Where to begin? I wasn’t even going to tell this story but in the interest of full disclosure, here goes. I will try to keep it simple.
Yesterday was my first radiation treatment. The treatment itself was a non-event. I was under the Great Breast Zamboni for less than five minutes. I left there, confidently being told – numerous times, that I shouldn’t expect to see or feel anything.
Who me? Not have a side effect? OK. I’m in.
But last night before bed, I noticed that “the site” (a.k.a. my boob) was tender, swollen and there was already a red rash that isn’t supposed to appear until week three or four. It was late. I was tired. So off I went to sleep, hoping it would all be fine by morning. Unhappily, I had a tough night, not able to find a position that was comfortable.
When I got up this morning, it was still sore and red, and based on the fact that I was told I shouldn’t feel anything, I was concerned. How was I going to make it through the next six weeks, and what if there was some reason why I couldn’t tolerate the treatment, which would leave me susceptible to a local recurrence somewhere down the road.
Upon returning to the hospital for my second treatment, I thought it best to check in with the radiology oncologist to see if what was going on was normal. Much to my chagrin, this doctor who I’ve seen only once before, came in to the room and already seemed frustrated.
I told him my story, and he examined “the site.” At one point, he barely touched me, and I nearly jumped off the table. But what he said next was a shocker.
He told me that he had never seen anyone have a reaction after just ONE treatment. 30 years and thousands of patients and not one patient had ever presented with pain, swelling or redness this quickly. I told him I was just really lucky and he was lucky, too, because now he would never have to tell that to another patient. “I guess you’ve seen it now,” I said.
I asked him what I should do, and barely looking up from the notes he’d been scribbling the whole time, he said I should take two Advil and continue the treatment. He then suggested that, perhaps, I should have a talk with the breast center’s counselor/therapist because I was “obviously very emotional.” If my head could have spun around like Linda Blair, it would have!! Was he saying that somehow this reaction was “in my head”? It must be if he’d never seen it, right? Isn’t it great when doctors have such little compassion or bedside manner that if you don’t neatly fit into their medical box, you must be crazy?
Luckily, Dr. Z, my oncologist, was only a phone call and an office away and he came right over to the radiology office to see me. Although he also had not seen this before, he assured me that he was taking it seriously, and that I had every right to be upset. Isn’t that, for the most part, all we want to hear?
So off I went for Treatment Number Two, and I’m hoping to God I have a better night. The swelling and redness have abated and it’s only mildly sore. Of course, I found several articles online written by reputable clinicians that speak to some patients experiencing reactions within hours of radiotherapy. I’m going with the idea that I had some strange initial response and it will be smooth sailing from here on. The last thing I want to do is abandon ship, but frankly, I’m getting pretty close to a medical mutiny.
Unfortunately, Doctor Personality and I have not gotten off to a good start. It’s going to be a long six weeks.