“Have you been given your discharge instructions yet?” the nurse asked me as she handed me a slip of paper with those very same words on it. After I shook my head, she sat down and went over the Do’s and Don’ts of radiation after care.
“Whatever you do -do NOT just pull off those stickers!” she warned. “I watched a lady who rang the bell on her last treatment then pull off a sticker only to have a bunch of skin come with it. The blood on her chest was some major rain on her big day.”
Dang! I assured her that I would let the stickers come off naturally. I didn’t ring the bell after my final treatment. Sure, treatment wasn’t comfortable but it was a FAR cry easier than chemo. Besides, no techs or nurses even accompanied me back to the lobby where the bell hung. I had no one with me during this treatment and not even the receptionists knew my name. It seemed almost…pathetic to ring this bell.
Radiation was certainly different than chemo in many aspects. The biggest pain for me was the drive. Chemo was a mere 7 minutes away and done weekly. Radiation was an hour away daily. The time and expense ($80 in peach pass tolls!) alone made this treatment a strain on my life. I was glad that I did not have to burden anyone else with accompanying me. Chemo was a few hours in a chair chatting with super friendly wonderful nurses who took a genuine interest in my life (or at least they fake it really well!). Radiation was a few minutes with the techs then 10 minutes alone on a table. In and out. Impersonal.
Still, if I had my druthers, I would have never experienced either treatment.
I was told that my skin will “continue to cook” by a cancer sister. The nurses stated it as “the cumulative effect of the rays will continue to deliver treatment” so I should be prepared that my skin will get worse before it gets better despite having no more sessions.
I’ve seen pics online so I can state with confidence that I really should not complain. So take the rest of this paragraph in the spirit of educating others, not whining. You can see in the pic that my skin looks like its sunburned in a square shape. It’s kinda freaky how precise this machine is but I’m grateful that it is! The pain really only began in the last week or so. But its nothing I can’t deal with. I have been religious with the Calendula cream and will take an Ibuprofen when the pain gets to me.
I am now in possession of my Bolus – the gel cover that was used to redirect the rays closer to the surface of my skin. You can read more about it’s purpose HERE. They cannot re-use them and I’m sure my insurance paid a pretty penny for it, so I requested to take it home with me. Apparently I am not the only person to ask. I was told another lady uses her to cool her skin after treatment. I thought was a wonderful idea so when I got home, I put mine in the fridge.
The next day when I got home from treatment, I took the chilled Bolus out of the fridge and laid down on the bed. I gently laid the gel on my chest and just about jumped out of my skin! Holy cow that was COLD!! It was like slowly edging into the cold water in a lake. Once it hits your belly you can’t help but to squeal. Brilliant idea in theory but not so great in the execution. It still sits in my fridge, unused.
I did have a wonderful experience on my last day of treatment though. Winship is a very busy cancer center. The radiation department has several rooms of different machines designed to spit death rays at all sorts of different body parts. The waiting room is always full. But treatments are relatively quick so the waiting room turnover is pretty fast.
Still, most people have their appointments at the same time daily so the faces get to be familiar after a while. Fortunately, none of us spend that much time waiting as the clinic has got the process down flat. As I was leaving one day, there was an Asian lady and her husband that got into the same elevator as me. I recognized them from the waiting room, but since no one talks to anyone else in there, I just smiled and said “Hi”. They were really nice and said they had seen me there several times. I told them I only had a few treatments and was looking forward to ringing that bell. The doors opened and off we went.
Well, today this lady came into the waiting room alone. I looked around for her husband and figured he must be in treatment at the moment. She came directly over to me and sat next to me. She handed me a Chik Fil-a bag that smelled delicious. She congratulated me on my final treatment and said hers was on the 18th. I was at a loss for words. Not only because she remembered my last day and had gone thru the trouble to bring me something to celebrate it, but also because she did not look like a patient at all. She literally glowed with life.
I thanked her and asked her about her treatment. She had no stickers because she was there for a tumor near her brain/pituitary gland. It was a recurrence and inoperable. She was hopeful that radiation would do the trick. Just then my tech came to take me to the doc. I barely had time to give her a hug and wish her luck. Hopefully, I would see her again on my way out and get her name.
In the patient waiting room I opened the bag and discovered a card was included with the breakfast. Her hand written note put a tear to my eye. She told me that I inspired HER with my calm and the “you got this” look about me. She told me that her family prayed for me – a total stranger. I was so touched. I was humbled again at how God uses people to touch others. I wanted to tell her that if I had that look about me -it was ALL because I know that GOD has “got this.” I wanted to tell her I thought SHE was amazing for reaching out and that SHE inspired me to be more outgoing with my faith.
But alas, I did not see her again. I take solace knowing that she is a Christian woman and I will see her again some day -hopefully a LONG time from now. I will pass along the pamphlet she included in the card that contained Bible verses to someone else I encounter who may need the knowledge we already have and cling to.
It really was the perfect ending to this chapter. Thank you Efee!
On the way out of the clinic I got a call from the clinical trial nurse who received my information from my oncologist. She will be sending me more information on the trial and a consent form to sign. I’ll explain all that in my next post.
Tonight I celebrate! And I need to put some lotion on the areas under the stickers I took off. Yeah -yeah…I know….