?`s and ANNEswers

Ten minutes to write. Less time to read.

Doc Day #6

“Who decides how many treatments a patient needs?” I asked Dr. G in our weekly meeting. He had told me early on that my series would include 28 of one kind of “dose” and five of another. But how were those numbers arrived at?

What I like about Dr. G is that he takes my questions seriously and spends time to answer them. In this case, my treatment was based on studies of breast cancer and radiation over the years that eventually created this benchmark.  In many women my age, the usual treatment is only 28 sessions.  The five extra provide a “booster” when the patient’s cancer was particularly aggressive. Apparently mine was, since I’m in for the entire 33.

The other thing we discussed is that there is no way of knowing if radiation worked or not. I could live five years more without it, or I could live five years more because of it. But since these two courses of action are mutually exclusive, the impact on my future is unknowable.

Does that make me wish I’d not done the radiation? Not really. It was manageable and reasonable. Besides, who would be the parking permit police person if I hadn’t shown up?

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Get Back to Work

I must confess my energy level is no longer what I’d describe as “perky.” It’s true I haven’t experienced the harsher side effects that were described in all the literature about radiation for breast cancer. But I feel as if I’m slowly wearing down.

For one thing, the mobility in my right arm is becoming compromised even though I still see a physical therapist and work with a trainer. Is this due to radiation or to slacking off of the home exercises that have been prescribed? The one I have no control over; the other I do.

So I’m launching a final offensive to make Right Arm and Left Arm equal when this is all over. This means Right Arm reaches for that casserole dish on the top shelf. Or that coat hanger above my head. Or gets itself into a coat without wincing. Or does its exercises regularly.

I’ve also allowed myself to eat pretty much what I wanted these past few months. So perhaps the feeling of slowing down is due to that spare tire around my middle. Once the treatments are over, I’ll have to start deflating it too.

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It’s a Puzzle

Earl and I often pass the winter days doing jigsaw puzzles; they play to our strengths.

By that, I mean we each have our own way of seeing things: politics, religion, philanthropy. In fact, if you know what one of us thinks on any of these topics you know what the other thinks. It’s the exact opposite. So if we want to stay married, there are topics which are off limits in our household. We describe this as democracy in action.

But with jigsaw puzzles, our different outlooks are complimentary. I like to do the border as a way of getting a sense of where things fit in the puzzle. Earl looks first for words, no matter where in the puzzle they are.  Our most recent work of art had a lot of book titles, so he focused on that. Or he looks for pieces of the same color to put together.

Once the frame is done, I want to put pieces into the middle that are only attached to something already there. That’s when Earl’s work becomes invaluable. He’s already put sections together. In life, he is the big picture person; I am the detailist. But in jigsaw puzzling, our roles reverse. It’s very strange.

And did I mention that while we finished the most recent puzzle, there are only ten days of radiation left? We can get another puzzle done by the time I’m finished.

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Up or Down

I don’t know what’s magic about the number 33, but that’s the number of radiation treatments I’m scheduled to have.  According to Earl, I’ve finished 23. But according to my calculations, I have ten to go.

I wondered if there is some psychological advantaged to counting one way over the other; so I went to that virtual encyclopedia, Google®, to check it out. I didn’t find any recent research, but it was a hot topic several years back.

According to Davey Wavey Fitness (Yes, this is a site.), counting up is better. It makes you want to work harder when you exercise. Davey Wavey says counting down is anti-climactic. However, Edith Shalev and Vicki Morwitz make a case that counting down makes the experience seem shorter.

Quarters in football count down; so do the quarters in basketball. The light that shows the seconds to cross an intersection counts down. So does the run-up to New Year’s Eve or the Super Bowl or the Boston Marathon. Or launching an astronaut into space.

On the flip side, halves in soccer count up. Innings in baseball do too. Then there’s calorie counting, stair stepping equipment, and holding-your-breath contests. They count up. The stock market counts both ways, but we all know which is better.

As for radiation treatments, I personally don’t care how they’re counted as long as we get to zero. And soon.

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Preliminary Report

It’s half-way through the month, and I am still monitoring the parking situation when I go for my daily dose of radiation. I won’t reveal all the details now, because I plan to share final observations at the end of February.

But there is a definite problem. Patients with permits to use the special parking places near the radiation department’s entrance are being edged out by people without permits. This is a daily occurrence; and the department is aware of it. As a self-appointed parking poacher police person, I am gathering data – how many cars display permits, how many don’t – in the hope that this situation can be improved.

When handicapped parking first became available years ago, there was a similar problem. But when a fine for parking in such a space without the appropriate permit was implemented there was less abuse.

For the record, Michigan’s current fines are no less than $50 and no more than $100. California, however, hits the rude driver up for no less than $250 and no more than $500.

Food for thought.

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One Day

Today Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day coincided. It’s the first time in over seventy years. The New York Times noted this with great hyperbole, as if you must celebrate one event by ignoring the other. I disagree. Why not celebrate both?

I wasn’t even going to mention this in my blog. My plan was to talk about our local mall as a metaphor for life. It’s now on its last leg with the second of three anchor stores closing in the coming weeks. I’d planned to compare this decline to aging and draw some succinct conclusion about how everything has a life expectancy.

But then the high school shooting in Broward County, FL, happened this afternoon. According to news reports it is the eighteenth high school incident since the beginning of the year. At last report, seventeen people are dead and others are injured. The primary suspect seems to be a former student who was expelled for behavior issues last year.

In one day we have ashes and hearts and flowers and mall maladies and shootings. I’m not sure which one is the most significant. Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day occur only once a year, although they’ve been around forever. And mall closings are not nationally noted anymore, what with the advent of the internet. Which leaves high school shootings to win the honor as the most current event today.

Shouldn’t we find this distressing?

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Doc Day #5

As usual, I came armed with questions for my weekly visit with the radiation oncologist. This time, they were relevant to what’s happened since our last meeting.

There’s the rash on my right breast and chest area, as well as on my back. And there’s this issue with my mouth that I burned twice in two days almost two weeks ago. The rash isn’t annoying; but it’s obvious. And I wanted to know what it might be. The burn on the roof of my mouth is more annoying, so I wanted to know what that might be too.

In the end, I found out what each of these issues isn’t rather than what they are.  The rash isn’t shingles because it doesn’t itch or burn. Most likely it’s related to the radiation and will go away about two weeks after the sessions end. The mouth problem isn’t a radiation side effect either, because I’m not getting that area treated.

So what is it? The doctor didn’t seem to know but recommended I use Oragel, which is what they give teething infants. I can do that, but it’s a palliative solution rather than a getting-to-the-root-of-the-problem one. Still, I’ll be seeing the doctor again next week.

And if these two issues haven’t improved, he will be the first to know.

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I haven’t mentioned Liam in a while; he’s the giant radiation machine that zaps me five days a week. I guess it’s because he’s becoming a routine part of my life and is not so unique. Which just goes to prove you can get used to anything, given enough time.

I walk into Liam’s room and climb on the couch, the table, whatever the staff of the day calls the bed where I recline. My arms go over my head with ease now, and I’m familiar with Liam’s clicking and humming and moving as the session begins.

I also have learned when the session is over. I hear the door to the radiation room open – It seems to be automatic –and one of the staff says, “Time’s up.” Or “Wake up.” Or “That’s all.” And honestly, it doesn’t take very long. Just enough time to say a few prayers – Yes, really! – and focus on the rest of my evening.

I’ve been told patients begin to find it tedious, frustrating. So far I’m not there, and I credit that to the always pleasant and caring staff.

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A Weekend of Dancing

Yesterday Earl and I saw “A Chorus Line” in South Bend, and today a friend and I saw “The Greatest Showman.” The first was live theatre and the second was at the local cinema. What they had in common went beyond the fact they are both musicals, the former from 1975 and the later from 2017.

I was pleased to see that “A Chorus Line” was still performed on a blank stage and that it hadn’t been “modernized,” given it’s over forty years old. The story itself – the private lives of dancers and how they came to dance – has never needed updating. The caliber of the dancing was excellent, especially when there is no chance to do a retake of a scene.

“The Greatest Showman” had equally fine dancing but lavish scenery and effects. It had Hugh Jackman and Zac Efron too. But most of all, what these two experiences offered were escapism from snow and the specter of pending side effects.

Even the ice dancing at the Olympics didn’t do that.

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If you’re wondering what it takes for a patient to miss a radiation appointment, the reason has to be pretty serious. A cold? No. An invitation to meet our Mayor? No.  Free tickets to “Hamilton”? Probably not.

But snow? Depending on the amount, yes. Predictions yesterday were that our area would be blanketed with another several inches on top of what we’ve already had this week. I thought nothing of it and told the radiation oncology department I’d be there for my twentieth session.

Today I started out of my driveway and promptly landed in a snowbank. I could still be there, since the white stuff and my white car were about the same height and I couldn’t even open my door. But two men with shovels got the car out.

Not taking this as a sign, I headed to the main streets, thinking they would be better. They usually are.  Instead they were another missed opportunity to rethink my situation. I turned onto Nickerson, which was not plowed, and felt like I had no control of my car. Keeping it on my side of the road, especially when a truck came the opposite way, was a feat worthy of Olympic skill.

But I’m no Olympian. I’m a seventy-three-year old woman who finally conceded to Mother Nature and is skipping radiation today. Number twenty will have to wait.

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