I haven’t blogged for a week because I have been in Hell. Hell. Capital H.
There are various degrees of Hell, of course. I’m not comparing my situation to trying to survive a massive hurricane in the Bahamas. I’m talking about my own little personal version of Hell. And I haven’t blogged about it because I am whiny and angry and miserable.
I thought I’d avoid letting those feeling spill out on the blog, but…here I am, my radiated chest and I, baring it all. Not for sympathy–please, no–but just to share, I guess. And if someday you know someone going through this you will understand her anger and why she can’t leave the house.
It has been two weeks since my chest (collar bone to armpit) was radiated. The following five days of radiation were spent zapping a different place: my incision, which is about 12″ long. Last Wednesday was my final day of that “boost” radiation and coincidentally I saw my oncologist that morning. We were to discuss the endocrine therapy and my future.
I didn’t think she’d be so happy to see me (July’s meeting had been long and tense), but she gave me a hug and cheered the Oncotype test and its miraculous number three (“that is your lucky number from now on”) and was warm and friendly. And then she saw my burned chest and gasped. She grabbed her phone and took a picture to text to my radiologist.
“She needs to know about this,” Dr C. said. “She might not want you to have radiation today.”
As if anything was going to stop me from having my final zap? No way! I had a giant box of chocolates for the radiation technicians in my tote bag. I would not be driving up back up to the Cancer Center any time soon. It was OVER.
I explained that the radiation was not hitting my chest, that it hadn’t hit my chest for a week, that yes, the burning was getting worse and Dr. L, the radiologist, had seen me a week ago.
“She needs to see this today,” was the reply.
She asked me how I was feeling and I explained that at first I’d been tired but as the radiation went on I’d had more energy and was even continuing physical therapy. This earned me another horrified look.
“You’re stretching? Stretching?” She peered at my very red and swollen armpit. “You shouldn’t be stretching.”
I left the examining room with a prescription for Arimidex, which I will take for at least five years, and instructions to hold off on physical therapy until my burn healed.
I went downstairs for my last treatment. The technician looked at my chest and said, “Yeah, you’ve got it bad. It’s gonna take a month, no way around it.”
(A month. A month?)
Dr. L (radiologist) caught up with me in the hall. She looked at my chest and said, “It’s extreme but normal. Keep using the cortisone cream and the Silvadene. The worst is the two weeks after the radiation stops and then it plateaus for a while before it heals.”
She was very cheerful. I wanted to strangle her. If I’d known what was ahead, I might have.
This is the same woman who sweetly cautioned, at the beginning of radiation, “You may experience some redness during treatment.”
Some redness? My skin looks like it was blow-torched. Fortunately for her, the real pain began the next day, when the blisters opened and my chest became a red, weeping wasteland.
And it still is. According to one article I read, these aren’t technically burns, though they look and feel like burns. Radiation temporarily destroys the body’s ability to make new skin, hence the open wounds. Until new skin is produced, you’re screwed.
I had to go out on Friday for a bone density scan. That was no big deal, except that I had to get dressed. I was there and back within an hour. Wearing a blouse was excruciating and I dug out the Percocet when I got home. On Sunday Banjo Man drove me twenty minutes south to Westerly to CVS. I had remembered Retired Mountain Lady’s cure for burns: burn pads, sometimes called “Hydrogel” pads, and I hoped I could find them and they’d be the answer for the blistering open skin in a particularly bad area below my collarbone.
I was also determined to go to Michael’s and buy a mini-muffin pan (after a search here at home I realized I had taken my old pan to the lake). I wanted to bake pumpkin muffins, a back-to-school treat, for Angela and Jeff’s children. I wanted to do something normal. (You’ve never heard of self-medicating by baking???? It’s a thing. Especially with cream cheese frosting and orange sprinkles.)
Banjo Man said he knew I was in pain because I didn’t want to go out to lunch. No, I said. I just want to go home and get naked–and not in a good way. I want to take a pain pill and make muffins and cry and stick burn pads on my blisters.
Okay, he said. I’ll be in the shed.
Thank God for his shed. And his tomato plants. He can escape his miserable, shivering-in-pain, mad-at-the-world wife for long hours. It’s good for him.
So as I wait for this to heal itself, I alternate between organic aloe vera gel, Silvadene, Aquaphor and Calendula salve on my skin. I try something different every hour, depending on the pain, itching, etc. The little burn pads cover up the worst of the blisters and, because I am going to physical therapy today (my armpit has healed so I think it’s okay to stretch it) I am going to use a large aloe-soaked pad my daughter-in-law sent me to protect the wounds from my shirt. Ibuprofen helps a lot, and I use the occasional pain pill for when it’s really, really bad and I need to sleep…or bake muffins.
Today marks two weeks, the two weeks that I was told would be the worst of it. I’m waiting for some kind of miraculous end to this before I self-destruct and end up in a strait jacket, highly medicated and staring up at a hospital ceiling.
I’d like to say that I have vowed to stop complaining and whining, but I’m not there yet. I drink a lot of water and I get plenty of rest watching dvr’d episodes of BELOW DECK. I have no appetite, so Banjo Man slices melons and strawberries to tempt me to eat. I nibble. I sew. I play Wordscapes on my phone. I chat with Banjo Man at least forty-seven times a day. The topics range from tomatoes to chipmunks to Chinese tariffs to Nebraska football to chicken salad recipes to the Funny Grandson’s flag football adventure to…well, you get the picture. A visit with Banjo Man is always entertaining and, thank God, distracting.
So there you have it. The stupid Cancer Saga continues. I should be more cheerful next week. Fingers crossed.