Monday, June 15, 2015

Radiation and Back To Normal Life

I have been feeling guilty about the fact that I haven't posted in a while. At the beginning of this adventure, I determined I would NOT be one of those people who only posts until she gets better, and then you never hear anything more of it... and, well, it turns out that once you get better, life picks back up to its usual pace, and you don't have time to post as often as you used to when you were lying in bed all the time. :-)

Since my last update, I have:

- Had a PET scan that came back clean (yay!!!)
- Had a party to celebrate
- Moved to another state (but this one is where my job is, so that's a bonus)
- Had three visits with various oncologists (in two states)
- Found a place to live that does not involve relatives
- Started working with a realtor
- Worked every day in the office (yay!)
- Had my port removed
- Started radiation (I am currently 1/5 done) and
- Survived at least two micro burst storms, assuming I last until the current one is over

So... now for some interesting stuff you might care to read.

Port removal wasn't too bad. Except that conscious sedation doesn't really work for me unless they give me a real whammy of a dose. But once it kicked in, the procedure was basically pain free (yay!). So aside from being totally out of it and sleeping all afternoon, it went pretty well. Ten days later, I can shower without having to use Press & Seal over my bandage, because there is no more bandage (double yay!) and it looks to be healing nicely. A few more days and I'll be able to carry in the items I have stashed in my car that I drove up from Provo last weekend.

My radiation oncologist is really nice, and I like her a lot. She explained the whole radiation setup and treatment process to me, and I felt pretty good about what I heard - at least, it was consistent with what the first radiation oncologist (the one in Arizona I ended up not using because he moved to Scottsdale before I was ready for radiation :-(  - hence the move to another state between chemo and radiation) told me back in January. The same day, I was introduced to the radiation technicians, who set me up. Setting me up involved getting a CT scan, 4 tattoos (fortunately, they're just little blue dots, and three of them are in places most people will never see) to provide consistent alignment during the procedures, and a few pictures taken for my chart (so they can match every day's alignment up with the pictures) that I never want to see.

(Tangential side note - I've never been tempted to get a tattoo, but now that I have four, I am definitely opposed to it. I don't like the idea of voluntarily subjecting myself to that kind of pain. Come to think of it, I'm pretty sure that is why I don't have pierced ears, either.)

The radiation procedure is pretty simple. Walk in, gown up, wait to be called back. Each day, I verify my name and a picture of my face in the computer to make sure they are giving me the correct protocol. Then I record a pain scale rating and my initials in my paper chart to verify I was there. Then we go back into the radiation room. I lie down, face up, hands above my head, and they put a pillow under my knees and a band around my feet (presumably to keep me still; they do this during PET and CT scans, too). They align my tattoos with the red laser beams that are there for that purpose, and verify all the measurements. Then the techs go out, and the treatment begins - about 10 seconds of radiation from the 10-o'clock position, then about the same from the 2-o'clock position, and then a few seconds from somewhere below me (I found out this morning that the table I lie on is made of a web of carbon fiber or something like that, so the radiation goes through it without a problem). Then I'm done. The whole process (including changing back into normal clothes) takes about 20 minutes, tops. I get to do fifteen sessions - three of which are done already - and then my treatments are complete!

The purpose of the radiation is to ensure that there aren't any sneaky cancerous cells still alive in the middle of the bulky tumor I had in my mediastinum. It's more like an insurance policy against recurrence than a treatment to kill active cells. It does increase 5-year survival rates from 80-ish to 85 or 90-ish percent, though, so it's worth it. Especially since there are few if any immediate side effects. (Long term, it might increase my risk of cancer where the radiation went... but I decided that was better than the alternative treatment that involved 5 days out of every 21 in the hospital for chemo but no radiation.)

I feel blessed that I was given an early morning radiation time, so I can go before work and it doesn't interrupt my day (just my sleep... since I have to get up earlier than usual to make it on time).

I feel blessed that I feel lots more well than I have in a very long time. Energy levels are almost back to normal! (Being settled in a place I love - instead of a temporary rental until I find a place to buy - will probably help with that too.)

I feel blessed to be in a good neighborhood, with friendly people in my ward, and small and tender mercies that remind me that even in stressful or challenging times, my Father in Heaven is watching over me and sending little reminders that he loves me. They happen nearly every day. It's pretty awesome.

And that's about all I have to say, for now.