I sat down to write this morning with a plethora of things to say and now, I found that the stress of our situation with Loraine’s breast cancer has caused me to suffer a little bit of writer’s block. I hope I do not get to be too rambling with this piece…
I do not want to say there was any malicious thought by anyone by downplaying some of the side effects of radiation treatments for Loraine, her care team have been wonderful. But, the side effects have been worse than we anticipated. Maybe it was just a misunderstanding on our part. I concede this is highly possible, maybe even probable, especially given the state of mind we had been in with her diagnosis while we were still providing care for her brother Howard in our home for his end stage liver cancer. It seems so overwhelming at times. And then to add insult to injury, there was the deep staph infection that settled in to the mastectomy incision followed by the Covid-19 Corona virus situation. Because of Loraine’s staph infection and the Corona virus, her radiation treatments were put on hold as long, actually longer, than her medical and radiation oncologists felt was safe. However, as we have learned, before radiation can begin, one must be fully healed from their surgery.
The picture at the top is at the base of Loraine’s neck. That radiation burn is not even where the beam is being directed when she undergoes her daily treatments by external beam radiation. This is the most common type of radiation therapy for women with breast cancer. A machine outside the body focuses the radiation on the area affected by the cancer. Before treatment begins, the radiation team will have carefully figured out the correct angles for aiming the radiation beams and the proper dose of radiation. They will make some ink marks or small tattoos on the skin to focus the radiation on the right area. They do this in order to concentrate the beam specifically where the cancer has been found. But, obviously a larger area can be affected by the radiation. We were told that external radiation therapy is much like getting an x-ray, only the radiation is stronger. The procedure itself is painless. Each treatment lasts only a few minutes. The setup time, getting her into place for treatment, would take longer than the treatment itself. We were told that Loraine could experience some skin changes in the treated area similar to a sunburn (redness, skin peeling, darkening of the skin) along with fatigue. After almost a full six weeks of therapy, here is what her skin looks like:
The skin up under her arm is now quite fragile and tearing. This is quite painful to say the least.
In the center of the picture, along her incision, the redness and swelling is where the staph infection had settled in. This area was not fully healed as well as it should have been prior to treatments, but treatments could no longer be delayed.
The markings and little circles you see are where the radiation beam is directed during treatments. The radiation oncologist and her team have to be accurate in directing the beam direction, or other problems can arise. Hell, other problems could arise anyhow from radiation treatments such as:
- Some women may find that radiation therapy causes the breast to become smaller and firmer.
- Radiation may affect your options for breast reconstruction later on. It can also raise the risk of problems with appearance and healing if it’s given after reconstruction, especially tissue flap procedures.
- Women who have had breast radiation may have problems breastfeeding.
- Radiation to the breast can sometimes damage some of the nerves to the arm. This is called brachial plexopathy and can lead to numbness, pain, and weakness in the shoulder, arm, and hand.
- Radiation to the underarm lymph nodes might cause lymphedema, a type of pain and swelling in the arm or chest.
- In rare cases, radiation therapy may weaken the ribs, which could lead to a fracture.
- In the past, parts of the lungs and heart were more likely to get some radiation, which could lead to long-term damage of these organs in some women. Modern radiation therapy equipment better focuses the radiation beams, so these problems are rare today.
- A very rare complication of radiation to the breast is the development of another cancer called an angiosarcoma.
I just doctored up Loraine’s burns and she is now off for her third to last radiation treatment this morning.
We have found this product on Amazon to be a great help for some of the burning that is not raw or tearing.
Monday will be the final treatment, but that will not be the final day she will suffer ill effects from radiation. She will glow in the dark for years to come!
Sorry my dear, but you are the one who has the best sense of humor about this…
But seriously, she will have to avoid exposing the treated skin to the sun because it could make the skin changes worse. They tell us that most skin changes get better within a few months. However, changes to the breast tissue could take 6 to 12 months or longer to go away.
Financial Strains and burdens!
I am blessed to have a very good paying job with great insurance benefits. Our financial impact could be far worse than it is on us. As it is though, I have been paying out $1000.00 per month to stay on top of the 20% of our medical bills that come out of my pocket besides the $750 a month I pay out in insurance. But even so, the stress meter gets pegged in the red when you see this on a bill:
I am paying medical bills to Saint Lukes and to KU Medical Center for all of this. We have had bills for the surgery and all of whom involved. Then there are the additional physical therapy bills, the wound care bills from her staph infection, the medical oncologist visits, the radiation treatment bills, and now a new doctor has been thrown into the mix for skin care since Loraine has had the extensive troubles she now has with skin tears. I just paid out $1000.00 last week and we just received this:
I did set up a payment plan for our bills, but one cannot help but to wonder just how high this will pile up over time. I spoke with a wonderful woman of God this morning on the phone to make our payment arrangements at a level that should be still affordable should we ever experience a financial hardship. I think the good Lord directed my call to the perfect person as I felt a sense of peace come over me before our conversation had ended. It seemed she just instinctively knew the right words to say to me, nothing canned or prepared, just a good woman speaking from the heart. God bless and thank you all for reading and following. I am doing this with the hope that we can help others in their battle with breast cancer.
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