Graduation tears

This morning was my last radiation treatment. The purpose of the radiation is to knock down any cancer that might be lingering in my hip and pelvis. The radiation does not cure my cancer.

Overall the radiation experience has been pretty straightforward. I only had 10 sessions and I haven’t really noticed any side effects. Fortunately, the treatments are quick and I live pretty close to the cancer center so the impact to my daily routine was minimal.

Radiation is done one person at a time and so you don’t interact much with other patients. I did get to know my 2 technicians relatively well. Interestingly, both of them were here on assignment (one from Tennessee and one from the Caribbean). The cancer center does not have enough full time local employees and so they contract health care workers from other parts of the country. This is not a new phenomenon, it’s been happening a lot since COVID not just here but across the country.

Did the radiation help? It’s too early to know. There won’t be a clear, obvious signal. If my cancer become stable again then, yes, it probably helped.

So I’m “done” with radiation. When I arrived, the technicians greeted me with “happy graduation day.” When I finished, the nurse I met with to ‘discharge’ me handed me a certificate of sorts congratulating me on finishing radiation, signed by all the staff. It was a lovely gesture. After I met with her, I cried.

I shed tears not because of the kindness of the radiation staff or for finishing radiation. I cried because I know this is just one small blip on my road of trying to keep this disease under control. I’m not “done” with cancer. I haven’t really graduated to anything. I don’t feel like this venture into radiation is anything more than documenting and checking off a procedure.

I know it’s ok to cry about this. I feel sad knowing the reality of my situation. I let tears fall until I got to my car. I composed myself and drove home. I have things to do today and I’ll tuck this into the back of my mind and get back to living.

Hope you have plans to live big today too.


See my day-to-day living with MBC on Instagram: @nottodaymbc
Sciency-cancer stuff on Twitter: @dcharlevo

Woah, we’re half way there

Quick check in now that I’ve got 5 of 10 radiation treatments completed (with a music nod for a title to my fellow Gen-Xers).

Fortunately, things are going smoothly. The radiation staff are great. I’m literally in and out. I leave the house at 8:30 am and am back home by 9:15. (Watch me jinx myself for tomorrow!)

I don’t have any notable side effects (at this point). I’m slathering up with lotion and staying hydrated.

They do the same procedure every time so it does go a tiny bit quicker than the first time. On Wednesday I had a check in with the radiation oncologist which went fine.

Also on last Wednesday I had my monthly medical oncology appointment. That didn’t go as well. It was “fine” overall. My neutrophils were low (1.02) and normally they’d let me restart my Ibrance medication with that value but because of the radiation they are holding those meds for a month.

I get 3 shots each month. 2 were in my right hip and it seems like one has hit a nerve so I’m have some really unpleasant side effects with that.

On Friday I learned my tumor markers have almost doubled as well. Why? Could be many reasons. Not really sure.

So, it’s been an eventful few days.

On a fabulous note, I read a book on Saturday (Big Little Lies, recommend!) and Sunday watched both football games. It was a very relaxing weekend.

I’ve not been able to get outside for a good solid walk since late October. The weather is helping me to be less sad about that. It’s very Midwest-like with overcast skies, cold and occasional snow.

Soon the weather will break and I’ll be up and about. Darkest before the dawn!

Be well my friends.

View of the mountains from the cancer center parking lot this morning. You can barely make out some of the foothills. I’m ready for some sunshine!

1 ☢️ down, 9 to go

After a short delay, radiation treatment is on.

I got a call late Monday (yesterday) saying my insurance approved the treatment plan, so in I went today for my first dose.

As my kids would say when they were younger “easy peasy lemon squeezy”. At least this one was. 15 minutes from when I walked in the door to when I left.

Two things stuck out to me.

The first is that it sounded exactly like when you get x-rays of your teeth at the dentist. Except, it lasted for like 20 or 30 seconds. Not gonna lie – that was a little unnerving.

The second was that they radiated the “front” of me and then the machine spun around the table and the radiated the “back”. This tripped me out a little because that radiation was traveling through the table into me. That hit differently. This is some powerful stuff.

Of course I knew this. At the same time, I go through most days with stage 4 cancer compartmentalized, ideally in the back of my mind. This made it come screaming front and center.

Tomorrow my appointment is at 8:45 am. They’ve already closed schools across the front range area due to a winter storm so there is a good chance I won’t make it. Not to worry, I have more appointments in the afternoon for regular oncology check ins and it sounds like they can squeeze me in for radiation in the afternoon. All the appointments are in the same building.

I’ll leave you with this wintery scene. We are expecting anywhere from 4-12” inches by tomorrow mid-morning.

Radiation and tattoos!

Well, I’m entering a new chapter of cancerland: radiation. I have avoided the radiation dance up to this point.

Alas, here we are.

One of the ways they monitor my metastatic breast cancer is through blood work and what they call “tumor markers”. If the tumor marker value is below a certain threshold, no active cancer. If it is above that threshold, “probably” active cancer. My tumor markers have been slowly rising above the threshold for a long time and then rose rapidly recently. My scans did not show any progression so the interpretation of the oncologist was that the cancer was stable.

Maybe not.

My hip/pelvis stabilization surgery last month showed significant “space” in my hip where basically the cancer had eaten away at the bone. That sort of thing does not show up well on imaging. So, the surgery was to shore up the bone, which it did.

The surgeon recommended a round of radiation to my hip to kill off any cancer cells that might be hanging out. For weeks now I’ve been preparing for the radiation therapy. This includes a consultation with a radiation oncologist, a preparatory appointment with a PET scan of the hip and then a simulation appointment where they line up everything in the radiation machine.

I’ve completed all of that.

I’ve learned that there is an entire team of medical professionals that work on my case. The radiation oncologist leads the team. Radiation therapists are experts in operating the machines. Radiation oncology nurses help patients manage side effects and also communicate with the family. The medical physicists work with the radiation oncologist and others to make sure each treatment is tailored properly for each patient. The dosimetrists work with the radiation oncologist and medical physicist to develop the precise treatment plan for each patient including calculating the correct dose of radiation.

No wonder it’s so expensive!

At my first preparation appointment I got a few tattoos! Not as exciting as it might seem.

I have 3 small black dots across my hips that will be used to align the radiation machine using lasers. It’s very common to get these small tattoos when getting radiation. The radiation technician joked that he has done more small black dot tattoos than any tattoo artist in Boulder!

The radiation machine looks like a very large Kitchen Aid mixer! The white draped surface to the right is where the patient lays, the table slides back toward the machine and the round element on the underside of the top is where the radiation comes out.

Now that everything is set up, I’ll have 10 doses of radiation over two weeks. I show up at the same time every day. It’s 15 minutes from when I walk in the building to when I leave. Fortunately the cancer center is only a 10 minute drive from my house.

The only hiccup is one that is not shocking. Insurance.

Cigna called to say that my radiation therapy is still not approved. The first request was for a procedure that did not conform to NCCN (National Comprehensive Cancer Network) guidelines. The radiation oncologist submitted a revised request. This one is still pending. It was pending as of 3:30 pm Friday afternoon. I can’t risk going to my 8:45 am appointment on Monday and not having it covered.

So, we wait.

Likely this will just be a short delay. It probably won’t have an overall impact on my situation. It is worrisome though because if I were in a more urgent situation, it would be frustrating and potentially harmful to delay.

In the meantime I’ll be spending the weekend doing some treadmill walking, playing with the cat, and reading some scientific papers on lobular breast cancer. Wishing you a weekend that is exactly how you want to spend your time.

Stay tuned for the next episode of Cancerland!


Current medication: (2nd line of treatment) Fulvestrant, Ibrance, Zometa, Lupron