Angela’s Radiation Experience

February 5, 2020

Early on it was also determined I had breast cancer in both breasts, however they were two different types of cancer. My right side had a significantly sized tumor that was hiding within dense tissue and was found to be estrogen positive, progesterone negative and HER2 negative. It was considered nonaggressive, growing at a slow rate of 10%. The left side was harder to find and could not be felt and needed to be biopsied several times to finally determine it was triple-negative and more aggressive. Triple-negative breast cancer is cancer that tests negative for estrogen receptors, progesterone receptors, and excess HER2 protein. So, triple-negative breast cancer does not respond to hormonal therapy medicines or medicines that target HER2 protein receptors.

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All this  being said you can see where the “it’s complicated” comes into play. So today when I got to sit with the radiation oncologist to see my radiation plan on the screen it was of no surprise he told me it’s complicated. It is more common for one breast to be treated than two. They are currently targeting my entire chest wall and lymph nodes on my right side. The way the beam crosses over these two fields needs to be taken into consideration. The expanders holding my skin in place for now also need to be factored into the plan.

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I’m not even going to pretend to understand everything about this plan. It involves precise angles and dosage to avoid vital organs as much as possible. What I can tell you is because of all my factors the standard 3D radiation protocol could not be applied to me and I was told I needed a type of radiation called IMRT.

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Intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) is an advanced type of radiation therapy used to treat cancer and noncancerous tumors. IMRT uses multiple small photon or proton beams of varying intensities to precisely irradiate a tumor. The radiation intensity of each beam is controlled, and the beam shape changes throughout each treatment. While I lay on the table I can see the machine manipulate the shape of the beam by the moving of what look like metal teeth creating a very specific pattern as the beam in on. Every day 14 areas on me are targeted with this method.

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Basically radiation in warp speed to respect the privacy of my amazing radiation therapists. As you see they adjust me on the table to line up my radiation tattoos and stickers to the laser beams. They come in once in between sides to readjust. Once they leave the room they are able to move the table from behind the safety of the glass wall if needed. My position on the table is arms up, head left the entire time with no movement allowed. I know it happens very quick in this video, but the arms that come out before each side are taking images that transmit to their screen so they can know if they have to make table adjustments. It is all very precise with a tremendous amount of calculations and measurements. In a word, complicated. I hope you find this complication as fascinating as I do!

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4 mammograms, 5 ultrasounds, 5 breast biopsies, 1 MRI, 1 full body bone scan, 2 CT scans, 2 chest x-rays, 2 echocardiograms, 1 port placement, 16 rounds of chemo, 5 hours of surgery, 5 tissue expander fills, 2 months on tamoxifen, 3 injections of Lupron and now 30 rounds of radiation!!!

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Today technically marks an end to 10 months of active treatment for stage 3 invasive breast cancer. Does this mean I’m done? Not really. I still have another surgery in March to prevent ovarian cancer, at least one reconstructive surgery this coming summer and 10 years on cancer deterring medications.
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But today I think I can finally accept that I am entering the remission stage now that we have radiated any possible remaining cancer cells. I would have thought going from the active stage to remission would have been the easy part, but it may be the most challenging thus far. It’s a switch from doctors weekly to doctors every so many months. That sort of safety net of constant care is gone.
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Don’t get me wrong, these are all very good things! But after 10 months of doing cancer 24/7, although I am cancer free, I’m not quite free of cancer yet. It has definitely become a huge part of who I am and I’m ok with that. Going into this 10 months ago I was mad at the world and just wanted to get through this and move on with life as it was before. I know now life will never be the same again, it will be 100 times better! (She says with her fingers crossed)

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Hey Girl! I'm Karla and I specialize in Boudoir Photography and Women's Intimate Portraits, servicing Stafford, Virginia.

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