Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Shimmer, shimmer…

Posted Jan 31, 2009 12:09pm

I feel like a glow worm this week, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. For you old folks that would like to take a trip down memory lane, see the videos at the end of this update. There’s a 1957 version of the Mills Brothers singing “Glow Worm” and an updated version that starts out slow, but if this lady were on stage instead of sitting in a tacky room (sorry), we could really appreciate her great voice – both videos earned a 5 star rating on YouTube!

As usual, I digress. Where was I … ah yes, week #1 of radiation coincided with a battery of updated tests. I started treatments on Tuesday, and by Thursday things really went crazy – the day began with my quarterly MUGA scan. This is the heart scan to make sure the Herceptin treatment I’m doing for the next year won’t give me a heart attack before it prevents a recurrence of the cancer. For a brief recap, they do a blood draw, mix my blood with a radioactive isotope, re-inject the blood with a lead-coated syringe (THAT’S a comforting sight), and then take a movie of my beating heart. In essence, I become the xray film.

The second stop of the day was an hour in the hyperbaric oxygen chamber, after which I always feel great. Now that I’ve learned to control the pressure from inside the chamber, I don’t have to depend on the doctor to do so from the outside, and I can prevent the usual ear-popping phase during the initial and final pressure changes. I must have had an underlying fatigue when I was going through chemo, because I used to be able to snooze throughout the session. Now I feel so good going in that the boost of oxygen sends my mind racing for an hour - I redecorate the house, replant the garden, rearrange my office and rewrite my business plan. The best part is that I pretty much have enough energy to do all these things once I’m out of the tank.

Next was a drive up the street to the oncology center where I donated two more vials of blood to check the status of red and white cells (perfect levels and holding!) and the first of quarterly tests for cancer markers. Usually it’s an easy draw from the port, but some days it is stubborn – the chemo will go in, but the blood won’t come out. We certainly gave it every effort. The nurse had me turn my head, raise my arm, bend forward till my head was almost on the floor. In the end we gave up and had to take a draw from my hand, since the vein in my arm had already participated enough for the day.

But wait there’s more! I hung out for another half hour for the Herceptin drip - and a wire-wrapping lesson from one of the nurses. We are both beading junkies; I brought her instructions on a double needle peyote stitch and she brought in samples from her latest wire-wrapping class. This is a technique that I never quite got the hang of, but she had all the necessary tools and extra wire, so she gave me a quick lesson and left me to practice during the treatment – drip… wrap… drip … turn the pliers… drip drip …wrap …drip drip drip… twist… I think I got it.

With all that complete, I headed for the office... After successfully executing a schedule like that, I will never be able to use the "not enough time" excuse for not exercising.

So far radiation is not so bad. I’m in and out within ten minutes, including time to change, rewrap my scarf, and dab on a little Chinese burn cream before I get dressed again. I lay in the mold that positions my head and arm, the techs take a couple of minutes to calibrate everything, and then scurry off behind the protective wall to zap me from one side and then the other. The first day I was there must have been a training event, because there were at least 6 techs in the room. I felt like a queen bee with all the workers busily swarming and fussing over me. On other days there are just two or three techs; everyone has been friendly and caring, and explain every step that is going on. It’s pretty comfortable; I lay on a narrow but padded table, they put a big cushion under my knees, and a loop around my ankles so I won’t forget to KEEP STILL.

Once everything is set up, the radiation panel (a round gizmo about 2 feet in diameter) buzzes and whirs several times to zap me from the center outward, then rotates around and down to repeat the ritual from the lower side and up toward center. The first several weeks of sessions treat the entire breast, and the last week is a “booster” to treat just the area of the original tumors. In addition to the tiny tattoos, the techs usually use a black sharpie marker to draw an X on the spot. This stuff does not wash off easily, and I’m not supposed to scrub, so the black smudges look like I forgot to shower. Don't scrub and don't wear deodorant on the treated side... those techs are not getting paid enough to endure the outcome of THAT all day.

I meet with the radiation oncologist once a week for an update and exam to make sure I’m not frying. One of the head nurses is SO completely by the book – she checks with me at least once a week to make sure I’m not breaking any of the rules. A rebel, MOI???? She beckoned me into the exam room on Friday to review everything – DON’T lose any weight, DON’T wash with anything but Dove or Ivory (I don't dare tell her about Myriam’s miracle clay soap until this is over and I can say "I told you so" – I wouldn’t use anything else!), DON’T expose to sunlight (that takes care of being embarrassed in public by the smudges), DON’T submerge in a hot tub… the rule I learned last week, the day before our hot tub was installed.

I started radiation on Tuesday; the tub had heated for the first time on Monday, so that night we soaked long enought to turn into human raisins. I did “behave” and stay away from it for a couple of nights, but by Thursday I was ready for another. Like a mermaid flirting with the stars, I managed to balance in a side pose along the side of the tub that submerged allowable areas, but protected… well, you get the picture. “Nurse Ratched” found this story odd but amusing, and apparently enough of a precautionary effort to warrant her approval.

Since I still don’t see any signs of hair growth, I asked if the radiation would have any affect on that process. Nope, only to the area being radiated. No problem there…

She also said they are watching me… I am the first to use the prescription burn cream from Grandpa’s Pharmacy, a compounding pharmacy in Placerville. If you are not familiar with these, a “Compounding Pharmacy” is one that, well, compounds ingredients to support the unique requirements of an individual, rather than the one-size-fits-all approach of standard prescriptions.

Well folks, that concludes today’s show. Enjoy the entertainment and have a glorious weekend!

Mills Brothers - 1957

Glow Worm - Today