Tuesday, February 26, 2008

My Boob's Hot - Not

What a great experience this past week has been. There was no doom or gloom. Radiation treatments were fascinating, a friendly frying off any possible cancer that might want to sneak back in my left breast, and the doctors and the radiation staff were stars in my day. Of course I went home each day with two tubes folded up in my bra, which I had to step in to. I was confined from severe exercise and I couldn’t take a shower or sleep on my left side. That’s all tolerable. Nothing hurt. Nothing drained. Nothing was traumatic. The MammoSite 5

Two months ago it was Christmas and I awaited a biopsy of a small treasure in my left breast. Last Saturday my alma mater University of Memphis’ Number One basketball ranking was robbed by University of Tennessee. Yesterday was the third Sunday in Lent, a time of reflection and reevaluating one’s faith. Today was my liberation and celebration.. I’ve been living with a hot boob, Literally, hot because of a radioactive bead blowing around in a balloon in my precious breast twice a day. It warms up the place. I’ve carried this erstwhile balloon implanted in my boob for almost two weeks and wondered if it had begun to create a new organ in my body. (I.e. would they be able to pull it out when it was over?) In theological school, I studied grief counseling and remember being told when people lose weight or body parts (like a gall bladder or a uterus or 20 pounds) they can go through a period of grief. I wondered how I’d feel about my balloon and twin tubes hanging out the left side of my breast. They would be removed today. Would I miss having to care for them, having to fold them up in a bra which I had to live in 24-7, having to feel the puff of the radiation seed twice a day as it whirled like a dervish trying to kill any remnant of cancer in my breast? Doubtful. But today was the day.

Getting to the radiation clinic this morning was harrowing - a major traffic jam on the freeway at 7 a.m. No Starbucks for me. I try to be an half hour early to each of the 10 sessions so the staff can get started with preparations for the X-rays and get that done with. But today, I was late for the first session. (I was an hour early for the final one.) Much of the staff also had to wrangle with the same traffic backup and were delayed too. In the X-ray room, after putting on the hospital robe, a series of numbers were flashed on my breast and read on a TV screen as the bed and camera were lined up so the red beam hit the right area. A "fake bead" was placed in the balloon on the end of a long plastic covered wire just for the photograph. Arm over my head, I began praying my prayer beads. It helps time pass and get me centered.

That done, it was across the hall to the radiation room with signs of Danger on the door. I asked Dr. Fong if everyone gets the same radiation bead or if we each have our own. He answered that each patient has his/her own bead and it is used each day for the ten treatments. The new fresher versions that were due last Friday were not delivered because of the weather clog up in the East and airplanes being cancelled. But my seed was still good, just needed a longer residency in the balloon each session.
After the final moment of radiation, after Dr. Fong (photo left) came in with his radiation wand to make sure nothing radioactive was floating round the room, Dr. Lee entered to drain my balloon of liquid within ( I saw huge syringes laid out and wondered why) . A certain amount of liquid was expected to fill the syringe. It did. Then with a powerful twist in Dr. Lee’s green-rubber gloved hands, the balloon plopped out. OUCH. It stung. It really stung for a minute or so. (photo right) The nurse pressed the exit hole hard, and there was no drainage or blood to note. That was a good sign. She taped me up and said, I could shower tomorrow. And keep an eye on the hole that it doesn’t get infected. Hold off on tennis a week. Blood pressure, pulse, and temperature were great. I was a go for departure.

When I put on my bra and T shirt after the last session, on one side of the nipple area, it looked as if someone had sucked too hard on a drinking straw - it had caved in. When I commented, the nurse said, you do have a hole in your breast. Yeah. It’ll take a few days to re-form. I wonder what it is going to re-form with. A small area over the nipple was faint red - and that’s the result of the radiation. And my teeth ached.

But I’ve been blessed with a week of prayer and favorites - each day for the five hours between treatments, I spent time with friends who’d have me: discussing flower arrangements and her incredible orchid greenhouse with friend Bonnie, buying the best cookies anywhere at Cookies by Design for my granddaughter’s 16th birthday and rehashing our work at Juvenile Court and CASA with Mary, admiring unique designs using wool, yarn and a felting process with my crochet-knitting arts mentor Peggy, who made homemade corn chowder for me and my favorite tomato aspic, and Thursday lunching on a delicious veggie plate (turnip greens, cheese grits, grilled asparagus) with my daughter-in-law at Grove Grill, a favorite restaurant, where I ate again the next day with my precious friend Wendi. Then today, the last day, taking a two miles walk on the farm where I grew up and visiting with my mother while drinking her spiced iced tea.

But there was more - it really was a miraculous week of favorites - Circus de Soliel came to town with Saltinbanca, (by far the best entertainment in America is the Circus de Soliel productions), and the next night I went to the Center for Southern Folklore to hear my all time favorite singer Kate Campbell sing with a folk group called New Agrarians, and the third night to FedEx Forum with my grandchildren to watch the Grizzlies lose again. That’s not fun, but I love the NBA Grizzlies like a wayward son that won’t shape up. We all do. I also went to the Professional Bull Riders night to watch forty brave , limber cowboys in helmets attempt to ride the worst of bulls. I was able to take a Pilates class (working mostly the lower body), walk the river with two dear young friends including running up 83 stairs to get to the top of the bluffs, and finally reading my favorite Bible story about Jesus and the Samaritan Woman at the well to the homeless addicts who patronize our Sunday morning breakfast. John’s story is such an inspiring example about how unbiased Jesus was and wants us to be. No prejudice stopped him from talking to and touching outcasts and forbiddens. Then I spent the afternoon reading the NY Times , finishing the rewrite of 45 poems for a manuscript I hope to get published, and watching movies up for the Academy Awards, which I couldn’t hang in for. Too much red carpet. I prefer Sixty Minutes any time.

Did I get tired, never. Did I get depressed, not on your life. Did I feel any pain? None of that. I only felt energetic. I joked with Dr. Fong and Dr. Lee maybe what I needed to keep up this incredible energy was an occasional radiation. Had I gained a golden aura yet? They didn’t quite know how to take my exuberance. But, this is how to go thru Mammo-Site 5. It’s a privilege to be able to have the short version. So, keep busy. Be with friends and family you love, do things you love to do, don’t’ feel sorry for yourself, in fact, hug yourself and know it’s going to end and you’ll be a better person for having done it with a smile, then tackle washing your hair in the kitchen sink. You’ll eventually get your boob back, for better or for worse. (Photo: Asian medical dolls)

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