47. And here I thought I was getting my first tattoos, or getting my SIM scan for radiation
Tuesday, March 8th, I went to have my “SIM scan”, aka a Simulation Scan. It’s where the radiation team figure out where they are going to point the “beams” and the tumor site in your chest. Once the they’ve determined the correct meridians (angles) they usually place a dot with tattoo ink, so that each and every time the beams will be aimed in the exact same place. (It’s a pretty short process, just look below.)
But apparently, to my disappointment, UCLA has just started NOT doing tattooed marks. Instead I have big x’s with a freakin’ sharpie on my chest, which I will have to re-draw as my treatment has been pushed til after I shoot another episode of the TV series Doom Patrol..
Because I needed a break after chemo, and because it was “pilot season”, I had scheduled my radiation sessions to begin on April 1st (April Fool’s Day seemed somewhat poetic). Now I will have to begin after I wrap. Thankfully, even with the delay, I’ll be within the recommended eight-week window. So a little acting fun, then I submit to the “beams”.
Here’s the thing about radiation, it’s every day.
Unlike my Chemo, it’s not come get some…go away…come back in a few weeks, go away again.
This is Monday thru Friday, for 5 weeks. You can miss one or two , but miss more than that, you go back to beginning and start it all over again.
When I initially found out I was having radiation, I was not pleased, not pleased at all. I mean, I already cut off my boobs, but it seemed like the new ones were gonna be pretty great. And the horror stories of what can happen to your skin quality with a radiation laser are pretty frightening . (NOTE AGAIN: DO NOT FALL DOWN A GOOGLE IMAGE HOLE!)
But my breast cancer had traveled. It didn’t travel far, but it traveled far enough that it fully infected one of my sentinel lymph nodes, and was starting to set up shop in the other. (I am thankful that rather than taking out ALL the axillary lymph nodes in my right armpit, they opted for only a few. In the past, when we knew less about breast cancer, surgeons went all or nothing and the potential problems after were much higher.)
So because my particular tumor was 4.6cm and I had the involvement of two lymph nodes, I sat right on the border of the line that recommends whether I should have radiation or not. The definition of “that line” is a tumor 5 cm or larger and 2-3 lymph nodes involved. Technically, I had 1 full lymph node and a lymph node with 30 individual cancer cells. The third lymph node they plucked that was not “sentinel” had no indication of cancer whatsoever. So you can see my potential hesitation.
But when we were talking to radiate or not radiate, I also had to look at the odds. With my particular type of breast cancer, Invasive lobular estrogen positive, my biggest ally for non-reoccurrence is the hormone inhibitor I will have to take for the next 5 -10 years called Tamoxifen. It takes my chances of reoccurrence systemically ( system wide) from 30 % to 15% . The chemo I just finished aids with that system wide approach, and helps to drop that percentage even lower to 5-10% . Localized radiation drops the chances locally ( in the breast tissue area) by another 50%, or 5-7% .
So doing the math, I had to ask myself, do I want a 15% chance of reoccurrence? Or a 5 -10% chance? In simple numbers, it looks like an insignificant difference. But when you start to break it down into, ya know, how many years I have left to live, that little number gets a whole lot bigger.
On the other hand, let’s say that I, optimistically, as neither of my parents made it to 70, have only 40 more years to live. With no treatment at all, chances are I may have 28 years cancer free. With tamoxifen I would have 34 years cancer free. Add in chemo and radiation, and I get 38 years.
So why put my body through hell for a potential four more years?
Here’s why. A lot of life can be lived in four years, specifically if you do it well. I have not yet hit the year mark on this journey an I have :
Met one of my film heroes
Acted in a major studio feature film
Travelled to Atlanta and am about to reoccur on a Superhero series
Bought a house
Reconnected with old friends i haven’t seen in decades
Lead couple hundred people in a fundraising ride
And a number of other little life experiences we tend to forget about when, as John Lennon said “We are busy making other plans.”
Hopefully it won’t be a simple matter of four years….
But if it is?
It’s enough. I’ll make it enough.