before I feel comfortable strolling around without a hat or a wig but at least there is some fuzz growing on my head. Maybe one day soon I'll have longer hair than Paul! A girl can dream......

Monday, January 23, 2012

Lunar New Year

I'd write more often if I had more to say but for now I feel like I am mostly biding my time. I'm on a mini radiation vacation, thanks to the Lunar New Year so this is the fourth day in a row I've not had to go to the hospital to get zapped. The timing is good - I'm a little less than half way though and my skin could probably use the break. I'm definitely getting a nice, lop-sided tan. I'm still feeling sick pretty much every day but other than that, radiation is uneventful.

I meet with my radio-oncologist once a week and she checks in on my skin and other side effects. When she asked how I was last Wednesday I ran through my complaints (more on that later) but ended by saying that so far, it was way better than chemo. Her response was "Yah, of course." Although I figured this would be the case, based on internet research, no one has come right out and said radiation will be easier. I guess because guarantees like that are hard to come by in medicine. Either way, her response made me glad. And hopeful that I can ride out the next month with relative ease.

The "more on that later" side effect is the only scary one I've had so far. While riding the bike last week I had very strange vision. It was like it was pulsing and with each pulse I could see all the veins in my eye. Weird, I know. I've had this happen once before, while I was sitting in the hallway waiting to defend my thesis. Since that time I could attribute it to stress I wasn't too worried. This time, I wasn't stressed but I was working out. I was worried that the chemo had done something to my heart. I mentioned it at the hospital and after some consultation my physician decided it probably wasn't anything to be too worried about. I guess at times I forget how much my body has gone through in the past six months. It's very unlikely heart damage and more likely just a combination of fatigue and stress and everything else.

So there you have it - all of the updates from the past week or so. As you can see, there is not too much happening in my neck of the woods and hopefully that is the way that it stays.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Daily Grind

Radiation continues. I've done 7 of my 33 treatments and it continues to be way better than chemo. That is not to say it is without side effects but at least I still feel like a human being while doing this. Well, so far. What I dislike most is that I have to go the hospital every day to spend about 90 seconds in this machine. It just feels like such a drag to haul my ass all the way there and all the way home for 90 seconds no matter how many times I remind myself that it is an important 90 seconds.

On the upside, I've gotten very good at laying perfectly still. I feel like this is some sort of accomplishment when really it is the epitome of lazy. I think it is because the techs always congratulate me at the end. Who knows, maybe I'm less fidgety than your average patient. All I know is that radiation machine scares me stiff - literally!

I also had to get another tattoo. They tried to bring back the no showering rule and I hit the roof. Well, as much as a polite Canadian like myself can "hit the roof". Turns out, my radio-tech was under the impression that foreigners would prefer to not have tattoos and instead spend 6 weeks not showering. While that may be true for the other ladies she has dealt with, it is not true in my case. So, I have another tattoo bringing my total to 5 (4 are cancer related). This one is the most likely to be visible but only when I'm wearing clothing that displays an amount of cleavage bordering on inappropriate. Since this isn't really my MO it will likely not see too much of the light of day. I'll keep you posted if I suddenly decide that my girls need to get more air.

The other major downside of radiation is that I feel sick pretty much all the time, but it is a mild amount of nausea. My stomach is always slightly upset but so far it hasn't ranged outside of slight to moderate so I consider it very manageable. If it gets worse they can give me some of the drugs they gave me for chemo and I know those work pretty well. For now, it's my back-up plan. I prefer to take as few drugs as possible and since I'm coping right now I'm going to opt not to take the dugs.

The only amusing story I have from this week happened on Monday. One of my techs speaks quite good English. I have a variety of other techs who rotate in and some speak better English than others. One in particular seems to think that shouting at me will help me understand. Initially I thought he was always mad at me but I've since realized he's nervous. Anyway, on Monday he shouted "Did you have (inaudible word) yesterday?" at me. I started freaking out, thinking I was supposed to do something to prep for these treatments on the weekend. I had to ask him about 4 times before I figured out he was asking me if I had a nice weekend by saying "Did you have joy yesterday?" I'm sure he couldn't figure out why I was looking so worried when all he asked was if I had a nice weekend. Luckily in the end we figured it out. He had a nice weekend too, in case you're wondering.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Radically Radioactive

Well, actually, I'm not really radioactive. Apparently, by the time I leave the treatment room, all of the radiation has left me. Or so the internet says. I probably believe more of what the internet tells me than I should, but since it speaks better English than many of the people at the hospital, I turn to it regularly.

I have now had one radiation treatment and have 32 left to go. Everyday for the next 6 weeks I'll head to the hospital to be zapped. I also have three new tattoos. I know some women find them very emotional but so far, I couldn't care less about them. They are about the size of a pin head and I'm positive no one will ever notice them unless I point them out. Also, I'd have to be wearing a bikini which isn't something I do a lot.

What is radiation like, you wonder? Well, so far (and this may be premature) it is way better than chemo. I'll give you the rundown of my first treatment.

After getting changed into one of those hospital gown tops, you enter a dark-ish room. I'm sure the walls to this room are extra thick, but I only assume that is the case since the machine inside has one job and that is to be radioactive. Two techs come in and get you into a position they approve of on the bed. In my case that means my arm is in a brace above my head. Then they line up my tattoos according to some lasers lines that are projected from the machine to make sure that I am getting zapped in all the right places. Once that is done, they depart and leave me alone with my thoughts.

Yesterday, those thoughts weren't all that pleasant. In fact, my heart started racing. While I prefer radiation, the upside of chemo was that at least people are in the room with you and can hold your hand. With radiation, you go it alone. So I did what I always do - I took very deep breaths and I started counting. The lady tech said 5 minutes in the machine so I figured I would just count to 300 if I had to. I didn't have to. Eventually I calmed down with an inner monologue that went like this:

"Laura, calm down. They are zapping you right now and you can't even feel it. Wait, is that heat I feel? No, no, it isn't. Or is it? Take a deep another. What is that sound? Is the machine on now? Was it on before? How long has this been? Probably 60 seconds. Maybe more. Okay, now is that heat? No, no that isn't heat, that is just in my head. Breathe. Oh, the machine is moving. Okay, so maybe I'm half way? I'm probably half way. I really should have kept counting. Why can't I focus on anything..... Well, this isn't that bad. And this bed is kind of comfortable. I wonder if I could fall asleep here. The whirring sound is kind of soothing. Okay, the zapping sound is back. So maybe that is the radiation part? Oh who cares."

As you can tell, I am a bit of a panic button. Luckily, I have always been able to talk myself through these fits of panic. After about 3 minutes the techs came back in. They tried to tell me not to shower, again, but I put my foot down. This nonsense had got to stop. Koreans of the world, LET ME SHOWER! Do you know after birth here, Korean women are not allowed to shower for three weeks. THREE WEEKS!!!!!! AFTER GIVING BIRTH (you know what happens during birth right!?!?!). I was not having it! So she got the permanent ink to draw on me instead. They must wonder about this crazy foreign woman who asks all these questions and makes all these demands but in the end I got my way (and a shower last night).

After the drawing, it was done. I got dressed, came home and put on some special cream that is supposed to help my skin tolerate the treatments. Many people get what they call a "mild to moderate sunburn" with radiation. I'm hopeful that this will only be a minor problem for me. I don't really get sunburns. I think I've had about 3 in my entire life.

I feel a bit nauseous today which according to radio-oncologists is not a possible side effect of radiation (or at least not in my case, for breast cancer it is not considered a realistic side effect because the stomach is outside the field). However, the message boards for some of the sites I go to are filled with many women who have experienced nausea during radiation for breast cancer. Whether it's in my head or is a real side effect I can't say. However, it isn't that bad and it certainly can't hold a candle to the way I felt after chemo.

So there you have it 1 down, 32 to go.