stick a fork in me, i am done! toasted, radiated, all stocked up on my UV rays.
i had 25 radiation treatments that spanned every day, monday-friday. i still got treated during the UCSF strike and thank my techs who crossed the picket line and my doctor who categorized me as a high priority case. i’m so *lucky.* when i finished on tuesday, i got to ring the bell and decorate the aging radiation machine with stickers (that mike got me for my birthday, because you’re never too old to get stickers) (after staring at it day in and out, that machine really needed some sprucing up). i also got a congratulatory certificate signed by all the techs who i got to know over the 5 weeks. the radiation oncology department sure knows how to make a girl feel special.
radiation ended about the same that it started. that is, pretty uncomfortable. pictured here are the 8 (!) different creams i graduated to and through during the course of treatment to help with the burn. right now, i’m having a hard time finding the right outfit that doesn’t rub under my armpit, which is super burned, raw, and peeling. looks like a roasted beet (ew). my PT suggested i find one of those fantastic 80s-inspired tanktops with the big arm holes. goodwill, here i come. probably better than the bathrobe i’ve been loitering around our house in.
my burn will peak this weekend and then slowly start to subside. some women i know are still tan in their radiation field over a year afterwards. i’m all for a tan, but not one so purely lopsided and hard-earned in a dark UCSF basement.
so far, my expander has held up ok. the doctor said we’ll won’t know for certain that we’re out of the woods until the next surgery in 6-12 months, where my expander is swapped to the final silicone implant. if my skin heals from that, it’s a good thing. if it doesn’t heal, the implant comes out, i’m down a nipple, and we’re back to the drawing board. lots of time to chew our nails about that.
my arm didn’t swell up too much during radiation, just a little bit because of general inflammation given the sunburn. nothing on the lympadema spectrum, so i’m thankful for that.
i’ve been in many conversations recently, in support group, with women in the radiation waiting room, with mike, about the tattoos we are stuck with. these tattoos help to line up the radiation lasers each day. sure, they are the size of a freckle. but they are blue. i don’t know many who opt for the blue freckle tattoo (read: i’m positive there has never been a conversation in the tattoo parlor that went: “oooh! i’ll take the blue freckle tattoo! my destiny! so beautiful! and i love it so much i’ll take 7 of them haphazardly placed all over my breasts and torso!”). the women in my support group have been sharing perspectives on this and in general getting marked up with black sharpees for things like radiation and surgery. i should probably invest in sharpee stock since it’s a large part of my life now. being marked up with sharpees feels like you’re in a funhouse. only it’s the opposite of fun. and they are really hard to scrub off of skin like your chest that doesn’t get used a lot. right before my mastectomy surgery, my plastic surgeon, still in his winter coat, had me stand up and he free-handed a line down the middle of my chest. i didn’t think to quiz him on his art class grades, despite that he would use that line to carve into my chest soon thereafter. i also recall how he whipped the sharpee out of his jacket pocket; maybe everyone in that field carries a stash around similarly to how my grandma GG stashed kleenaxes in every pocket, or cat whiz stashes used wine corks under the bed. because, well, you never know when they will come in handy.
some have chosen to get tattoos over the blue freckles. i’m still deciding what makes sense for me. the one that bothers me the most is right smack dab in the middle of my breasts, staring up at me every time i shower and change. as if my mismatched breasts weren’t enough.
from here on out with radiation, i have to avoid the sun and check in with my doctor each week to see how things are healing. i also have to sleep. the only way i can describe the exhaustion toll of it all is arduous. my body seems to be working double time, my cells are weary. it’s a feeling of exhaustion that is akin to working in the hot sun from 9-5 each day. different than chemo, where the exhaustion is more like being in a long, long free fall where your body is tensely rigid, bracing yourself for the impact of hitting the bottom. yikes.
i keep saying this, but it’s true that i have so much more to share with you. i could post every day about some new experience or insight. but i’m tired. so for now, i’ll leave you with a little playlist that got me through the winter and chemo when i was most tired. it’s the unofficial start of summer now, so tired music isn’t entirely appropriate. but save it for a rainy day. and when you do, please think of my new friend cherie who passed away last week from metastatic breast cancer. she was beautiful and carried the wisdom of generations with her, sharing it with me in the short time i spent with her. (easiest if you right click each song and open in a new window)
tired – adele i dream in blue – the stray birds all my days – alexi murdoch the stranger – lord huron a candle’s fire – beirut hide and seek – imogen heap i wish it would rain – the temptations lean on me – bill withers / nicholas david from the voice wanting memories – cantus, a capella midday – yusuf islam half of what we know – crooked still midnight train to georgia – gladys knight and the pips open – rhye sleep please come to me – matthew barber
ps thanks for all the support on the book. i’m so happy that you’ve been enjoying it.