Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Wonderful World of Radiation

Me and my mom ringing the
end-of-chemo bell--WE MADE IT!!
Well, friends, I have some of the best news ever, so why not just jump right in with it? CHEMO IS OVER FOREVER!!! I'm three and a half weeks out from my last treatment, and I'm starting to feel like a normal (if quite hairless) person again! It's a bit incredible how energy-depleted hardcore chemo has left me, but each day I feel a bit stronger and the warming weather and more consistent sunshine are helping me build back up. And of course, the very best news of all...ROBY IS BACK!!!!!!! And now, everything feels right with the world. :) He got back nearly two weeks ago, and everything has been a whirlwind of activity since then--I'm only just starting to catch my breath and have a look around at our changed circumstances!

Before Roby even had time to recover from his jet lag, we met with my radiation oncology team, helped my dad plant a garden, moved down to a mini mansion in Provo, prepared for a fundraiser yard sale, and I caught a glimpse of what it might be like to be strapped to a torture rack shortly after receiving six tattoos...sort-of. Ready for some elaboration? Well, I'd be delighted!

Because the nearest hospitals where my insurance will pay for my radiation treatment are each about 25 minutes from my parents' house, Roby and I had been exploring and praying about other temporary housing options. Radiation treatment is a 5-day-a-week deal, and I didn't feel like driving almost an hour every day for a ten minute appointment. Since I have lots of contacts down in Provo, we got in touch with everyone who might be willing to put us up for a bit, and we miraculously came across a family who didn't even know us but was happy to let us stay in their basement. Even more miraculously, they live only five minutes away from the hospital and we found them just days before I needed to begin my treatment! In case you haven't noticed, my life always seems to come together in crazy ways at the perfect moment...

Enjoying the backyard paradise before heading
off to my first treatment
Now that I've completed three treatments, it's clear to me that while radiation treatment is fairly simple, transportation would quickly have become a major problem had we not moved. And what, you may ask, about this mini mansion I mentioned? Well...the Hodges, the family who kindly opened their doors to us, have everything from a legitimate home theater near our bedroom to a waterfall/creek in the backyard. We wake up every morning in our king-size bed to the sound of gently flowing water outside our window--it's honestly quite zen-like! And although the Hodges have four young kids, they hardly ever come down to the rather-large basement, so it almost feels like we finally have our own place!

And now, on to the torture chamber... I've heard a fair amount of things about radiation treatment, and most of them are decently positive. Almost everyone says it's easier than chemo, because the side effects are much less severe, and long-term side effects are relatively rare. After meeting with my friendly radiation oncologist, I was pretty optimistic about the whole thing and ready to move forward. Of course, the one thing I really didn't love about the whole process is the need to get tattoos...yup--that's right--TATTOOS! The doctors and techs have to line up the radiation machine in the exact same spot every day, so they use the tattoos as a map to guide the machine. But, not to worry--rather than sitting in a dark tattoo parlor while a spikey-haired, overly pierced, black-clad tattoo artist painted butterflies on my arm (sorry for the stereotypes...), I was treated to a cheery, 20-something radiation tech sporting blue scrubs. And after running me through a CT scan, she simply put six dots of ink on strategic parts of my chest and armpit and then poked me with a needle on each one--it kinda hurt owing to the sensitivity of the area, but it was nothing more than one prick per microscopic dot. Most of the dots (I prefer that to tattoos) aren't visible to the public, but even if they were, they actually just look like dark freckles--none will be the wiser...

This is only a small portion of the "artwork" from
the first day of treatment. I was thoroughly marked!
At any rate, I thought I was free and clear of difficulty after I got my dots and set up my first appointment. Oh boy...bring on THE RACK... Because I'm receiving radiation to my chest and underarm area, I have to lie on a rather hard table with my arms stretched above my head gripping two plastic handles while my feet are rubber-banded together to prevent me from moving and messing up the radiated area. It generally only takes about five or ten minutes each day for treatment, so being in that position shouldn't be so bad. Unfortunately, owing to some miscommunication about where I was supposed to place my head (to the side or looking straight up), in addition to x-rays and some crazy, first-time sharpie drawings all over my chest, I was on that table for almost an hour the first day. Believe me...my arms were killing me! The same day I got my tattoos, they created a mold for my arms (also helps with the lining up)  and made sure my head position would be comfortable if I had to lie there for up to twenty minutes. But on that first treatment day, they told me I had to look to the side to avoid a radiated and scar-tissued airway in my throat, so I didn't mention the fact that the mold felt intensely uncomfortable since it was made with my head straight up. It wasn't until I had pain shooting up my arms and through my neck that I finally decided to say something...silly me...turns out it took forever because they couldn't seem to line up the machine without my head in the right spot. At any rate, all was resolved  and they promised not to torture me again! (And just in case you wondered, they said that because I'm thin--woohoo! best news so far!--I don't have to turn my head in order for them to avoid radiating my throat.)

My friend, the radiation machine
Although I was a little wary of going back the second day, it turned out to be a breeze. They created a special Pandora station just for me, propped up my legs with pillows, lined me up, and were done in ten minutes. Phew! Now I just have to pop in each day and listen to my tunes whilst trying to ignore the buzzing machine rotating around my upper body and at times resting ten inches from my face. I can live with that. :) In a couple weeks, I may get a sunburn-like redness in the radiated area in addition to some fatigue, but I figure nothing is as draining and crummy as chemo! I also have to stay out of the sun as much as possible--a bit of a bummer for this time of year, but shade is also a good option for enjoying the outdoors!

Last but not least, I have to explain my reference to our upcoming fundraiser yard sale! Even though my insurance is pretty awesome and pays for most things, cancer is a pretty pricey beast... We've had lots of unanticipated expenses. As I've been sorting through boxes of my old stuff, we decided to have a yard sale to raise some money! A bunch of neighbors and other family members have donated things to our sale, so we have an incredible amount of great things that people can buy! We'd love it if you want to stop by and see the loot (my mom will be making yummy cinnamon rolls too!), so if you're in the area, come to 564 S. Main in Kaysville this Saturday (May 31st). The party starts at 8 a.m.! If you aren't in the area but would like to donate to our cause, please go to this website: http://donnaleeandrus.org/  It's mostly under construction, but the donations link will allow you to send a little something through Paypal. Just bear in mind that I don't expect anything from anyone--your prayers have produced many miracles, and that will always be more than enough for me! I only posted the donation link because a few people asked if they could help out. I'm grateful to all of you for following my story this far--everyone's support has helped me more than you can ever know. And, of course, there will always be new adventures and updates in the future!
Yup...my eyelashes are all gone--but in a couple weeks,
they will be back to stay!

1 comment:

  1. You look so beautiful! You seriously just radiate happiness and love and I think that is so incredible considering all you have been through. You are an amazing example Donna!