So…you would think that I would be a bit more mellow about things by now, but appparantly I can still be blindsided by a “sucker punch” in this crazy cancer game.  There is no other reason why 5 days after visiting with the radiology guys at U of M that I am still kind of in a funk.  I don’t even want to think about it, yet, thats all I can think about.

Last week we went to Ann Arbor to see Dr. H, in the Department of Radiation Oncology, except at U of M, since it is a major teaching institution, you get a “twofer”.  Two docs for the price of one….sort of.  First we saw Radiation Doc One, (actually a resident) and he delivered all the news that you don’t want to hear.  All the potential side effects of radiation that you don’t want to think about, and some you never even considered before, such as:

Fatigue…apparently it becomes more significant as time goes on….(and my “plan” includes 25 treatments over 5 weeks).  The recommendation is to curtail activities, take naps and go to bed earlier.  Of course, if I choose to do radiation, I will be receiving the treatments as I go back to teaching full-time…I think.

Skin Irritation and Burning…..I was told that skin becomes very dry and sensitive, gets red or just gets darker, and feels thicker or firmer.   I’ve also read about “radiation recall” where the area treated can turn red and skin may burn and itch for hours or days with even a small amount of sun exposure.  Of course the area radiated for BC patients is from clavicle to lower rib and from sternum to the middle of the side (under arm to the bottom rib).  Outline that area on your own body…it’s quite big, huh?

Lymphadema….not to be taken lightly.  This is when fluid builds up in your body.  If you have had any lymph nodes removed (12 of mine were taken) you are at a significant risk of this.  This may go away in a few months.  Or, it may not.

Radiation Pneumonitis….means “inflammation of the lung tissues” and if you’re going to get this one, it usually begins a month after your radiation ends and lasts…for months.  Apparently, one kind of problem is a decrease in the levels of “surfectant” which is the stuff that keeps your air passages open. This means potential swallowing problems, coughing, shortness of breath or sustained heartburn.  The radiation oncologist will carefully set up your treatments to avoid your lungs, but it may not be avoided altogether.  Yuck.

Slight risk of rib fractures either now or in future months.  Missed the reason why  but I guess it is because the radiation area is right there in the rib cage, and the potential damage is to the bone marrow maybe??

Possible low white blood cell counts. If your blood tests show this side effect, treatment might be delayed for about a week, and of course everything else gets delayed for a week or more, too.

Brachial plexopathy is pain, decreased movement and sensations in the arm because of problems from the spinal cord to the left arm.

Of course your heart is in your left side, so a big treatment concern is the potential for heart damage and a higher rate of toxicity for  the coronary artery.

There are more potential side effects of course, but these are the ones Radiation Doc One talked to us about.  He also said that I could conceiveably take treatments in Toledo…as 25 visits to Ann Arbor (75 minutes away) might be too taxing.  I’ll talk about that in a minute.

Then of course, the “real” Doc, Dr. H came on the scene, and proceeded with a smiling face to tell me why I needed this 25 treatment regimin.  Number one on his list was “youth of the patient”.  I had to actually stop him and ask, “wait a minute, are you talkin’ about me?  I”m the young one?”  Good news, Baby Boomers, in the Radiology Department, you’re still YOUNG!  (But thats not a good enough reason to hang out there!)

Dear friends….this is still a work in progress, come back tomorrow to see the rest of Dr. Haymans comments.  I’m posting this now as I know you are wondering “what’s up!?”


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