Radiation Pt 3: Is Something Burning?

After almost two weeks, Gaye’s incision site closed up and she was able to start radiation therapy. To say she was relieved would be an understatement. Aside from immediate peace of mind hitched to the radiation therapy, there was also the idea of starting her maintenance meds at the other end. The sooner she wrapped up RT, the sooner she could start the Letrozole.

Gaye’s first day of treatment was nearly a non-event. As promised, there was no bother with the front desk. She proceeded to the back, changed into an examination gown and waited for the nurse to call her into the treatment room.

With the positioning molds in place, Gaye breezed through. All together, she was in and out in well under an hour. Days two-through-four went just as swimmingly. She even considered cutting me loose from driving duty. 

Kindness comes in all forms but the sweetest is in the form of gratitude

Another breast cancer survivor who had received treatment at the radiation center felt immense gratitude. She wanted to extend the grace she received to other women. A business owner, she had no clinical experience or time to volunteer. Still she wanted to make other breast-cancer patients’ day a bit brighter and maybe give them a smile. It just so happened that her business was all about smiles. So, every Thursday the woman brought in flowers from her floral shop for all the radiation treatment patients. Thursday roses, carnations, and happy sunflowers waiting at the end of therapy made the week that much brighter.

Friday was no joke

Day five landed on Gaye with both feet. Most people were getting zapped one or two times (angles). Gaye was zapped nine times. The much-anticipated fatigue hit her with five days worth of exhaustion. She managed a bath and part of a meal (in bed) but Gaye was out by 5PM. She did not wake until 9AM the next morning. She would sleep 12 and 14 hours a day the entire weekend.

Best laid plans and flexibility

So, yeah, don’t drop your driver but also, be prepared for last minute changes in plans. Week two started out just as week-one and Gaye felt confident in knowing to expect an exhaustion beat-down on Friday. As we pulled into the driveway on Tuesday, however, Gaye’s phone dinged. 

The machine was down but repairmen were on site. There was no estimated completion time. Without missing a beat, Gaye rescheduled and we went on with our afternoon. When I asked her about it, Gaye said she knew the center would be backed up and it was better to add an extra day onto her plan than wade into an already stressed environment.

Friends bearing gifts

Wednesday was a stressful day for everyone in the wake of the machine breakdown. Gaye left with a plan. When we returned on Thursday, (the day of her weekly consultation with the doctor) she took in cookies from Crumbl. Not only did it make the office staff’s day but even the doctor, (some guy filling in for Dr. H) expressed his gratitude and took extra time with Gaye and her initial questions.

Follows instructions and plays well with others

Satisfied with the condition of Gaye’s skin, he commended her on the minimal external signs of radiation burns. Likewise the nurse asked Gaye which product she had decided on for her skincare. Gaye said she had opted for the Aquaphor based on things she had read on the blogs.

The nurse nodded. Cindy said most of the women opted away from the Aquaphor because it is a heavy ointment (as opposed to a light cream or lotion) and they thought it felt greasy. Gaye attributed the preference to cultural differences. 

More white women are afflicted with breast cancer than women of color. Most white women avoid greasy skin-care. African-American women are typically raised to seek the most moisturizing skin-care product they can find. Greasy is not a dirty word.

By the end of week three, Gaye’s skin had turned deep burgundy from the radiation treatments but had not blackened as she had been warned. She also said aside from discomfort, akin to sun-burn, fatigue was the biggest challenge. And a challenge it was. 

There will be weight gain

Also by the end of week three, the days of fatigue ganged up. Gaye struggled to get from the passenger seat to the bath to the bed. At least three nights a week, she ate dinner in bed. Just as often, she would be knocked out by the time I got the dishes washed. Gaye had two go-to meals during this period, chicken soup with garlic toast and buffalo cauliflower. 

While the soup is not high in calories, the garlic toast is bread loaded with butter and parmesan cheese. Likewise, the cauliflower (cooked in the airfryer) is not outrageous but the buffalo sauce is butter-based and the ranch dressing is not free, either. In short, this is not the time for diets and calorie-counting. Expect weight gain.

Activity, activity, activity

Gaye and I continued to walk in the mornings as often as her energy/fatigue allowed. Those two-mile walks gave her the stamina to just be “tired” at the end of the day. It doesn’t sound like much but there are stories of women requiring IV fluids for dehydration and exhaustion. Activity remains a key component to recovery.

Patience for the patient

I paint a rosy picture but trust, there were rough days. There were days when Gaye was withdrawn. There were days when she was short-tempered and then cried in complete exhaustion. 

Please remember that the person you love is in pain. She is dealing with trauma and a new, quite shaky, reality. If she gets “bossy” remember how much she does NOT control right now. Get selective in your hearing. If she snaps, roll with it and keep pushing toward the goal of healing, together.

Real talk, real funk

As stated previously, Gaye was instructed to wear no deodorant or powder on treatment days. For those keeping score, that means five days a week without deodorant, in Houston, (average summer temp is 91f with 80% humidity). As if that wasn’t enough, Gaye’s body was still adjusting to the hormonal changes from her estrogen abatement. 

Another radiation therapy patient put in perspective when she asked Gaye, “Do you stink? Is it just me? I’m trying everything including lemon juice and nothing helps.”

So, your dearly-beloved other is going through some things. Be patient, be there, the stress, like the treatments, and the funk, will pass.

Key takeaways:

  • Radiation therapy is fast, the effects are not
  • Look for joy—jokes, comic strips (thanks Jennifer), dinner in bed—wherever you can find it
  • Moisture, moisturize, moisturize—your skin will thank you for it
  • Cancer recovery is not the time to count calories
  • Neither is it the time to veg-out—stay active
  • Patience is key, your loved one will need it, so will you
  • Really, make peace with the funk situation—it, like radiation therapy, is temporary

Stay positive, stay strong.

The photo at the top, Gaye at the Mumm Winery in Napa Valley, c. 2010, belongs to herself and is used with her very kind permission.

5 thoughts on “Radiation Pt 3: Is Something Burning?

    1. Elias, My prayers and support are always with you and Gaye. My heart goes out to you as a loving husband and great care giver.
      I love and appreciate the time that you take to explain in such detail along with humor the journey that Gaye is on. It is so unfortunate that she has to experience this GOD is with you both. This journal is informative and helpful, I’m sure to many.
      Again keeping you both in prayer, always.

      Liked by 1 person

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