I looked at myself in the mirror while getting ready for work and thought, “Augh! How can I manage ten more treatments when my skin already looks like this?” My skin now shows signs of 20 radiation treatments. There is a large rectangle area that looks like raw beef; red, poufy and very, very tender. It starts in the middle of my chest and wraps around my side towards my back. My left armpit is included in this red rectangle and physically I hurt. It is painful.
Each Thursday my doctor physically examines my radiated skin. She was gone last week and I saw her associate instead. I was eagerly awaiting this visit with my regular doctor since I was having more discomfort than the previous weeks. When she saw my skin her first words were, “Do you need me to prescribe some pain pills?” I declined and expressed I cannot drive or work well on pain medication so I would continue with my usual doses of Aleve instead. However, I did ask about the special ointment that contains Lidocaine. Lidocaine is a numbing cream that I apply to my port before each chemo treatment. She gave me two different tubes of ointment to try. The creams do not totally numb the affected radiated area but they take the painful edge off. I apply the cream three to four times a day. Her parting words to me were, “Nicki, please call if you need the pain meds and I will prescribe them for you.” I promised I would.
On my first visit she informed me I would feel like I have a very bad sunburn and would want to hold my arm out vertically the last two weeks of treatment. She also stated that I would not want to wear any clothes on my upper body. I laughed and said, “That is not an option in my current line of work.” However, both statements are ringing true. Although I had a few bad sunburns in my younger days none compare to this. Imagine your worst sunburn then magnify it several times over. That is how my skin feels. I watch for blistering and oozing. I cannot wait to come home from work each night and slip out of the garments that touch my raw, sensitive skin.
My sister accidently left a bed jacket at my home. Secretly, I made fun of it. It looks like something an old lady would wear. It is made of pale blue fleece. It is loose fitting, worn and very soft like a child’s well loved stuffed teddy bear. The first thing I do when I come home from work is to change into this “old lady garment” that feels so kind against my hurting skin. The very item I poked fun of is now my BFF (best friend forever). It is comforting and soothing against my skin and I no longer make fun of it.
I opened my devotional this morning before work and the first words I read were, “Come to Me (God talking) when you are hurting and I will sooth your pain.” After the “Augh…” statement I uttered in my bathroom earlier, I knew that I needed to change my attitude from “I still have ten more treatments” to “I have finished twenty treatments already.” Like chemo, this too shall pass and my skin will heal.
I finished the third week of radiation. My skin is “pinking up”. It is beginning to look like I have a sunburn. The skin is very tender and the pressure of the seat belt is uncomfortable against me. The area where the lymph nodes were removed is the most sensitive to touch. I have been able to use my lunch hour for treatments thus avoiding too many sick days from work. I nap most days after work and go to bed early. I am grateful I only have treatment five days of the week. My body gets a rest from the radiation and driving on the weekend.
Since starting radiation I have thought a lot about a co-worker who lost her battle with breast cancer three years ago. Shirley didn’t talk much about her radiation treatments except to mention how hard the table was. Like me, Shirley had lost her spouse and lived alone. We both would come to work early and had time to chat. I would walk by her room each day and say, “Good morning, Shirl.” She would respond in kind. However, some days the happy lilt in her voice would be gone. I would back up a few steps, enter her room and ask if she was ok. One look at her tear filled eyes would answer my question. My friend had pain. Often she would ask me to rub ointment on the tender radiated areas of her body that she could not reach. Other times, she just wanted me to pray with her. I would close her office door, stand behind her chair and place my hands on her shoulders then pray for God’s comfort, strength and peace to fall upon her. With tears glistening in our eyes we would hug each other. We both knew her time on earth was limited. In the end the only thing besides pray that I could do for my dear friend was rub her feet with lotion and cool her feverish body with cloths dipped in ice water. I think of Shirley on the anniversary of her death each August and in September on her birthday. I miss her robust laughter and I am grateful she enriched my life.
I do not think that I will completely lose my fingernails as I originally thought. Although two thirds have lifted and are loose about one third of each nail has not lifted and there is pink healthy looking tissue underneath. My nails have five ridges on them and I suspect when they grow a little more a sixth ridge may appear. The ridges on my nails feel like an old washboard. I wonder if they represent each chemo treatment that I had. I still might lose my big toenails since there is no pink tissue yet but I am singing thanks for my fingernails.
My appetite is back and my hair is also making a re-appearance. At first only gray hair came in but now dark brown hair is emerging also. It is very soft and fine in texture like baby hair. I will be sporting a “salt and pepper” look. That is one more thing I have to be grateful for; hair of any color. In a few months I might be saying goodbye to my black Fedora hat that has adorned my baldhead. Woo Hoo!
I spent the last two weekends with good friends and family. My immediate family celebrated October birthdays at P.F. Chang’s restaurant. We returned to Todd’s house for apple crisp and ice cream. Lolly’s brother and his wife also joined us for dessert. Also, last weekend two special friends from Baker City came to visit and this week one of my dear Parma friends came. Of all the things I like to do, spending time with family and friends rank at the top of my list. These have been great times. I am blessed.
I completed my first full week of radiation. My husband did not have radiation and I am not quite sure what to expect. I arrive at MISTI a few minutes before my scheduled time and check myself in at the front desk. The lady across the desk smiles and assures me someone will be right out to get me. True enough, another lady walks me down a couple of hallways and takes me to a different room. We enter a dressing room with lockers and she instructs me to disrobe from the waist up. She gives me a dressing gown with 3 armholes. It is a wrap-a-round type of gown without the ties in the back. Interesting garment! I do as instructed and return to the waiting room. Jerry, the radiology technician quickly comes to get me. He walks me further down the hallway and we enter a wide door that is about a foot thick. We proceed through a short corridor and turn right to enter a large room where my treatment will take place. On one wall I see a computer screen with my picture on it. Each visit I must verify the lady I see on the monitor is myself and give them my date of birth. Once that is done I am ushered to a table in the center of the room. A white sheet covers a long 4” thick piece of HARD blue Styrofoam on the examining table. A footstool is placed beside the table. I step up onto it and then lower myself on the sheet covered Styrofoam. The technicians gently ease my arms out of the gown and expose my carved up chest area. Jerry tells me to lie still and not move as they tug and pull on the sheet underneath me to get my body in position. My head/neck are cradled in another hard form. A soft foam wedge is placed under my knees to help take pressure off my back. I raise my arms above my head and grasp two handles as they adjust side panels for my elbows to rest against. Looking up at the ceiling I see a large circle filled with lots of tiny lights that change in color. They turn red, violet, then blue, green, yellow and go clear before repeating the colors over again. I close my eyes and keep them shut throughout the rest of the process. I hear the technician call out numbers; 101.3, 93 etc. I assume they are lining up my tattoo marks with the machine. The table moves, rotates under me and finally stops. I hear them say, “Ok, Nicki we are about to begin”. A scripture from the Bible comes to my mind: “The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom (I insert the word,” what” instead of whom) shall I fear.” I repeat this several times in my head as I hear the machine whirring above me. I take my mind off of myself and use this time to pray for my friends; Pam and Jack, Tom and Dolores, Sarah Thomas, and Jeannie Harold. In just a few short minutes the treatment is over. I am assisted off the table then return to the dressing room to dress. I drive back to work. This routine will be repeated every day except Saturday and Sunday for the next five weeks. I am grateful week one of radiation is behind me with only five more weeks to go.