?`s and ANNEswers

Ten minutes to write. Less time to read.

One Done

My first week of radiation is behind me, with five and a half more to go. So far, I haven’t experienced any side effects that have slowed me.  In fact, if you believe all I’m doing is thinking about radiation because that’s all I’ve written about lately, think again.  Here are some of the other things I did this past week.

Saw “Paddington 2” with friends and cried my eyes out.  I’m not sure they’ll go with me again if the movie is sad, because I sniffle. Loudly at times. Went back to my trainer, whom I hadn’t seen since my surgery in November. We had two training sessions this past week, and what I learned is how much I’d lost by not working out. Then I mall walked three days with other friends. I am touched that someone is always at the mall when I want to walk. It’s as if there’s a Team Anne out there.

Had a piano lesson and practiced every day while watching a sunset. Both the practices and the sunsets were erratic, but still a pleasure. Also read one book and started another. And today I went to Costco in South Bend with Earl because we were almost out of toilet paper – only 11 rolls left – and he gets snarly about that sort of thing. But now we’re well stocked. We’re also well stocked on green olives too!

So it hasn’t all been about radiation this past week; it’s just that this is the new addition to my regular routine. And when I returned to blogging in November, I went on record as saying this was all about beating the little c. Giving it a Big C name gives it too much power.

Being who you are as much as you can be through all this is how the C gets smaller.

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So I asked why it took four people to escort me to Liam’s lair each day. I’m a small woman and have no intention of running away in my purple hospital gown. Turns out, it just happened that way this week, and there is no mysterious or medical reason.

One of the young women is an intern in her last semester at school. She drives from Grand Rapids to St. Joseph and back every week day for her hands-on training. And she receives no pay. Today she was the one who “arranged” me on the table under Liam’s watchful eye while someone else brought the requisite warm blanket.

I’ve come to look at these sessions as mini-power naps, and I was almost asleep this afternoon when the light came back on and my “space” was invaded with various technicians. As I went to change, they said – almost in unison – “Have a great weekend.”

Which, I presume, is code for “Hey, you don’t have to come for two days.”

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It’s been only four days, but already the routine with Liam is well-established. I show up at 3:30 every afternoon and change into a purple hospital gown. Fortunately I like purple.

Then four people – Are they technicians, assistants, nurses? I don’t know yet – escort me into Liam’s room, which is always quite cold. On the first day, Erica asked if I wanted a heated blanket, but by today she knew I did. It’s now a given part of the procedure. The first day they asked if I wanted music and the lights while Liam worked. By now they know I prefer silence and darkness.

I have no idea what Liam charges for these daily treatments, but he – I assume it’s a he, since I named him – works quickly. I hardly have time for a power nap when the four people return to escort me out of the room. They are always pleasant and friendly, but I wonder why it takes four of them. That will be tomorrow’s question.

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Punishing Exercise

So, while I’m still in a good mood about radiation, let’s come up with all the hokey jokes about the topic and get them behind us. For instance, when you see me there’s no need to say, “My, you’re glowing!” or “You look radiant!” Don’t ask if it’s an illuminating experience or whether I feel like a piece of toast in the microwave.

I’ve already heard the admonition “Quick. Close the door. You’re letting out all the radiation.” Believe me, the staff is very good at closing Liam’s door. And if you don’t know who Liam is, you didn’t read yesterday’s blog.

And, free of charge, here are two radiation oncology jokes. But you have to know something about physics to really appreciate them. A neutron walks into a bar and asks the bartender, “How much for a beer?” The bartender looks at him and says, “For you, no charge.”

Two atoms sit in a field of ionizing radiation. One atom says, “I think I lost an electron.” The other says,” Are you sure?” And the first atom says, “I’m positive!” I do not claim credit for these last two items; they came from a website called SDN, whose mission is to help students become doctors.

Class dismissed.

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Naming the Big Guy

“What is the name of this giant machine,” I asked as Dave, Erica, and two others escorted me into the therapy room for Day Two.

“It’s a linear accelerator,” Dave said. And, of course, that didn’t really explain anything to me. But it was all the time I had for questions because Dave and Company had the routine down to a finely tuned drill.

I lie on the board, and someone covers me with a warm blanket. It’s the best part of the procedure, especially when it’s ten degrees outside. Then staff makes sure I’m in the right position, confirm with each other, and leave the room. “You’re coming back, right?” I yell after them.

I’m alone with the machine. The linear accelerator begins to do its thing, moaning and creaking, and I ponder what name I shall give it in my blog world. In the five minutes that I’m alone I’ve decided on Liam. It’s short for linear acceleration machine, but it’s also a human name.

I think of Liam Neeson, the actor, and probably the most well-known Liam.  But there’s also Australian actor Liam Hemsworth, musicians Liam Payne and Liam Gallagher, Irish football star Liam Brady, rugby player Liam Gill, and British Labour Party politician Liam Byrne.

And now there’s Liam the giant Linear Accelerator with whom I shall be most friendly for the next six weeks. Eat your heart out, Mr. Neeson.

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Radiation 101

This afternoon I had my first radiation session, and I realized as I walked into the room with the radiation machine that I had no idea what to expect.

Sure, I’d read radiation is a localized approach to eliminating cancer, as opposed to chemotherapy which is a systemic approach. I knew the side effects were less than from chemo with the primary one being fatigue.

I do not like fatigue. It reminds me of those days when I had two sons and two step-daughters in three different schools, and I worked four days a week at the local hospital and cleaned my own house.

But I’d signed a consent form, so it seemed fair to ask the people in the room with me, “What is it?” And as I lay down on a board that is like those they use to carry burly football players off the field – only this one had stirrups for my arms – I learned that radiation is an extremely strong X-ray beam that is aimed at the body part – in my case, the right breast – where the cancer was originally found. Its purpose is to kill any sneaky remaining cancer cells that might have escaped the surgeon’s knife.

Did I mention that the board I lay on was in the middle of a giant machine that groans and creaks and moves around as it sends the X-ray to the right spot? It must be pretty accurate, as I wore no protective glasses or lead shield on the rest of my body.

I’m sure this description wouldn’t pass medical muster, but that’s all right. I have thirty-two more sessions, so there’s plenty of time to master the technicalities.

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Today is my last day before radiation begins; it seems almost surreal. Nine weeks ago, I was having surgery; five weeks ago, I said farewell to Duane the drain; and two weeks ago, I got a respiratory infection. It’s been a busy way to prepare for radiation, and I wish I were feeling more rested.

Still, I decided to see “Paddington 2” as a mean of escaping all this angst. And it certainly did the trick. For two hours, I was immersed in Paddington’s problems over my own. Wondered if he’d ever get out of prison; if his family would be there for him; and if the villain – Hugh Grant at his dramatic best – would be caught. It’s three “Yeses,” in case you want to know.

There’s something about animated film that appeals to me. And to a couple friends.  We’ve sat through the original “Paddington,” “The Minions,” “SpongeBob SquarePants,” “Zootopia,” and countless other “cartoons,” only to leave the theater completely relaxed.

The trailers to the feature promised more this summer. I hope to have my respiratory problems, radiation, and anything else life throws my way well in hand by then. Maybe there’ll be news of a “Paddington 3” too.

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We were supposed to have company for the weekend, but in the end the visit was postponed. Honestly, as much as I wanted to see one of my dearest friends and her husband, it was the right decision.

Instead, I’ve spent time getting ready for radiation. Stocked up on Ivory® soap, which is recommended for use over my fancy monogrammed soap. Didn’t stock up on deodorant, since its use is not recommended at all.

Set my alarm clock for 7 AM. This is a first. I don’t believe I’ve set this clock since I got it. But part of doing well with radiation is to have a regular routine and follow it. Which has made me make a general plan for each day.

Up at 7 AM; bathe and dress; do things that make me happy – piano, reading, exercising, writing. After lunch, a power nap before I head to the hospital for my radiation appointment. Then home for a healthy dinner and whatever “leftovers” I didn’t get to during the day.

I also made some crock pot meals today: potato soup, chicken and rice casserole, Salisbury steak. Am sending them straight to my freezer to be ready when the notorious fatigue sets in. Practiced my power napping too. Actually this was the most fun of all.

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More New Tricks

There are things you take for granted until you can’t do them. Then you realize how important reclaiming that ability is. In cases of stroke, for instance, I imagine that often the patient never regains full recovery. At least not without a ton of work.

My situation really called for only half a ton, but it was still daunting. Reaching something on the top shelf with my right arm was impossible a few weeks ago. So was hooking my bra from the back. Or simulating the arm movements for the various swimming strokes I once took pride in doing.

But today’s physical therapy session with Amanda showed how far I’ve come.  I can do all three of the things mentioned above. Not to the same degree that my left arm can do. But I’m getting there. Arm-anda, as I’ve nicknamed my right arm, is coming along swimmingly. (Pun intended.)

It may not really fall under the category of “new tricks,” but I am organizing my life for the next weeks as self-centered as possible without completely ignoring family and friends. I plan to do activities that help keep my morale up and my stress level down. I’m going to have facials, still see Amanda, respond to as many friends’ emails each day that I can, and arrive at the local hospital every day at 3:30 PM for the daily zap.

To do this, I’ve talked with a personal chef, have hired someone to help with the copious tax paperwork Earl and I generate, and am indebted to two friends who are helping with my Spectacled Bear project. The only thing left is to find someone who’ll iron for me, but that’s probably asking too much.

I haven’t given a number to a day in a long time, but today was a 9.

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New Tricks

Last night I lay in bed, coaxing sleep to come. It didn’t accept the invitation.  So I began thinking about all the things I’ve been able to do that I couldn’t do four weeks ago. For instance, Duane the drain and I were inseparable, not by choice but by circumstance. But exactly one day after the four weeks, Duane was booted from the scene with no regrets on my part.

Since then, like a puppy, I’ve learned to roll over and sleep on all sides of my body.  This doesn’t sound like much, but after sleeping in one position for over a month (due to Duane), it’s a great joy. I have attained almost full mobility of the affected arm, which was essential for starting radiation.

I feel almost perky at times, although it doesn’t last. Still, this is more like my previous self, and friends make comments like, “You seem more you.” Yes, I do.

It’s a great respite before starting radiation, since I’m not sure who I shall feel like down the road. I only hope sleep will come comfort me then since it didn’t come last night.

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