June 21st, 2010
Imagine the worst sunburn you’ve ever had.
Now imagine that your doctor tells you to go lie out at high noon for a good hour or two. With baby oil on your skin.
This isn’t me. I’m not wearing a bikini & I don’t have that much hair. It’s just to evoke the feeling of burnt skin. Mine is actually much redder.
That’s what this feels like. I’m in my last two weeks of my 6 1/2 week daily radiation regimen. I’ve dutifully gone to all my treatments five days a week, caring for my tender skin with special lotions, eating the high protein diet, trying to stay hydrated. Up until now, the weekends have been a respite, giving my skin a chance to heal and not look totally scary. Then I face another Monday, bracing myself for another five days on the beam machine.
I carefully treated my skin on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. By the end of the weekend, I felt dread at how lobster-toned it remained. This morning, the pain and burning woke me up at 4:30 am.
When I arrived for my treatment a few hours later, I told the tech that it just didn’t seem right to keep going. It just didn’t make sense.
“The doctor’s here today. Let’s have her take a look at your skin and see what she says.”
Adding to my anxiety, today was Bolus Day. My radiation regimen requires every-other-day bolus usage, and the bolus actually makes my skin hurt more.
I changed into my awkward robe (which I no longer bother tying) and went into the beam room. I huddled up on a chair, waiting for my doctor to come in. She looked at my skin and told me that I could take a break if I was concerned, but that she actually wanted to see it get redder.
I was horrified. She offered me a prescription cream to help with the pain, but I could see that she was not particularly thrown by the worst burn I have ever experienced.
After she left to get my script, I talked to the techs, whom I like and trust.
“It might be worth taking a break if you could take the whole week off,” one said. “Really relax, don’t work, do nothing. It might help.”
“I have three kids,” I said. “That’s impossible.”
“Well, you don’t have blisters. Your skin isn’t broken,” said the other tech. “Honestly, the radiation is in you, so if you stopped now, your skin isn’t going to heal that much in a week. It’s only going to delay your treatment.”
I thought of how close I was to crossing the finish line in the last event in my Triathlon from Hell. I thought of what happens to marathoners when they hit mile 20, how there is nothing left to metabolize but muscle. I thought of how eager I was to get my life back. I need to keep going.
At the same time, I felt less compliant than ever. Screw it, I thought. I considered walking out of the radiation treatment altogether. This situation reminded me too much of what happened when my self-preservation instincts kicked in during chemo.
By chemo #4 (of 6), I had reached the point of asking my doctor, “You don’t seriously expect me to keep putting this crap in my body?” As it turned out, I almost stopped breathing during chemo #5, leading her to reduce the dose. I know my own body’s limits. Maybe my body only needs 2/3 of the treatment that other people my size need. Maybe I was going to face some other bodily awfulness by denying these instincts now.
I told the techs what I was thinking. They patiently listened to me air my concerns. Then I remembered the important statistic. Completing radiation lowers my chances of recurrence in my chest wall by 30%. I have to be able to look at my children and let them know that I did everything I can to keep this cancer monster at bay. And those are pretty good numbers in CancerLand.
I sighed, hitched up my robe, and climbed on the table. I was ready for another dose.
This entry was posted on Monday, June 21st, 2010 at 4:52 pm and is filed under Treatment. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.