Now while I'm writing this, in my head I'm hearing the song Disco Inferno. "Burn baby burn"
I had met with the plastic surgeon to discuss reconstruction. Since I hadn’t had radiation yet, he wanted to see me afterwards to check my skin. He kept emphasizing that Dr. Chen should avoid burning me. Burning me?!? Oh great, another thing to worry about! Next time, I saw Dr. Chen you know the first thing that I said to him. Don’t burn me!
Since I had cancer in my skin, they needed to adjust my radiation. I would have the regular radiation (if there is such a thing) and then halfway through they would place a wet towel on my chest for the next part of the treatment. This towel would simulate a layer skin. This would allow the radiation to penetrate deeper into my skin. Oh joy!
I watched my skin diligently. I was told by many people outside the medical field to moisturize my skin. When mentioning this to the staff I was told NO! Studies had shown it doesn’t help and could make it worse. So no moisturizing for me. Every Thursday, when meeting with Dr. Chen my mantra was the same – Don’t burn me.
I was nearing the end of my 6 weeks of treatment and it happened. I was burned. My skin was raw and it was uncomfortable. Talking with Bev my nurse, I was told that it would get worse for about two weeks after treatment. Say what?!? Come on, not only did I have radiation and get burned, it’s going to get worse? Really! Enough is enough people. She gives me a stringent with gauze. I’m to apply this several times a day to help dry up the area. I was then to apply moisturizer. If my skin started oozing or I had a fever I was to call her. This just got serious. I wondered what I was in for.
I kept hearing from everyone that radiation was a breeze compared to chemo. While that may be true, radiation wasn’t a picnic either. Radiation was Monday through Friday, at 9:45 a.m. for six weeks. I was fatigued and I was severely burned. I’ll admit it, it really hurt. I was in pain. My skin was exposed and wet in some spots. Wearing clothes was brutal, forget the bra. (Can you say lopsided?) I walked with my left arm up in the air because my skin was so raw. I couldn’t get into a comfortable position to sleep. I tried to prop my arm up on a pillow to keep from touching the area. To sleep, I wore a huge shirt only my right side, leaving my left side clothing free. I would apply to astringent right before I went to sleep in hopes of drying it up. I had a fan attached to my IPhone which I constantly used to dry up my skin. I had a miserable few days. At that time I was thinking this wasn’t so easy. I’m pretty sure all the people who told me radiation was a breeze never had it before. Chemo was fatigue and nausea, this was painful. Having the radiation, no big deal. The after effects, huge deal. But as with anything, slowly but surely, I began to heal. The wet areas did dry up, the burned skin flaked off and my skin began to look better. It took a few weeks but my skin healed. I was able to get back in the pool and life started to return to the new normal.
Looking back, I don’t know why I was naïve to think I wouldn’t burn. I burn just looking at the sun let alone beams of radiation radiating my skin. I was told at my radiation orientation that there was the possibility of burning. I knew the score going in. I was just so convinced it was going to be so much easier that I didn’t entertain any issues. It’s over and I’m done. I survived radiation and the side effects. Another part of the journey is over. All treatment for my cancer is completed. I met some amazing people, (patients and caregivers) along the way. I learned that I can make anything fun. I was down in the valley but I reached the peak. So what if I got burned, I survived. I’m here and all the fatigue, nausea and pain is worth it. I’m a survivor – how great is that?