Radiotherapy

It’s a week now since I began radiotherapy and I’m delighted to tell you that it’s not nearly as arduous as some of the other treatment I’ve had.  In fact as I wrote to a friend yesterday, compared to chemo, it’s an absolute doddle.  The worst thing, for me, is the sight of the machine.  With the board and arm rests, it does, (at least to my overactive imagination), look a bit like a modern day torture chamber.

radiotherapy machine

This is not exactly like machine G, (the one I go to), but it’s similar.  The table with the arm rests is adjustable and goes back and forth as well as up and down and the round bit of the machine rotates all around.

The first appointment takes much longer than the rest because the good folk of the department make sure they get all the measurements correct and they spend time lining you up and adjusting you and the machine every which way, until they are sure they’ve got it right.

Each time I go, they mark me up with felt pens, around the tattoo points and measure me with set squares and go through the measurements with one another before the “zapping” begins.  None of this hurts.  The people in the department are lovely and are very helpful.

You get lots of helpful advice.  After surgery, you are exhorted to do your physio exercises so that you don’t have anything horrible like a frozen shoulder; and also because you need to be able to put your arms comfortably above your head and keep them there, (hence the arm rests), whilst you have radiotherapy. That’s all very well.  My left arm, (treatment side) is absolutely fine, but I have tendonitis on my right side, so when the radiographer told me, “you can put your arms down now,”  I thought, well, you say that….. and had to use my left arm to take my right out of the rests and bring it back down to my side!  What a wreck!  You are also told to use bath and deodorant products that do not contain metals, and to moisturise your skin to keep in as good a condition as possible.  This is because of the potential side effects.  Radiotherapy can cause skin redness, (like sunburn), so it’s best to look after your skin as well as you can in order to minimise the risk.

Radiotherapy is usually given 5 days out of seven, so usually is Monday to Friday.  This week is different for me as the machine is being serviced so I had yesterday and today off and will be going in tomorrow for the next zapping.

The end is in sight.  My final radiotherapy appointment is on the 22nd, so nearly there.

Hope things are good wherever you are,

S x

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What a To Do or tattoo even…….

Today was my first day with the Radiotherapy team.  This first appointment is where they scan you, draw all over you in pen, attach wires and finally tattoo you with small dots.  The first part of this is done so the good people of medical physics can work out how to treat you effectively, using the scan of your own anatomy to measure which places to zap.  The tattooed dots are there to make sure you get lined up properly for the zapping.

Shortly before 9am this morning, having successfully found a parking space, (hooray)! I made my way down to level 2 of the Haematology and Oncology Centre and checked in at reception.  I was given a 4 page form to fill in because, despite the fact I’ve been coming here regularly for the past half year, I am a new patient here in Radiotherapy.

I was called in by a radiologist who told me what was about to happen and check  that I was who I said I was and which area I was expecting to be treated.  I returned to the waiting room, where I finished filling in the form and a couple of minutes later was called in for the scan, scribbling and tattooing.

The letter I had, calling me for the appointment warned me that I might be in the department for 2hrs, but I was in and out in under 40mins – result!

So, after all those years of explaining to my kids why I would never get a tattoo, (2 of my 3 children have tattoos), I have now joined the serried ranks of ‘the inked.’  Mind you, I didn’t have a pay a fortune for mine and no  one else, (save medics and technicians), will ever see them.

It takes a week or two for the physics folk to work out a treatment regime, so my first zapping doesn’t start until 1st October.  Then it’s every week day until 22nd October.

I have returned home today with the blue overshirt they gave me as I am tasked to look after it and bring it with me to every appointment.  It has popper fastenings in the front and on the shoulders so the techs can open it up in the relevant places.

It looks like this:

Hospital Gown

It’s not the most glamorous garment in my wardrobe but, despite the fact that it’s large enough for me, it’s sized as medium!!  Yes, really….

H Gown tag

see?

So, it seems I’ve got a couple of weeks respite before it all begins again – just in time for my lovely daughter’s wedding next week.

See you soon,

blessings

S x

Live and Learn

Hello Everyone,

I am pleased to be able to tell you that I am doing o.k and am enjoying the short respite that recovery from surgery has brought.  I will soon be having Radiotherapy, (with any luck), and I have an appointment at the Oncology Centre on 7th September.

My hair has begun to grow back, but as it’s white and baby-fine, it’s not very noticeable.  It looks a bit like this:

Baby RangTang

My cancer journey has also brought many new words to my vocabulary, nearly all of them medical, and some of them already mentioned in previous posts.  The newest of these is seroma and the reason I have been acquainted with it is because I developed one.

If you’re a regular reader, you’ll remember I was so very happy that when I awoke from my recent operation I didn’t have a drain put in; ha! Well, even if you have a drain, you can still develop a seroma and I did, big time!

Now, the next paragraph is definitely not for the squeamish, so if you don’t like disgusting things, look away now and pick up from the following paragraph.

WARNING! WARNING!            PARENTAL ADVISORY                      WARNING! WARNING!

About 10 days after my surgery I realised that I had developed a seroma and so I did as I had been earlier advised and telephoned my Breast Care Nurse.  Eventually I was given an appointment with a Nurse Practitioner and duly went along to the hospital to have it drained.  If you’ve had this type of surgery you will know that the scar, and the surrounding area remains numb for a time – this is because the underlying nerves have been severed and take time to re-establish.  The Nurse first used the ultrasound to make sure the swelling was caused by fluid and that it was a seroma, and not anything else – sure enough, there was a lot of fluid there and I mean a LOT.  The Nurse inserted a needle into the site of the wound, (didn’t feel a thing) and began to draw off the fluid.  It took a while.  Eventually, she finished and told me that she’d drawn off 550mls of fluid – very nearly a pint, (and for all you Tony Hancock fans of a certain age), very nearly an armful.  It didn’t hurt, but it was a bit uncomfortable and it was quite, quite disgusting.  8 days later I had to go back and have it drained again, but this time she only got 90mls which I am hoping means that things are settling down now and I won’t need to go back again.

YOU CAN LOOK AGAIN NOW

So now I continue to do my prescribed exercises, (3 times a day), in order that I will have sufficient movement in my arm when it comes to planning the radiotherapy.  I also need endocrine therapy, but apparently I need a blood test before the medics decide which type.

Hope you’re all doing well,

See you later,

Sxx

 

Making Progress

Hello Good People!

So, final chemo session was on 7th July and there followed the usual 3 weeks of recovery and apart from the lingering peripheral neuropathy in my feet and finger tips, all is well.

The next thing in my diary was the surgery to remove the tumour and lymph nodes.  I had a session with the Breast Care Nurse who went through all the details of the surgery.  She told me I would have two incisions, one where the tumour is and one in the armpit for the lymph nodes.  This last would mean coming home, (surgery is day surgery, I wouldn’t be staying in hospital), with a drain in place – yuck!  The date of my operation was set for the 5th August.  You will notice that that  date has come and gone and, yes, all went well.  I arrived at the hospital at around 10.45am and went up to Theatre reception in plenty of time for my 11am check in.  To cut a long story short, by the time I’d had obs done, answered a whole lot of questions about my health and allergies etc; changed into the hospital gown and compression stockings, (getting those on was a bit of a challenge); met the anaesthetist and surgeon, who scribbled on me with a black pen, I eventually went down to theatre at about 1.15pm.

I walked into the operating theatre and made myself comfortable on the trolley whilst the anaesthetist set about his work and quickly put me to sleep.  The next thing I knew I woke up in a recovery room at about 3.45 and it was all done.  As it turns out, my lovely surgeon managed to do the whole thing, tumour and lymph nodes through one incision which meant  no drain – hurrah!  It took quite some while for me to recover from the anaesthetic as it made me feel quite woozy, but eventually  I was able to leave at about 7.30pm.  Since then I’ve been recovering well and I am not in pain, so I shall be starting my physio exercises today.  Apparently I have to be able to raise my arm to shoulder height in plenty of time for radiotherapy next month.

That’s the latest about my situation.  I have a check up next week when I find out if the margins were clear – if not I will need further surgery; this happens in about 1 in 10 lumpectomies.  I am hoping the chemo has done it’s work and that I’ve had all the surgery I need, but if I have to have more then I have to have more.

See you later,

S

More of the Same…..

Hello Folks!

There’s been a long delay since my last entry because I have been feeling so rough.  Seriously, all I’ve done these past weeks is lie on the sofa, listening to Radio 4, (something of a mixed blessing considering the distressing amount of bad news there’s been over the past few weeks).  The Docetaxel chemo is horrible – I won’t bore you with all the side effects – some of them are quite disgusting anyway – BUT, hooray, oh hooray!  It’s my last chemo on Tuesday!!!!

So, I have put up with a few more weeks as a Sofa Bear, but then we move on.

I saw the surgeon yesterday for the results of my MRI, or so I thought.  Unfortunately, he wasn’t very clear about the findings, saying he needed to talk to the Radiologist about it.  I had hoped he would have done this before seeing me, after all, he’s had the results for a few weeks now, but no.  He did tell me that the chemo has had an affect, ie the tumour has shrunk, (well, duh, I can feel that for myself), but that’s about all he did say about the MRI.  You may tell that I am not very impressed, and I’m not.  I was pretty fed up yesterday since I wasn’t called in for my appointment until about hour after the scheduled time and I wasn’t feeling too well.

The surgeon went on to say that the plan was still for, ‘breast conserving surgery,’ ie a lumpectomy rather than mastectomy, and removal of the lymph nodes.  He then had to tell me that sometimes with this type of surgery, people have to go back for another operation if the pathologist finds that the margins are not clear.  This means the area around the tumour.  If the surgeon doesn’t take enough, some cancer cells remain and can regrow.

As it turns out, this particular surgeon won’t be doing my op as he’s on holiday in August, so it’ll be done by one of his colleagues.  The date is likely to be somewhere between the 7th and 20th August.

He also told me that after the surgery I’ll need radiotherapy which happens about 4 weeks after the op and is every day for 3-5 weeks.  On top of all that, I will also need to take a pill every day to block the hormones that my type of cancer thrives on.  These are oestrogen and progesterone, the female hormones.  How unfair is that? My being female feeds this rotten cancer.

All in all this is a long, hard slog.  I guess they don’t tell you everything at the beginning because it’s daunting enough to be told you’ve got cancer, but here I was thinking I was nearing an ending, turns out, we’re not even close.

Never mind.  It has to be got on with, so I am just going to get on with it.

Despite feeling rough and being unimpressed with some of the medics, I am still feeling positive,  determined and fairly upbeat.  I am also still very thankful to all of you for your messages of support and love, you have no idea how much it helps.

Sending you all lots of love,

Sx

A Break in the Clouds….

Well, I made it to the MRI.  It was a bit like a scene from a Sci-Fi movie when I arrived at Southmead Hospital around 7.15am.  Most of the space seemed spookily empty, quite unlike the usual bustling, busy place it is.  There was no one on reception up at ‘Interventional Radiotherapy,’ but I didn’t have to wait long before I was collected and given the list of questions, necessary to determine whether or not I could go into the machine.  The list includes such q’s as: have you had an operation on your spine/head/ears? Have you got any bullets or shrapnel in your body?

Form completed, I went to have the cannula fitted, (they don’t use PICC lines apparently), so that the contrast could be administered half way through, and then into the machine, face down, feet first, staying absolutely still for the next 45 mins, despite the noise and stress.  I was so glad when it was all over.

I spent the rest of the day with my lovely daughter.  Despite the fact that I still can’t manage to walk any distance and am still feeling weak and wobbly, we went out for lunch and pretended we were on holiday.  We went to a pub on the banks of the River Avon and sat outside in the lovely sunshine.  It was a real treat, and made a nice change from the usual fare of home and hospital.

A Week in Bed……

How does a week in bed sound to you?  At various stages in my life it has sounded like a holiday – a chance to catch up on some much needed rest in the course of a busy life.  Ha!  This past week has been anything but, I have been out of action and feeling really rather unwell.

Two days after the Docetaxel chemo, (cycle 4), the pain began to ‘kick-in.’  It was awful, so bad I couldn’t walk and had to take to my bed.   The pain lasted 5 days and was accompanied by extreme fatigue, weakness and dizzyness as well as returning mucositis, all very unpleasant to say the least.  All in all, it’s been a tough time.

Last Friday I had to contact the Oncology Centre as I hadn’t had my PICC Line attended to.  PICC Lines are meant to be cleaned and dressed each week, in order to limit the risk of infection.  Long story short, I found myself taking a taxi down to the Oncology Centre Friday lunch time.  I was still feeling pretty rough and to cut a long story short was advised by the nurse to go up to ‘Acute Oncology’ in the ward upstairs from the Day Clinic.  So, I made my way to the ward and spent the next few hours lying peacefully on a bed whilst various obs, tests and an examination took place.

Speaking of obs, (observations), my blood pressure was 99/77 which is the lowest I’ve known it.  My blood pressure is usually quite high, so maybe that’s why I could barely even sit up!

Turns out I have some sort of infection – not quite sure which, could be gastric could be urinary.  In any case, after ordering me a small mountain of medication, the Doctor was happy enough to send me home.  So, here I am, gradually getting better.  It’s been very hard work.

I am desperately hoping to feel much better by tomorrow because I am due to have another MRI at 9am.  I am really not looking forward to it.  50 mins in an uncomfortable and noisy machine is not my idea of fun.  Still, nothing for it but to plod on and get on with it.

Hope you’ve all had a much better week than I have!

Sx