At the risk of becoming a “woe is me” blog, I am sharing today’s latest cancer concern.
I made it through my 16th day of radiation with no bad side effects, but a slight amount of redness. Some nurse assistant (whom I had never seen, although she seemed to know my name) handed me a green printed handout that said I should add 1/4 cup of vinegar to 2 quarts of water and then soak a cloth in this and put it on my slightly red upper right quadrant. I am sorry that she handed me that really antiquated advice at that moment in time, because I was feeling fine until then and the redness was quite slight.
I thought when she told me this that it sounded like advice from the 1920’s. Why do I say that? My mother had a favorite story about her bad sunburn when she was 20 in 1927. She was supposed to be in a girlfriend’s wedding as a bridesmaid and they had to sew her into her dress. After that, she described exactly this therapy for her bad sunburn: vinegar in water. Surely there is something more up-to-date and modern in 2022, nearly 100 years later?
So, my husband and I (who had been actually out CELEBRATING how well I had been doing, dining at the TreeHouse in Davenport) secured a vat of vinegar roughly the size of my head (K & K Hardware) and carefully measured out this concoction and I spent most of the evening of 6/3 applying carefully wrung out cloths to my right breast.
This turned out to be a very bad idea.
In the night, I woke up in pain and realized that the skin under my right breast had totally sloughed off. This, despite having NO problems up to the point of the vinegar soaking. The difficulty is keeping the area under a 44D breast dry to heal, which I well know, so I was actually sleeping with a wash cloth tucked in strategically, but it didn’t help.
I now am very, very red and in a fair amount of distress and some pain, but I showed up for my radiation on time and, when I did, ran into Daniel, the male nurse, who asked how I was doing.
Me: “Not that great, Daniel. All of the skin under my right breast has left the building and it hurts like a son-of-a-bitch.” (At the time, I was waiting to be shepherded back to the radiation table, where I have spent the past 16 week days. This day would mark the halfway point of my 33 day ordeal. I was in “the pond,” pictured below.)
Daniel spirited me away to an examining room and secured a radiologist (not my normal one), who nixed radiation for the day and prescribed the ointment I had asked for much earlier in the festivities. (I wanted to have it on hand when/if things got bad). With a name like Silvathiazole, it immediately conjured up memories of the sulfathiazole ointment my parents always applied to injuries during all my growing up years.
Now I am applying this white salve (a prescription with sulfa in it) for 3 days (Friday/Saturday/Sunday), putting it on four times a day, [but not 3 hours before radiation]. I am scheduled to meet with my oncologist at 2 p.m. on Monday, and I have been told to show up a half hour early on Monday, to make sure that it is okay to radiate at all on Monday.
The problem with all this is that I have a very narrow window of opportunity to get all this done before boarding a plane for Texas on June 30 to fly to Austin for the Family Fest. I was supposed to have been “done” on June 27. That has now become June 28th. Then, of course, we have to drive to Chicago, which will probably occur on the 28th or 29th—unless this doesn’t heal up. And we fly on the 30th.
Do I really expect this to heal up? It is impossible to keep this area dry. I learned this the hard way when all of my stitches from my low faneuil incision tore out after my second C-section in 1987. That was an emergency room visit with my then-19-year-old son doing the honors, as his father was busy being plant manager at a Deere plant.
So, whoever made the 1920-era suggestion of vinegar in water for ME, in particular: VERY BAD IDEA. I realize that the cumulative effect of the radiation is just now evidencing itself, but someone should have given some thought to the concept of trying to keep the midriff and under-the-breast area of someone with 44D breasts DRY during this sensitive period. Now, I’m paying the price and the jury is out on whether I will make it through 33 days of this or not by June 30th, when I leave.
Keep in mind that no less an authority than Iowa City, Iowa, told me that they would not have radiated me at all had I had surgery there. While I felt that some of that was ageism, some of that was sexism, and some of that was probably just the insurance company not wanting to pay for anything they could avoid, I am still in agreement that helping reduce the risk of recurrence was worth trying to go through radiation. Not sure if cutting off “the boost” part of the process (i.e., the last 5 days of the 33, when they aim the beams directly at the hole left by the incision, rather than simply radiating the entire upper right half of your body, as it seems we are now doing) will be enough. Not very happy that I was handed the green sheet with the 1920-era advice on it, which I blindly followed.
I remember asking how much of this 33 days would be necessary to do me any good after my May 6th Iowa City visit, on upping the odds of no recurrence and being told nothing very firm. It sounded, to me, as though the final 5 days might be omitted without that much loss of the % benefit, but what do I know?
This has really shot down our premature celebration of making it through the first half uneventfully. I can’t help but feel that the introduction of vinegar and water to treatment—which is about as old-fashioned as you can get—was a very bad idea. And I am crossing my fingers that this salve—which I asked for right out of the box for the time when this started to happen, which could have been predicted from the get-go given my uber-sensitive skin—works.