Friday, July 1, 2011

A Crispy Burned Breast

Forget for a moment that the radiation machine is simply terrifying to look at. Once treatments begin, the body part being radiated will never be the same. At least, that’s my experience.
My right breast is the part of me being burned on a daily basis. Monday through Friday I go for these treatments. I slowly go down onto the machine -- get myself into position (thanks to the mold made earlier this is not so difficult) and begin the adjustment period. This is where the techs do all the necessary lining up. Getting me and my breast into just the right position -- absolute precison each and everytime. 
I usually have three techs working with me. In my case, there is one male. Okay. Now try to imagine that this young (rather good looking) guy is not only moving my breast into various positions, but is drawing on it. Yes, he has a black marker and he’s making Xs and other marks all over my right breast and the area nearby. It’s enough to make one laugh. At least, I kept my sense of humor. He realizes why I’m laughing and (professionally) joins in. The other two techs also begin laughing. Please, understand I’m not saying that radiation treatments are funny. Far from it. However, when you have this adorable young man (for that matter anyone marking up your breast) it has to make you laugh. Right? Maybe I’m weird?  (Keep in mind, I would never even think of letting my own husband - who is an artist - draw on my breast, so this is obviously a big deal. Come to think of it, Edward would have enjoyed drawing on my breast!) 
I keep laughing and they keep doing their jobs. I can’t believe this is really happening. I try to “third party” myself out of this moment. Maybe it’s someone else going through this... it isn’t me? Oy! I try to relax and stay calm. Fear is quickly taking hold of me. I realize that I am about to be “burned” by this machine. All those years of sunbathing -- forget it - this is super hard core. One area -- being charbroiled! 
Finally, they are done drawing and have finished all the configerations. They get to leave the room. I am there -- looking up to the ceiling and I can hear their voices from the room beyond. The intercom keeps us connected. They can also see me on a closed circuit screen. Great! Anyone walking by can now see me on a TV monitor -- my right breast about to be radiated. I close my eyes and it’s over! 
Radiation treatments are relatively fast. The longest part of the entire process is the set up. Ensuring that my right breast (and other pre-determined areas) is exposed to the radiation, is the most critical aspect of the treatment. The actual time spent being “radiated” is short in compassion. It takes me longer to get to the center for treatment than the whole process itself. 
Initially, I feel great. I can’t even tell that I’m having treatments. I go each day; I go home; I go to work; I go to bed: I live my life. As the weeks continue, however, things change. I begin to feel tired. No, I’m not tired. I begin to experience fatigue, which is beyond description in my book. I no longer can function as a human being. I go to work and find myself falling asleep as soon as I sit down. I stop driving myself to work, because I keep falling asleep. I don’t walk quickly any longer; I do a slow shuffle from place to place. I am exhausted -- again, unlike anything I’ve ever felt before. 
And my skin is turning pink. Then red. Then bright red. And it’s burned. Remember the worst sunburn you ever had in your life and multiple that a hundred times. My breast is crispy fried ... it’s charbroiled. And I can’t stop the pain! It’s horrific. On that magical pain scale of one to 10, it’s way beyond 10. The nurse offers me an oitment I can use on my breast. (I am not allowed to really wash myself in that area -- and only certain prescribed products can be used.) I receive a script for pain medication, too. 
The big day arrives. I run from my desk to the women’s room. I get into the stall and all I can think about “is getting my damn bra off”! It is cutting into me. In fact, any material touching my skin is painful. I remove the bra. It’s all black and dirty from all the markers being used. I toss it aside and feel somewhat relieved. I am now going to be a “child of the 70s” and go braless! Relief. That’s all I want. 
My right breast and the surrounding area is a bright, bright -- crispy burned red. For the moment, I can’t see beyond “now.” The pain is so intense. The burn is -- so real. 
This is radiation and when I’m done, this will be a chapter in my life. I will get through it and my breast will heal. But, for the time being, I can’t see anything other than the horrific image in the mirror. I can’t feel anything else but the pain. And, I also know that any remaining cancer cells are being “killed off” one by one! 

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