Iatrogenesis is when the nature of the medicine that is used to heal you can at the same time be the thing that causes you harm and even possibly death. It is a scary notion, and one that cancer patients face from one procedure to the next. The chemotherapy drugs are toxic to both cancer cells and those healthy cells in the body and can cause extreme adverse reactions such as secondary cancers, neuropathy, hair loss, nausea, infertility and negative impacts on the brain. lungs, and heart. Any type of surgery can be dangerous Removal of the lymph nodes can put one at greater risk for lymphedema. And then there is radiation.
From the very beginning, I have been most frightened of radiation. Wikpedia explains that the "Radiation used for cancer treatment is called ionizing radiation because it forms ions in the cells of the tissues it passes through as it dislodges electrons from atoms. This can kill cells or change genes so that the cells can not grow." Changing genes and killing cells seems a bit frightening to me. Do these machines know not to change my healthy cells? What are my risks of getting secondary cancers? What about the studies showing increases in heart disease in patients who have undergone radiation therapy? Doctors generally answer these questions by stating that all of the research we have is based on much more primitive ways of using the technology. Radiation has changed dramatically since "those" studies were done. These are the responses that most all of my cancer sisters have received from their doctors in Canada to New York to California. And although there isn't a lot of clarity around my chances of an iatrogenic response to radiation - my radiation oncologist was pretty clear that women with breast cancer who forego radiation have a 30% chance of recurrence. Women who complete radiation reduce that to 10%. And with that, I decided that I will undergo radiation. I am scheduled for 30 rounds of radiation. I will go every day, Monday - Friday, for a total of six weeks.
After discussing my options, I was scheduled for my first appointment. I have been working with a physical therapist so that I can move my arm above my head for the radiation to begin. They had me lay on a table with my arm bent over my head where a special foam pillow was created so as to keep my arm in the correct position with each radiation appointment. I was then given my tattoos. Yes, permanent blue dots with a tattoo gun. I am trying to think of them as warrior markings. You can see in my picture above the small dot in the middle of my chest.
My second appointment was the "dry run". I laid down and they began situating the radiation lenses? Not sure what those things are called. They look like big cameras. After drawing all over my chest with a marker, they took a couple of x-ray images to see where all of my organs are. They also measured my breathing patterns. Stanford utilizes a special computer-aided therapy that synchronizes radiation therapy with breathing patterns - so they are able to radiate when the heart is furthest from the chest wall.
God willing, radiation is scheduled to begin tomorrow. I have not been feeling very well all weekend, so I am a bit worried they may postpone. I hope not. I have been really working to prepare for this part of the journey. One thing that I do when I am anxious, is I over prepare. Here is a picture of the skin care products that I have purchased to help prevent and treat any radiation burns. The pricey tube of miaderm was a present from my parents:-)