I’m Positively Glowing

GUEST CANCER JAM OF THE DAY: (the other decades were jealous, what could I do?)

 

 

Well, I’m on day 5 of the radiation train. I’m not really sure where the train is going, perhaps Chernobyl or Three Mile Island, where I hear it’s lovely this time of year.  On the bright side, I am enjoying all the benefits of the sun without having to sit outside at all. Thank goodness! Too much sun can give you cancer.

 

radiation alien

 

 

Seriously, I haven’t noticed any side effects yet, but I know that I’m a mere babe in the radiation woods. They tell me that by the end of the second week I may start to see some pink skin and experience some fatigue. I can hardly wait! It’s like being a kid and having to eat all the cereal in the box before you get the toy.

project 365 #17: troll dolls

Good Luck Troll Boob Altar

 

Since I caved in elected to do radiation therapy..I am doing my best to protect my skin and keep the fallout to a minimum. I’ve even pulled out my lucky mastectomy troll dolls and built them an altar upon which I pray to the Goddess of good boobs nightly:)

 

Actually, I found another good book written by a female naturopathic doctor who has been through breast cancer herself. It’s called “A Survivor’s Guide To Kicking Cancer’s Ass” by Dena Mendes. I haven’t finished it yet, but I’m using one of her tips for preventing skin damage from radiation. I mix Arnica gel, Traumeel gel, and Bach’s Rescue Remedy cream in equal amounts in an old cold cream jar and apply liberally 2 times per day. On top of that, I use Palmer’s Cocoa Butter for extra moisturizing. It’s too soon to tell how well it will work, but I’ll let you know. When the nurse says, “Now don’t use any creams unless we give them to you”, I just smile and nod.

 

 

I am also currently in the process of studying the effects of taking antioxidants during radiation. In general, I don’t think they are a great idea because the body needs some oxidative stress to perform certain functions. For example, did you know that exercise creates free radicals which are essential to improving muscle function and performance? No oxidative stress = no gain. However, since radiation is such an overwhelming, unnatural assault on the body, I may decide to take something to offset the nuclear bomb being detonated in my chest daily. I am already taking Vitamin E, Selenium and Quercetin. It’s the stronger antioxidant guys like N-Acetyl Cysteine I’m still researching. I want maximum protection without treatment compromise.

 

 

As for the pre-radiation/post-radiation tissue expander debate, I opted not to go ahead with expander insertion after my consult with Monsieur Monet, the third breast reconstruction artiste I  visited. I actually liked him the best. He made a lot of sense and he spoke with confidence about his recommendations. He said that if Dr. Rad would not allow the expanders to be inflated at all during radiation, there was no point in rushing to get them in. I would just be delaying treatment and opening myself up to an infection for no good reason. Kind of made me wonder what the hell Renoir was thinking when he suggested the surgery in the first place. Maybe he had his eye on a new Mercedes.

 

 

So that’s where I am. My skin is getting a little more sensitive after each treatment, the way it feels when you’ve come in from a long day at the beach and just know that the burn will show up in the morning. And oddly, I’ve been missing my son and feeling a little sad about him since I started radiation. I can’t imagine how the treatment could possibly affect my mood, but I guess anything’s possible.

 

 

In a way, the whole cancer debacle has been a huge distraction. I’ve had to focus so much on myself for the past year that I haven’t thought about James nearly as much as before I was diagnosed. So it’s weird to have these feelings resurface immediately after starting radiation. In Chinese medicine, grief dwells in the lungs. Maybe the daily bombardment of that region has stirred something up. I’m learning to pay attention to those things that I would have once dismissed as unscientific voodoo. Sometimes the universe speaks volumes if you listen with an open mind.

 

 

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Supplements and Everyday Miracles

My 14 year-old daughter and I took a girls’ road trip this weekend To Winston-Salem, NC, home of Wake Forest University and the Demon Deacons. image

I attended a nutrition conference put on by a wonderful vitamin company, Standard Process, as part of my chiropractic continuing education. The speaker was an acupuncturist and herbalist who has created a hugely successful multi-state practice by treating and healing people using only Chinese medicine and whole-food supplements.

We’re not talking about people with hang nails or acne here. This man told stories about patients like Ed, who had suffered a massive heart attack which left much of his heart muscle destroyed. When he first came for an office visit, it took him 20 minutes to walk from the front door down the hall to the consultation room. After each excruciatingly slow step, he had to rest against the wall before he could go on. When he finally made it to the office, he looked up with defeat in his eyes. “The doctor told me to get my will in order. He’s given me two months to live. Can you help me?”

Talk about the wind being knocked out of you! I can’t imagine the pressure of that plea. The practitioner told him that he would do his best to help him. The man could only come in every two weeks at first because he needed that long to recuperate from the exertion of the visits. Slowly, things began to improve. The man began walking in his neighborhood. In a few months, walking turned to jogging and rock climbing. Eventually, he stopped coming in. The practitioner often thought of him and wondered how he was doing. Eight years later, he ran into a mutual friend who filled him in. “Ed said to tell you hello if I saw you. He’s hiking in Utah.”

The weekend was full of inspiring stories like this one. Stories about scheduled surgeries being canceled because they were no longer necessary. Stories about diabetes being turned around in two weeks. Stories about women being able to fulfill the lifelong dream of motherhood after years of infertility. And the greatest part was that the stories were true and the remedies were simple. Whole food vitamins, nutrition and acupuncture.

I have to admit that I have been buying tons of synthetic vitamins to support me through my breast cancer treatment, and I never thought much about it. Among the interesting facts I learned this weekend was the pearl that most synthetic vitamins are made from coal tar, a known carcinogen, or petroleum products. The capsules are often made from the connective tissue of sick or weak animals. Recent studies that have come out showing that people who take the most supplements have the highest death rate from all causes are based on synthetic vitamins, not whole food supplements.

When you eat a carrot or a piece of broccoli, you’re getting a whole vitamin complex with all parts working together to provide the beneficial effect. Synthetic vitamins artificially strip one portion of that complex away and concentrate it into a pill with other undesirable ingredients. Not only does this significantly reduce any benefit that may have been received, it is sometimes harmful.

I came away from the weekend with a wealth of knowledge and great hope as both a doctor and a patient. I know that I will definitely be revamping my supplements after this weekend. Oddly enough, my Mima used to say that she would never take vitamins because they give you cancer. Maybe she was on to something.

The Love I Never Expected

80’S CANCER JAM OF THE DAY:

I know this is going to seem strange to some of you, but others will have an immediate spark of recognition, perhaps nodding your head or even shedding a tear as you see yourself in what I am about to write.

Breast cancer has certainly brought a lot of changes into my life. Most of them have been unwelcome and frightening, forcing me to find strength I never knew I had in the face of my own mortality. Yet, it hasn’t all been negative.

Being stripped of my comfortable outward identity has forced me to relate in a more raw, honest way with others, as I described in “Can Breast Cancer Make You More Beautiful?”. Having this disease has given me the opportunity to meet and interact with a host of Earth angels who have restored my faith in humanity. And now, the most unexpected thing has happened. Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been having what could almost be described as an out-of-body experience.

As I ran along a wooded path yesterday, I held back sobs. I felt an overwhelming sense of appreciation for my body as it chugged along for 3 miles, doing what I asked of it once again despite the suffering it has endured. I could almost hear a small voice begin to speak.

“I couldn’t help it that this happened, you know. I tried so hard to keep the cancer away. I fought so long and so hard, but I got too tired. It’s not my fault. I don’t understand why you keep letting them hurt me. Please let it be done. Don’t let them burn me. I’m feeling so much better and stronger now. Please protect me.”

It nearly took my breath as I listened. My heart ached. I felt the guilt of a mother who holds her child down while a wound is stitched. Tears stream down her face as her child’s eyes beg the question, “Why are you doing this to me?”

“It’s for your own good, to make you better” I thought. “What else can I do? It’s all so confusing and the choices are terrible. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

In that moment, I felt a fiercely protective love. For the first time in my life, I cherished myself like a toddler with bouncing golden curls and huge, trusting blue eyes. I vowed to spoil myself and show my tremendous appreciation for the body and soul that have bounced back with relentless courage and spirit after each insult.

As I finished my run, I said to that little voice, “I love you. You are my hero.”

Still Looking For Mr. Goodboob

80’S CANCER JAM OF THE DAY:

I’m still searching…searching for the magical sculptor who will mold from my fair, flattened silhouette into an artful bust that will make me grin when I catch a fleeting reflection of myself in a low-cut top. Apparently, my imagination and reality are having trouble lining up.

Pablo Picasso - Seated Nude

Pablo Picasso – Seated Nude (Photo credit: ahisgett)

You might remember  that I recently wrote about going on a two hour journey to meet my first plastic surgeon, henceforth known as Picasso. I drove to his office with great anticipation, heightened by the fact that his name is Jean-Pierre. How perfect! An “artiste” with a French flair. Ooh la la! (Yes, I do know that Picasso is a Spaniard, smart aleck).

Picasso’s office was very crowded and bustled with women in various stages of alteration. I waited 15 minutes in the reception area and was then called back to a room. There I waited another 45 minutes. Arrggh! I tried to be patient since I had only called the day before and they were kind enough to see me on short notice.

Finally, Picasso entered. It wasn’t lost on me that he was very attractive. Let’s see: French, a surgeon, good-looking, what else could one want? Oh, of course, he was also an Ironman triathlete. Once my adulation dimmed, Picasso started taking my history in a pleasant but very hurried fashion. He anticipated my answers and wrote them down before I could speak, frequently having to erase as I corrected him. I could tell that he was very aware of the many patients waiting in other rooms.

Picasso: “So you’ve had chemo and now you’re all done and ready to move on to reconstruction.” Scribble, scribble.

Me: “Um, no, actually I have to do radiation.”

Picasso: Erase, erase.  “Ok, so you want to get the implants in before you proceed with radiation.” Rescribble.

Me: “Well, no, my radiation oncologist would prefer that I wait to do reconstruction.”

Picasso: Erase. “Oh, I see. That’s fine if that’s what you want to do”.

Me: “Well, you tell me. What do you recommend from your experience?”

Picasso: “I think you should probably do whatever your oncology doctors recommend.”

Me: (thinking to myself) “Major copout.”

So, the bottom line I got from Picasso was this: He prefers to start with breast implant reconstruction, although he admits that there is a 1/3 failure rate after radiation. It’s an easier surgery with a shorter recovery time, and we can always go to Plan B if it fails. Plan B is to use my own tissue to create a breast, which involves up to 15 hours in the operating room and 6 weeks of downtime. He usually recommends waiting 6 months after radiation to begin, but he’s willing to start as soon as February based on some newer research showing that waiting leads to more scar tissue and less pliable skin.

Ratings for Picasso: Friendliness: B+   Office Wait: D     Explanation: A-    Patience: C

Fast forward to yesterday. I was supposed to start radiation therapy at 11:30 after days of soul searching, lost sleep, consulting the I Ching, you name it. I made my decision at midnight the night before to go forward and finally felt some peace.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Pierre-Auguste Renoir (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Luckily, I had an appointment before radiation with plastic surgeon #2, who we’ll call Renoir. When I entered this office, I was greeted very warmly by a smiling gray-haired lady with a ton of Southern charm. There wasn’t another soul in the waiting room, which I tried not to take as a bad sign. I filled out my paperwork and was taken back to a room immediately.

Once I had changed into a gown, Southern Belle came back and thoroughly explained the implant procedure. She showed me a tissue expander, which would be placed under my pectoral muscle through each mastectomy scar and slowly filled with saline over several months. At that point, it would be exchanged for a permanent silicone implant. She then showed me the different implant styles. At this point, Renoir walked in.

tissue expander

Renoir was a short, dark-haired man in his 50’s with a peculiar smile. He wasn’t nearly as cute as Picasso, but I felt more at ease with him. He listened attentively. No history form, no erasing. I asked about Plan B, the foob made from my own tissue. He came over to me and squeezed my belly, trying to coax out some fat. He furrowed his brow, “Nope. Not enough skin. You won’t be a candidate for an abdominal procedure.” Back to the implant.

Renoir: “So you have to have radiation. Hmmm. Are you sure you want to do that?”

Me: Horrified that I was having to rethink this decision yet again. “What do you mean?”

Renoir: “It really damages the skin badly. Has the doctor told you the benefit from doing it?”

Me: “Well, overall, it’s a 9% increase in 10 year survival.”

Renoir: “9%? Hmmm.”

Me: Panicking now. “But..the statistic I keep going back to is reducing the risk of local recurrence from 35% to <5%. That’s pretty good.”

Renoir: Looking doubtful. “Well, you have to make that decision. I’m just telling you what I’ve seen. It really makes my job a lot harder, from a result standpoint. You can decline radiation, you know.”

Renoir then proceeded to tell me that if I were going to do radiation, it would be a lot easier for him if I got the tissue expanders in before the skin was radiated to prevent healing complications. “Oh shit! Another curveball. I’m supposed to get zapped in an hour” I thought.

Renoir: “Go talk to the radiation doc and let me know what you decide. He may not want anything under the skin during treatment.”

I left with my head spinning and my heart pounding. So much for peace. Now I was facing the prospect of major surgery and doing the radiation with painful foreign objects imbedded in my chest. Or should I do the radiation? Oh God!

Ratings for Renoir: Friendliness: A    Office Wait: A+    Explanation: B     Patience: A   Freaking Me The Hell Out: F-

Long story short: I went to the radiation office and told the super nice lady at the front desk that I had to talk to the doctor before my treatment. I told him what the plastic surgeon had said about doing surgery first, and he agreed, much to my surprise. His only condition was that the expanders would not be allowed to be filled at all until after treatment. This would cause more of my lung to be irradiated due to changing my chest wall angle. No thanks.

I have one more plastic surgery appointment before I make a final decision. Tuesday, I’ll be off to see Monet. I really want to ask him if he thinks putting these expanders in before radiation is crucial to the success of the reconstruction. That’s my bottom line. My gut is leaning toward getting through one treatment at a time and not rushing things.

What do you breast cancer warriors think about the whole dilemma? I’d love to hear your advice.