Tag: radiation treatments

No HIll For a Climber, Radiation Burns and Side Effects

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.

This website is a labor of love solely to help others. Subscriptions are free and easy, I have not, nor will I ever charge a single penny for anyone to access our health and fitness articles.

Please, follow along, and share this with your family and friends.

No Hill For a Climber, Wrapping Up Week 3 of Radiation

Loraine is now close to wrapping up her third week of radiation treatments for her breast cancer, and there are three more weeks to go. Sometimes it feels as if we will never get out of the hurry up and wait mode of thinking.

Getting her into her treatment protocol seemed to take forever because of her struggle in healing after the staph infection had set in. She is almost halfway through the treatments, and now we find ourselves somewhere between hurry up and wait. We would like for the treatments to be done and over with, but the waiting mode of finding out how successful radiation will be is akin to watching a slow moving hand on the clock.

It feels as if we have been through hell over the last year. Last March, we took in and cared for Loraine’s brother Howard who was morbidly obese, had Hepatitis C, cirrhosis of the liver and advanced liver cancer. We were thankful to be able to care for him despite the complexities that came with caring for a terminally ill loved one who was also slipping into different stages of dementia depending on if he was taking his medications as prescribed. Then, Loraine was diagnosed with her breast cancer last fall which significantly increased our level of stress. January 6th, Loraine had her double mastectomy, February 23rd, we lost Howard to his illness; Also in February, Loraine’s staph infection where her left breast had been reared its ugly head. But through it all, even with the great stress we have been under, we still feel blessed with our lives. Through our battles so far, we have been shown great love and compassion from family, friends, co-workers, and even complete strangers who have come into our lives. Loraine’s care team have been beyond phenomenal in their compassionate care and treatments. And, despite the Corona Virus shutting down our economy, we have both been able to keep working full time and have not become too overwhelmed with our medical bills we have received. If anyone has a right to lay down and lick their wounds, it might be us, but we refuse to do so. We are fighters, and we will conquer all that life has to throw our way. We may feel stressed, but thankfully, our sense of being blessed far outweighs that emotion.

Almost halfway through!

Treatment 14 of 30 today.

Before Loraine ever began her radiation treatments we were told the side effects would be pretty mild, and possibly there would be none at all. Well, the side effects are certainly nothing compared to that which can come from chemotherapy to say the least. But, the the side effects are certainly there for her. And with each treatment she undergoes being more intense than the last, we can anticipate them getting worse over the next three weeks of treatments. Thankfully, chemotherapy is not being planned for now.

Loraine has been working full time through her treatments, but now has reduced her workload to part time as of this week because of the fatigue that is associated with her radiation treatments. Fatigue can make it hard for one to keep a normal routine. However, it is best for her to still get in some type of activity each and every day. Activity keeps the body more fit and the mind less stressed than what would come from laying around and licking wounds. My sweet wife is a true fighter, you will never find her feeling sorry for herself.

Loraine has always been fair skinned and sunburns easily. With her radiation treatments, he skin is now becoming pink, like it has sunburn. Because of this, they place a special blanket over her during the treatment to act as a second layer of skin to mitigate the burning of her skin. To help with this at home, she has to apply aloe vera cream multiple times per day to ease the irritation she is now experiencing. I wish for her sake the irritation would end with her treatments, but, the skin reaction from radiation therapy is usually the worst 1 or 2 weeks after radiation therapy ends, and begins to heal after that point. The healing often takes 3 to 4 weeks. I wish she could have been through with all of this before summer time arrives here in a few weeks.

Besides fatigue and burning of the skin, Loraine is developing fibrosis where her left breast had been. This also comes with the territory of radiation treatments.  In addition to treating cancer, radiation therapy alters tissue composition, making tissues thinner, harder and more brittle. Radiation following surgery creates changes to the surgical scar to make it harder and denser, as well as creating fibrotic tissue around the scar. In radiation-induced fibrosis, a key issue is prevention, with the primary approach being use of proper doses of radiation therapy and techniques that minimize the radiation exposure for normal tissue. We feel truly comfortable that Loraine’s care team are doing all they can to minimize any and all side effects which come from her treatments. Everyone on her team are more than compassionate and caring. We feel blessed that she is in the best of hands and will get through this with minimal issues compared to what can be experienced by some.

With cancer of any type, every day is a learning day. I sometimes wish I did not have to know all that I have had to learn, but feel blessed to be able to share our experience with others in order to help them. It helps us to focus on our blessings rather than on our stress. We feel fortunate to be in the position we are in and fully realize how bad life can be for others in the same boat. Therefore, we know to never take life for granted as it can be radically changed for the worst in the blink of an eye.

Live life to the fullest and work towards being the best and healthiest you that you can be.

God bless and thank you for the prayers, and for following along with Loraine’s journey.


No Hill For a Climber, It’s a New Day to Move Forward

The last year has been tough as hell for my dear wife and I to say the least. We took in her brother who was terminally ill with Hepatitis C, advanced cirrhosis of the liver, and liver cancer. To add to the complexity of his illness, he had developed hepatic encephalopathy which created different states of dementia from day to day. Hell, sometimes it varied from hour to hour depending on if he was taking his medications as ordered. Friday, February 21st, I took Howard to his final doctors visit where he was advised to receive hospice care. Two days later, he lost his battles.

To add insult to injury in helping Howard battle his diseases, Loraine had went for a mammogram last September and a lump was discovered in her left breast that turned out to be cancerous. Skip ahead to January 6th this year, Loraine underwent a double mastectomy where it was discovered the cancer had also spread to one of her lymph nodes. By February we believed she was healing just fine and dandy when her awful staph infection set in…

Time has gone in slow motion ever since.

Loraine’s radiation treatments were to begin as soon as her incisions from the mastectomy were fully healed. To see a loved one going through this, you want the treatments to begin as soon as humanly possible, but healing has to take place first. If you are not fully healed, the radiation treatments will only serve to interfere with the healing progress. Obviously, we do not want that…

I used the picture above that I took not long ago early one morning while out on the road. It was a beautiful sunrise that morning despite the bug splatters on my windshield. The beautiful sight of the sunrise through the bug splattered windshield illustrates what life is looking like right now. We know that with Loraine now being healed and cleared to begin radiation treatments, we have been through a living hell getting her to this point.

Numerous doctor visits…

Numerous treatment protocols…

Daily wound care at home…

Frustrations and depression as it seemed she would never get healed…

Thousands of dollars in medical bills already…

Dealing with the tragic death of a loved one in the middle of it all…

It seems forever since I last posted an update on Loraine, although it has only been a little over a month. It seems that besides fighting to get her healed, the whole world as we know it has turned upside down as a result of the COVID-19 virus causing chaos all around us. Although we refuse to live in fear over this virus, we know that with her being immunocompromised, we must take precautions with how we live and interact with others. And of course, as luck would have it, now that Loraine has been cleared to begin her radiation treatments, many doctor offices are either closed or greatly limiting the people they see and treat. I get this, but we need for her to begin receiving her treatments as soon as possible. It has been about six months now since her diagnosis. We are waiting now for a return call from the radiation oncologist’s office to set up treatment dates. This oncologist was one of the first people Loraine called on Wednesday after being cleared, we hope to hear something before the end of the week. Once we hear back and get a date and time confirmed, before her first treatment session, Loraine will go through a radiation therapy planning session (simulation), in which her radiation oncologist will carefully map her breast area to target the precise location of her treatments. During the simulation:

  • A radiation therapist will assist her into a position best suited to target the affected area and avoid damage to surrounding normal tissue. Sometimes pads or other devices are used to help you hold the position.
  • Loraine will have a CT scan so that the radiation oncologist can locate the treatment area and normal tissues to avoid. She will have to try to relax and remain as still as possible to help ensure consistent, accurate treatments.
  • A radiation therapist will be marking her body with tiny permanent tattoo dots. These marks will guide the radiation therapist in administering the radiation.
  • The dosimetrist, radiation physicist and radiation oncologist will utilize computer software to plan the radiation treatment she will receive. Once the simulation and planning are completed and multiple quality assurance checks are done on her first visit, her radiation treatments will begin over a course of five days per week over a six week period.

For all the thoughtful prayers and positive thoughts lifted up on my dear wife’s behalf, I am truly grateful and humbled.

God bless and thank you.