The damp towel

There’s one more detail that I forgot to include in yesterday’s description of radiation therapy.  For inflammatory breast cancer patients, at least, there is an additional indignity.  (Yes, I know, it doesn’t sound that hard.  And it’s not.  It’s quite easy, really.  But it does begin to wear on you, after 15 treatments or so.  Especially when there are 20 or so to go.)

The damp towel.

Every other day, like this morning, the sequence described in my earlier post is repeated, with one exception.  After the initial alignment, after the technician draws on my skin, after the great eye of the machine is moved to the proper angle, one of the technicians appears with a warm, wet towel and drapes it over my chest.  (It sounds soothing, and it is for the first minute or two, but in that cold, sterile room, it quickly becomes a damp lump and not so pleasant.)

After radiation at each angle, she pulls it back for a minute while they perform the realignment, and then drapes it back over my chest, carefully folded, before they leave the room and turn the machine back on.  The damp towel is a neat trick, actually, as it absorbs the first part of the x-rays before they reach my body, allowing the brunt of the radiation to hit me exactly at the surface of my skin — burning me more efficiently.

This is required for IBC patients, because the tumor was originally in the skin, remember?  All through the dermatics and the lymphatic system?  Which means that the skin is perhaps the most vulnerable spot for recurrence.  So we must sear it, killing the cancerous cells and a good number of healthy ones too.  The sunburn appears faster, stronger, and the skin is damaged so completely that breast reconstruction, if one has not already had expanders implanted at the time of mastectomy, is impossible.

That part doesn’t bother me, however.  I am prepared for sunburn.  I am prepared to burn and crisp and freckle and have damaged skin for life.  It doesn’t matter to me.  I just want this cancer gone.

So I lie there under the damp towel and dream of warm summer days at the beach.


11 Responses to The damp towel

  1. Nancy says:

    And you are a beautiful dreamer =)

  2. Sometimes I just sigh when I read your posts…I appreciate your honesty – I know so much more now about cancer than ever before, despite the fact that both my parents have been through this!

    Yes, summer…

    Another giant sigh today…I learned yesterday of yet another woman fighting IBC, so I dusted off my first OrganicMania post – dedicated to you – and updated it and this time, saved key words like “breast bug bite,” “breast bruising” with the hope that some woman looking for info would find it. I put in a bunch of links to your posts about IBC and about How to Help a Cancer Patient.

    All the best to you – you are so often in so many people’s thoughts…the power of prayer is helping….

  3. Robin says:

    My favorite aunt was just diagnosed with a different, but also extremely aggressive, form of cancer. I can only hope that she has half your strength and spirit.

    Hang in there Susan. (((gentle hugs)))

  4. Ally says:

    Any chance they could bring a fresh, newly-warmed towel half way through so at least it wouldn’t be cold?

  5. whymommy says:

    Lynn, that’s amazing … so many people, such a “rare” disease. Do send her my way if you think it would help her at all … I can also help with D.C. referrals and such if she lives around here, or getting her set up with the IBC list if she doesn’t.


  6. You are so brave.. but a soggy towel just sounds yucky – warm or cold… eeww. I’m so sorry you have to endure this.

    It’s a good thing you have a really good imagination… the beach.. ahh… The click click of the machine can be the seagulls stealing your pretzels. That will give you a good visual for tomorrow morning! LOL!


  7. Amelie says:

    Is there any particular reason why the room is so cold? Or, to put it another way, could they make it more comfortable for patients without reducing the efficiency of the treatment?
    I hope radiation is over soon enough, and successful.

  8. Bon says:

    the cold room combined with the cooling towel combined with the intentional frying of skin…yikes.

    yeh, that would get old fast.

    i hope soon towels are all about days at the beach for you, and relaxing baths, and nothin’ else.

  9. NYFriend says:

    Your description is so vivid (they all are). It really sucks what you have to go through. Your coping skills continue to amaze me. The beach…ah the wonderful beach. Soon you will be there, frolicking with your boys. 🙂

  10. NoRegrets says:

    I just saw this in a nursing journal: Dianna Matherly had both breasts removed and said she did not want reconstruction and was met with incredulity and resistance. The chronicle of her journal is 21/31/ Dianna.
    her artwork can be found at

    Just as an fyi.

  11. Margerie says:

    I got a big blubbery piece of rubber called a “bolus” It was cold.

    I also tried with all my might to picture those bastard cells getting obliterated while I was soaking up some sun. Too bad about all those annoying sounds.

    The only good thing about rads is you can count down the days and it keeps going by faster and faster!

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