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.