One week to go but anxiety rising

As I sit here contemplating what will be the last week of my radiation treatments, anxiety is rising. I’m happy to be so close to the end, but the end is apparently going to be a bit farther out than I first thought. At least, that’s according to the radiation oncologist (RO) I talked with yesterday. I appreciate her honesty, but …

Skin reaction to radiation continues to develop for up to a week after the treatment ends (rather like the delayed appearance of a full-blown sunburn, only longer). So the itchy, burning area on my neck, which is now starting to feel rather scaly and seems destined to peel, is likely to get worse for at least another few days until it finally starts to improve. (It was last treated Tuesday, November 3.)

To a lesser extent, the side of my breast under my arm is also itchy and irritated and appears as an obvious red patch, just like a sunburn.

I’ve numerous remedies at hand but none seems to work for very long. There’s the plain healing formula Eucerin, which I can use as often as I want; the Eucerin with the 2% lidocaine mixed in, which is supposed to be used only 2 or 3 times a day; the Miaderm-L with 4% lidocaine, to be used no more than 3 times a day; and the OTC 1% hydrocortisone cream, to be used 3 to 4 times a day over not too large an area (which probably means not the entire left half of my chest). The Aquaphor can be soothing but is so greasy I’m trying to avoid it as much as possible (besides, it loosens the positioning stickers the techs have put all over my chest). Still in reserve: asking the doctor to prescribe the stronger 2.5% hydrocortisone cream. And if I get really desperate, like at night, I have some oxycodone left from my surgery, but that stuff makes me so queasy, I can’t really imagine taking it.

The doctor also suggested ice packs, which gave wonderful relief the one time I applied one, but I’ve read everywhere on the internet, from very reliable sources (including the Univ. of Colo. cancer center’s own web site), to avoid extreme heat or cold to the already damaged skin or risk additional damage. So I’m left afraid to use ice packs and doubting what my doctor said, or maybe just my understanding of what she said.

She also said ibuprofen or Tylenol would help, so I’m hitting the ibuprofen regularly now. Not sure if it’s helping or not. For sure it’s interfering with my daily baby aspirin regimen (routine stroke and heart attack prevention), but I’m willing to let that slide for a few days. I’ve little faith in Tylenol since it’s not an anti inflammatory; it’s never done much for me.

The last option is abandoning standard clothing. Dig out old summer tank tops that won’t touch the neck area (but try to stay warm at the same time!). Oh, and keep the head up and turned to the right so the second and third chins won’t settle over the irritated area. Abandon the bras that touch and irritate other areas. Try to keep the left arm lifted away from the body. Keep all irritated areas as untouched and cool as possible. (Now try to carry on as though nothing were wrong …)

And all that’s just for the areas no longer being treated. Still to come are 5 more treatments to the boost area in the middle of my chest where the tumor and cancerous nodes were (I’ve already had 3 treatments there). So far, thank goodness, there’s been no irritation. But I’m left imagining what 5 more treatments concentrated on that one area might do. I’ve read, unavoidably, about some of the worst-case scenarios (you can’t search for information on the internet without finding some stuff you’d rather not see). I can only hope I will not be one of those cases. But there’s no way of knowing. So I’m left with my apprehension and not knowing. Ativan helps some,  but anyone who knows me will tell you I am a worrier par excellence!


Note: Sun. 11/8/15: Today I’ve been completely free of all pain, burning, itching, or other kinds of irritation. I attribute it to either the simple passage of time and natural healing, or the receipt yesterday morning of two tubes of Miaderm, sent by a dear friend, which are enabling me to practically bathe in it now instead of trying to make my one tube last as long as possible.


12 thoughts on “One week to go but anxiety rising

  1. philosophermouseofthehedge Saturday, November 07, 2015 / 12:47 pm MDT

    You sound like you are dancing on hot coals. UGH
    If you use cold packs, put a cloth/washrag or something between you and irritated skin – not as cold, but protects skin. (I never liked Tylenol – it makes me ill.)
    Can you take a cool oatmeal bath like we did with chicken pox?
    I’ll just sit here and worry along, too.

    • PiedType Saturday, November 07, 2015 / 1:09 pm MDT

      I do it to myself — the worrying and fretting. What will be will be, whether I worry about it or not. Wish I could just be content with managing today today, and tomorrow tomorrow. Today I’m managing. And I may well continue to do so for the duration. And all the fretting will have been for naught.

      Yes, I’ve thought about trying just cool compresses. Coolness derived from the evaporation. A washcloth would drape nicely around my throat. And thanks to a friend, I have some of those cloths designed especially for that purpose. I read about someone doing the oatmeal bath thing; I’m just not inclined to indulge the mess. At least, not yet.

      • philosophermouseofthehedge Sunday, November 08, 2015 / 11:12 am MDT

        Can you use aloe vera. Different docs/treatments mean different responses. You may need to check. Some gels have additional chemicals in them you may want to avoid. read labels. You can find pure aloe in healthfood and other stores. If you have an actual plant, just break off a piece and spread the ooze on. It does soothe. We have lots of plants now – easy easy to grow…like it will take over the place/any size pot. Might be an option.Worked here.Husband had/still has real problems with lotions/creams now.

        • PiedType Sunday, November 08, 2015 / 11:38 am MDT

          Was looking for bottled pure aloe vera with lidocaine (used to have some) when I came across the Miaderm. It’s more than 10% aloe vera, so I feel like I’m getting the benefits of aloe along with the other good ingredients (notably calendula). For now it seems to be working quite well. Or maybe my neck is just starting to improve, finally. One day at a time. At the moment, having just stepped out of the shower, I’ve no discomfort at all (knock wood).

          I’ve never done very well nurturing indoor plants. Black thumb. And so many of them are toxic to pets (including aloe vera, I just read). I’ve pretty much given up on them.

        • philosophermouseofthehedge Wednesday, November 11, 2015 / 9:32 am MDT

          Oh, meant to mention that pure aloe with lidocaine may be in the sunburn aisle – we found it there once

        • PiedType Wednesday, November 11, 2015 / 10:48 am MDT

          That’s where I’ve always found it. But they don’t carry nearly as much sunburn stuff in the fall and winter.

  2. Jim Wheeler Saturday, November 07, 2015 / 1:07 pm MDT

    Just a thought here, PT. You said,

    The doctor also suggested ice packs, which gave wonderful relief the one time I applied one, but I’ve read everywhere on the internet, from very reliable sources, to avoid extreme heat or cold to the already damaged skin or risk additional damage. So I’m left afraid to use ice packs and doubting what my doctor said, or maybe just my understanding of what she said.

    Is it possible that the advice against extreme hot or cold might be due to the skin’s insensitivity to burning or freezing because of the numbing effect of lidocaine and the like? If that’s the reasoning, an ice pack with refrigerator cubes near the melting point should be safe because the skin temperature will never get below freezing.

    • PiedType Saturday, November 07, 2015 / 1:13 pm MDT

      True, it’s the danger of “freezer burn,” if you will, that must be avoided. So certainly I’d have to be cautious using cold in conjunction with the lidocaine. Cool, not cold, compresses may be the answer. Even with normal skin, one is warned about too much cold for too long.

  3. itsbecauseisaidso Saturday, November 07, 2015 / 7:20 pm MDT

    Hi! My skin got very yucky at the end, and continued to get worse for two weeks after the treatments ended. I used saline soaks all the time, aloe vera gel straight from the plant, and a prescription silver sulfadiazine cream.

    At my radiation hospital (Princess Margaret Cancer Centre) they were all about the saline soaks for burning skin. You can buy saline solution at the drugstore (NOT the type for contacts though) or make your own solution, or if money is no object, you can buy foil packets of saline-soaked gauze pads.

    I’m going to paste in the instructions here, and put the link at the end. It looks long, but it’s all very easy and makes the entire area feel better every time you do it.

    • Where can I buy saline solution?
    You can buy sterile saline solution at any drugstore. Only buy saline solution that is 0.9%. If you buy sterile saline, you can use it right from the bottle – you do not need to boil it.
    You can also make saline solution at home.
    Do not use saline solution that is made for contact lenses. This type of saline solution has preservatives. Preservatives may irritate your skin.

    • How do I make saline solution at home?
    Things you will need:
    — A clean pot to boil water
    — Table salt
    — Clean jar with a lid
    — Clean soft cloth (a thick face cloth or J-cloth)
    — Clean bowl
    1. Pour 4 cups (1 litre) of tap water into a pot. Add 2 level teaspoons (10 ml) of table salt.
    2. Bring the solution to a boil. Mix until the salt is dissolved. Allow the solution to cool.
    3. Pour the cooled saline solution into a clean jar. Cover with a lid.
    4. Write the date the solution was made on the jar.
    5. Store the saline solution on the counter or in the fridge. Most people like it at room temperature.
    6. Throw away any unused saline after 2 days.

    • How do I do a saline soak?
    1. Wash your hands.
    2. Place a clean, soft towel in a bowl. A thick face cloth or J-cloth works best.
    3. Wet the cloth with saline.
    4. Gently squeeze the cloth to wring out extra liquid.
    5. Place the cloth over the affected skin for 5 to 10 minutes. Do not leave the cloth on your skin too long or it will dry out. Avoid scrubbing your skin.
    6. Remove the cloth.
    7. Let the area air-dry for 1 to 2 minutes.
    8. Repeat these steps on other affected areas. Wash your hands and use a new cloth and bowl each time.
    9. You should apply a saline soak 3 to 4 times a day or more often if it makes you feel more comfortable. Keep doing the saline soaks until the area is healed, even after radiation treatment has finished.
    10. Apply prescription creams after the skin is dry.

    Best of luck! It does get better.

    • PiedType Saturday, November 07, 2015 / 8:11 pm MDT

      Thank you for all that information. It will be handy to have if I get to the point where I need it and my doctors recommend it. (I had to look up J-cloth. Wasn’t familiar with the term.) Thank you so much for stopping by and lending your support. It helps to hear from someone who’s been through it.

      • itsbecauseisaidso Wednesday, November 18, 2015 / 11:36 pm MDT

        I stalked every blog I could find of women with triple negative breast cancer, then those with lymphedema, then those with cancer-related fatigue. I found reading the first-person accounts of women with the same conditions was the BEST education. We learn best when we share experiences.

        • PiedType Thursday, November 19, 2015 / 8:20 am MDT

          I was very careful about stalking. I wanted relevant information, but I didn’t want to see horror stories about how bad things had gotten for some people. Didn’t need any more anxiety than I already had. Really skipped past those as much as I could. Avoided most of the forums and just read what the accredited clinics and organizations said.

"You don’t have to say everything to say something." ~Beth Moore

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