Burned, through and through

18 radiation treatments down, 17 to go.

I’ve committed to treating this part of treatment as no big deal, just part of my morning routine, but the truth is, it makes me tired. big time. I can still get out and about once a day, if I rest, but I am so tired afterwards.

My chest is turning red as well, slowly, so slowly, as if I were out in the sun on a summer day at the beach — but then I keep going back and doing it again! Every. Day.

I want to show you a picture of what it looks like inside the treatment room, and on my chest, but I’m sure I’d run into decency laws along the way, so I won’t. if you’re curious, though, here’s how it is for me.

Radiation treatments are always carefully planned and targeted so that the tumor is attacked but the lungs and heart are, mostly, spared. (You do have to watch that, though — a woman I volunteer with through the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network told me yesterday about the damage to her heart she sustained during radiation, called pericarditis, that will trouble her forever.). Although some women have spot radiation, the area, in my case, is large. How large? Hmmm.

Imagine yourself standing in front of a full-length mirror. Yes, naked. Sorry about that. Put your finger on the little bone in the middle of your chest, between your ribs and under your sternum. Yep, the zyphoid process. (Don’t say I never taught you anything!). Move your hand one inch to the left. Now, take a tape measure and stretch it from this spot in the center of your chest under your breasts if you have ’em, and stretch it around under your arm and to the back. Nine inches. Make a little mark here. Sure, with Sharpie. The radiation techs dot me with Sharpie every day, so it’s probably not a carcinogen.

Then go back to that funny little bone called the ziphoid process and stretch the measuring tape up towards the neck seven inches. You probably don’t want to mark this one with a Sharpie, as it would show like mine do above the neckline of my tops.

That’s the area I get radiated each day. 9 inches by seven inches, front and center, under the armpit, and around the back.

It burns clear through.

I know this, now, because my back is red and blistering, burned as badly as my front. I was surprised by this, as it didn’t happen last time, until my radiation oncologist said, “Well, Susan, the radiation is 6 to 10 million volts.”


So my front and back are somewhat red, with blisters on the back, and deep red crinkly skin under my armpits, which are thoroughly blasted from four different angles.

It’s not that bad, but it is something.

Any questions?


29 Responses to Burned, through and through

  1. Oh Susan, I want to say how sorry I am you have to go through this. Though, I know that it is the going through it part that will save your life and kill the cancer and its evil cellular minions. But, still I am sorry and praying for you every day.

    • Susan says:

      Aw, thanks. I don’t mean to complain, just to document. How was Relay????

      • If you want/need to complain you have MORE than earned the right to do so! Honestly, you are so strong through all of this and if at times you feel like you can’t or don’t want to be its okay to say so!

        Relay was amazing. I am working on a blog post about it right now!

  2. Susan says:

    I was a little wrong here — the radiation burn starts two inches below the zyphoid process/braline, and extends up seven inches from there.

  3. Linda Lawrence says:

    Thinking of you today! πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚

  4. allison says:

    No, that’s pretty clear. The only questions I have are for the amorphous assholish genius/god/fate who decided that this was the thing for you to be doing this year. Hugs — no, hugs would be painful. This sucks.

  5. *m* says:

    “Not that bad”? Seriously? Ouch.

    What are they doing about the blisters and the red skin, to prevent infection and (I hope) to ease the burning between treatments? Oh, please tell me there’s something.

    As hard as this is to read, I am trying to focus on visualizing those 10 million volts FRYING those shitty little cancer cells. ZAP. Take that. ZAP. And that. ZAP. And that!

    Sending you positive, healing, cooling thoughts.

  6. Lindsay says:

    Ouch. Yuck Susan. (not yuck gross out, but yuck sucky) I want to go buy you some sort of ointment. You are one tough gal.

  7. Robin Hurwitz says:

    I don’t mean to sound like an idiot, but can you put something like aloe on between treatment like you could a sunburn? Or a fan? (When the kids get a burn we blow on it…probably just a distraction, but still…) Sending you healing thoughts.

  8. Michelle says:

    I’m so sorry that you have to go through this…what do you wear? If you are blistered, can you do anything about it?

  9. caramamma says:

    Susan, I wish this was all easier…I have to hope that it will all be worth it in the end…. a few burns have to be worth a lifetime of happiness, right? thinking of you, xo

  10. Stimey says:

    Friend, that sucks. I had no idea it would go all the way through to your back. 😦

  11. Andrea says:

    Susan, thanks for sharing. I think about you every day and am hopeful that all of this working. It has to be.

  12. Kate @ upsidebackwards says:

    You have a remarkable ability to tell us about all of this without once sounding like you are complaining! Thank you for the reminder of your reality – it’s very easy for those of us not living it to forget just how hard the treatment regime is. I’m sending all my love, wishes for strength and grace (which you already have in abundance, but more can’t hurt), and very very gentle hugs.

  13. nanakats says:

    I’m so sorry you are going through this. I hope it is “the” lifesaving treatment and you do not have to suffer any further pain or discomfort.
    Thinking of you and reading you every day –
    Kathy Shapiro

  14. NYFriend says:

    I couldn’t agree more with Kate on all counts. πŸ™‚ You are amazing! I hope you can find some relief soon, and at least you are more than halfway done.

    Thinking of you…

  15. NYFriend says:

    Oh gosh, I just re-read this post. For some reason (wishful thinking I guess) I had pictured the radiation “box” on your RIGHT. You said the LEFT. Crap. Is your heart going to be okay? Have they talked to you about this, I’m quite sure it has crossed your mind. Is the research there, or is this yet again another area that we are frustratingly lacking?

    How are the boys doing?

    How do you feel besides tired and your super-mega sunburn? (As if that wasn’t enough.) Is your appetite okay, for instance?

  16. So sorry to hear what you have to go through, but admire so much your choice to share it. And don’t dismiss the picture idea… Truth is important and a picture IS worth at least a thousand words. (Of course, that’s a photo fanatic talking).

    Thinking of you as you go through this.

  17. kgirl says:

    Is there anything that helps take away the sting afterwards? I can only hope that there is something – anything – that soothes.

  18. GAH! Just checking back on your posts from the last few days, and I’m sorry that you have to do this. It’s totally and completely frustrating for me that I can’t take some of the pain from you, my friend.

    I am hoping, wishing, praying with all my might that this will be the last time you ever, ever have to experience radiation. Ever.

    Sending gentle hugs across MoCo and hope to see you soon.

  19. Lisa says:


  20. Thinking of you and yours.

  21. Excellent use of zyphoid process in a blog post!

    Seriously though, that is a huge field. It better be blasting the ever-loving crap out of any cell who even THINKS is aspires to being cancerous.

    Can’t wait to hear more about Sloan Kettering. You really should be your own medical journal article.

    You are in my thoughts.

  22. […] Crossposted at Toddler Planet. […]

  23. pgoodness says:

    I know you’re not looking for sympathy, but DAMN girl! That is serious and you are awesome for handling it as well as you do. Every time I visit, I learn more – about your treatment and your strength. Hugs to you.

    • whymommy says:

      Thanks! I write to lift the curtains on cancer, and I love to hear that you’re learning when you visit me!

      And thanks for the compliment — it’s a challenge every day!

  24. […] treatment, using electrons at a significantly higher energy (a more intense treatment than what I described recently). So I’ll get more burned, but over a smaller area. I’m still using the biafine cream […]

  25. sue dyer says:

    Hi Susan from another Susan who has fought IBC. Your post has brought back memories of radiation last year. I think it was the toughest part of my treatment. When your skin starts cracking and weeping, try putting honey on it, then covering it with cling film. Sounds a little kinky, but it’s soothing and it works. Manuka honey is the best – it’s now a permanent part of my home first-aid kit.
    And a word of encouragement. You can do it. IBC is beatable. I finished treatment 6 months ago and am feeling fantastic. It’s amazing how good good health feels. This WILL be you, too, before you know it.
    Stay in touch if you need to talk to another IBC survivor.
    Best wishes
    (Melbourne, Australia)

  26. Suzanne says:

    I remember these barbaric burns from my friend’s treatment over ten years ago. She is alive today, though, so the memory is not so terrible as it could otherwise be.
    You are a warrior!

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