Radiation & Reflections

Radiation & Reflections

It feels like it’s been a bit since I gave an update so here we go! I had my radiation simulation on January 5 which is basically a practice run for the actual radiation treatment. The radiation oncologist and radiation technicians set up the treatment table and placed stickers on my chest to help them line up the radiation beams during treatment. I was able to practice with the deep inspiration breath hold (DIBH) technique which is meant to draw the heart away from the chest wall as I inhale to minimize radiation exposure to the heart for people with left-sided breast cancer. It’s actually very fun – like a video game! They give you goggles, and as you inhale a bar rises up into a green box. The goal is to keep the bar in the middle of the box for about 30-45 seconds during treatment.

I started the actual treatment on Thursday, and it has gone well so far. The first session took about 45 minutes for the alignment and set up to be confirmed. The second treatment was much quicker (about 15 minutes) as the correct table settings were already known, and I just had to lie down and get treatment. The treatment uses 2 beams (one goes right to left across my left breast, and one goes from back to front in my left armpit), done separately, so that the whole breast receives treatment and no rogue cancer cells are left behind. I use the DIBH with each blast of radiation to protect my heart. The plan for me is to go daily (Monday through Friday) for 20 sessions (16 whole breast radiation, 4 boost to the tumor bed itself).

Learning about the process of radiation therapy has been fascinating to me! There is so much complexity and nuance from the set up, dosing, and treatment delivery. I have a lot respect for my providers and feel that I am in very good hands. How incredible is it to have these kind of treatments that are literally life-saving for so many people?!

As with any treatment, there are risks. The radiation can affect the heart and/or lungs which could cause some tissue fibrosis and the physicians/technicians do all they can to minimize this during their planning so there are no long-term effects on those vital organs. Skin irritation/breakdown is also a consideration so I am on a very strict moisturizing schedule using MyGirls Radiation Burn Cream every 3-4 hours and Aquaphor (with or without pure aloe vera mixed in) nightly. I can expect to see discoloration of my skin (tanning or redness) as treatment progresses. Other side effects can include fatigue and/or swelling of the treatment area.

Some other ways that I am supporting my body throughout radiation is to drink green tea 1 hour prior to each treatment. EGCG, which is a compound in relatively high concentration in green tea, has been shown to reduce damage to the body’s healthy cells during radiation. I am also continuing supplementation of vitamin D, a vitamin B complex, fish oils, and a few others that my physician ok’d.
**Disclaimer: Always check with your doctor about any medications or supplements you’re taking during cancer treatments as some supplements can reduce the effectiveness of chemotherapy or radiation.

Otherwise, I was able to start part-time work again on transitional duty. My department has some old paperwork that needs to be scanned into our electronic medical records system, and I couldn’t be more thankful to have an option to work outside of patient care as I finish treatment. I am trying to be very mindful about balancing my return to work with taking care of myself. The old me would have jumped in head first, but I feel a deep need to let me body guide my choices these days and it’s telling me to take it slow.

Justin & I are in the process of selling our condo and buying a new place! It seems like the right time for a change in scenery and a fresh start for us. Wish us luck in this process! When COVID settles, we’ll be taking applications for visitors…

I’ve also been reflecting a lot about getting cancer as a 30-year-old, “healthy” person, and I have two points to make about this right now. For one, I am a big believer in root cause medicine. I may never know 100% why I got breast cancer without any genetic factors or significant family history. However, I am working with a naturopath to determine if there is an underlying factor that heightened my risk for cancer in the first place. My ND is testing me for things like Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (an autoimmune thyroid condition…I have a history of hypothyroidism and a family history of Hashimoto’s), celiac’s disease/gluten sensitivity, heavy metals toxicity, and food allergies/sensitivities. This will likely be a long process of exploration, but I’ll try to update as I know more. I am a big proponent of integrative medicine and I will always strive to incorporate both natural and conventional principles into my care. I believe strongly that there is an important place for both in cancer care and recovery.

Secondly, I have been looking at cancer not as a detour in my life, but as a brand new path I’m setting out on. I realized that I feel this pressure to “get back on track,” but I prefer to see it as carving a new path for my life. It’s a scary feeling to know that I am not on the same “timeline” that I envisioned for my life before cancer, and yet I feel a sense of freedom knowing there is unlimited potential in this redirection. I am trusting God that this is the true path I was meant to tread, and that this is not the first or the last time I’ll be redirected to serve His purpose for me. I choose humility and I release control of my journey.

I hope you all have a wonderful weekend. I’m going to take some time off social media and get a bit more introspective for a bit so I’ll catch ya on the flip side!

Aloha ❤

Rad.

Rad.

I had my consultation with my radiation oncologist yesterday which went well. Dr. Tsuji spent well over an hour with me taking my history and explaining the process and side effects of radiation therapy. It’s always extra comforting when a physician comes in having already reviewed your chart and having an individualized plan in mind.

Although I had an excellent response to chemo and the post-surgical pathology shows that there was no residual cancer in the tumor bed or the lymph nodes, radiation is important with breast-conserving surgeries to get rid of any cancer cells that may remain in other areas of the breast that weren’t removed (as they would have been in a mastectomy). So, Dr. Tsuji recommends 4 weeks of whole-breast radiation (no axillary radiation since nodes were clear) with a boost to the tumor bed. After everything’s been set up, I’ll go for radiation 5 days per week, likely starting the 2nd or 3rd week of January.

Birthday stay-cation! Thankful to have many options to “get away” in Honolulu!

The side effects of radiation therapy are fatigue, which generally increases as the treatment progresses, and skin irritation which is basically like a bad sun burn. With radiation to the breast, the radiation oncologist takes as much precaution as possible to minimize radiation to the lungs and the heart. One way to protect them is to perform a breath hold during the treatment to raise the breast tissue away from the organs as the lungs expand and so we may see how that goes when I do my simulation in a few weeks.

I also need to be sure my left arm range of motion improves before I can start radiation since I’ll likely be positioned lying on my back with my hands behind my head. I can get there now, but it’s not at all comfortable due to the cording. My PT did work on it last week and it got significantly better after just one treatment, but it’s not quite there yet so I have some goals in the next few weeks!

I’ll see my oncologist on Thursday for a post-surgical follow up and planning and will see my surgeon after that to have my bandages removed from my port surgery. Thankfully, all is going well and everything is healing up nicely. Overall, I’m feeling well but definitely looking forward to being able to be more active again. I’m thankful to be on the last stretch of treatment and starting the new year cancer free!

Aloha ❤