If you know me, you know I am relatively fair skinned. Look, it is hard to stay this perfect shade of porcelain to protect my goddess nature. LOL Growing up I had my fair share of burns and blisters and peeling. I eventually tan, but nothing like some of my friends. My tan always has a nice pinkish tone to it – but it is mine and it is beautiful!
So why am I telling you all this? Did you know you get tan from radiation? This is a real thing. Or you get burnt. Real life. By far, this was the dumbest tan I ever had in my whole entire life. If you have kept up, you know that I did my chemotherapy first and then had a bilateral mastectomy. You know that my breast tissue brought back nothing – so I had had 100% results from the chemo itself. And because of this, I thought I would get out of the radiation. Nope. Not so lucky. Dr. Abraham thought on it a while but finally said that if I was his daughter, I would have the 28 radiation treatments. Dr. Saunders agreed. So here I was, scheduled to see the radiation oncologist at Ruby. I really liked Dr. Jacobson. She was down to Earth and kinda reminded me of the teacher from Clueless that they make over to set up with the other teacher…in a good way…really, google her and tell me I am wrong.
Like I said, I was scheduled for 28 treatments. They should have completed just before my 35th birthday in 2015…but like most all things, life has better laid plans. We have yet to discuss all of the surgeries, but in order to discuss radiation, we have to have a quick boob reconstruction story. During my mastectomy, I had muscle expanders placed behind my chest wall. It was a requirement from my plastic surgeon that I have all of the expanding that was going to happen completed before my first radiation treatment. Furthermore, I had to wait at least 6 months after radiation to have the actual implants put in and the muscle expanders removed. Do some math here. This is pushing all the cancer clean up further into life and I was so annoyed by it. Again though, life had different plans and we can talk about all of that at a later date. What is important is that irradiated skin can not be stretched. It loses its elasticity and simply feels different – think leather, a soft subtle one, but leather nonetheless. This is why all the muscle expanding had to take place prior to the radiation.
Each time you go into radiation, you go into a closet like room with a locker in it, change your clothing to remove it from where you will be receiving treatment (for me, that meant taking off my top(s), bra, everything above the waist including jewelry) and put on a much to short and much to small one size actually does not fit all tie in the front “cape”. Then you walk around the hallways like you actually have on clothing to get to where you need to be. The first treatment is the longest – if everything goes right the rest of the time.
The first day of treatment, you are put on a table and “measured” so they make sure you get the same dose of radiation in the same spot for the entire time of treatment. They mark your body at this appointment. You are able to decide if it is a permanent marking to save you time each day you go or you can chose to lay on the measuring table daily to put your marks on your body. I chose to save time and have 5 permanent dots on my body – three down the middle of my chest and one on each side under my arms. These tattoos now look like the greened out ink you notice in the elderlies tattoos – lol. Furthermore, the permanent marks were done with a needle and a hammer looking instrument. Not a tattoo gun. I am positive the gun would not hurt the way this did. I laugh and say my first 5 tattoos were on the radiation table. Funny thing about these dots – they most certainly do not seem to connect in a straight line like they are supposed to when I stand straight up. I am sure they are the correct alignment and my body is just crooked. HA!
So each day for 28 straight business days – you do the math, somewhat like 6 weeks with weekends and holidays removed – I left work, drove into town, parked, walked through the maze to the dungeons of Ruby and got my radiation on. They try really hard to make the room peaceful. The fluorescent lights are covered by cloud shaped plastic that glows a pretty blue and white when the lights are on. There are other designs in the ceiling as well – as there should be, you are laying face up and staring at the ceiling, it should be appealing to the eye. And there is music playing. Total torture moment was the THREE Nickleback songs that played in a rock block on CLG during one of my treatments. As long as everything lined up properly, I was in and out in almost 45 minutes. That included 25 or so in the actual radiation room. I met with Dr. Jacobson once a week so she could look at my skin and make sure everything was ok. The first appointment of each week was the longest. In addition to the tattoos, they draw on you with a sharpe – marking other placement of the beams of light. Generally, those markings were placed under tape for the remainder of the week. They also mark the middle of your chest. Ask me sometime to show you a picture…just hanging out in life all drawn over like it is nothing. LOL
One time in the middle of one of the weeks, I went in and they could not get me lined up. It makes absolutely no sense to me what that means or why that happens, but no matter how they moved me or the table (and it adjusts in all types of ways) I just would not go into alignment. They gave up on me that day and sent me home to come back and try again the next day…this was after over 65 minutes of trying to get me aligned though.
So back to my stupid tan…Dr. Jacobson was always looking at my “radiation tan” to make sure I was not burning. I had strict rules to follow – no deodorant until after treatment, no lotions before treatment, no oils…you don’t want anything on your skin that will make the burning worse. As fair as I am, everyone was shocked at how well I took the treatment. After each visit, I would douse myself in Eucerin Advanced Repair with no scent multiple times a day as directed. Well, it actually smells like Elmers Glue, but whatever. I did notice a little color to the area, but nothing too bad. The last week and a half or so though I started to notice some burning on my collarbone. They call what I got “radiation rash”. I was very lucky that it was as minimal as it was and bothered me very little. I put a healing salve with essential oils on it daily after treatment that Angela made me. It healed up nicely with no scar…they were worried it would leave one, but luckily it did not!
To this day, my skin feels leathery – or different somehow to all the other skin. It looks different too. It is tight and not like you would think skin should be. I also tan in that upper right quadrant much easier than I ever did in life prior to radiation.
I had a scratch off lottery ticket to try after each treatment that I kept in my car from Michele. That was a very thoughtful gift she left on my car windshield on my first treatment day…I always got excited to see if I had won anything after each round! I only won $7 in all of those tickets…and now she will know this, but I never cashed them in. LOL Otherwise, I did all of these treatments alone. I went in alone an handled everything all by myself. There was something liberating about that…and sad too. But I did it. And at my 28th treatment, I was escorted out by the staff who had taken care of me for all those treatments and was able to ring the bell to signify the end of my treatment – but again, I was alone – no entourage with me like some of the patients had on their last day to help them celebrate.
As you sit in the waiting room and see the people leaving and getting to ring the bell, you wonder if it will ever be your turn. You feel like it will be forever before you get your chance and the freedom of radiation and cancer treatment and clean up in general. But like most things in life, the days can be long – the treatments can be long and tedious, but the time is short. And even though I joke and say I have memories of the dumbest tan I ever got, I also have memories of the amazing people I met along the way and the knowledge that this was in fact a turning point in my life, the time I realized I was enough!