About this blog

I was diagnosed with breast cancer on June 11, 2010. As a result of my treatment, I have lymphedema in my left arm. I draw my strength from the Lord, as well as my family's Scots-Irish heritage. Our Graham's were a tough and scrappy bunch of fighters on the Scottish/English border. They came to America and continued to fight when necessary: in the American Revolution; the Civil War; and my brother is a Captain in the U.S. Army. My ancestors settled this country against all odds. My great-grandmothers on both sides of the family were pioneer women who settled the West. Along with that heritage, and the full armor of God, I am walking the walk and fighting the good fight.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Week two in the can

I'm nearly 1/3 of the way done with radiation now.  Not quite, but almost. Today was my ninth treatment out of 33. Now I get 2 days off.  No Martin Luther King holiday for me.  That is just as well.  I want to get this finished, and a day off will just prolong the finish line.

So far, I'm doing pretty good. Compared to chemo, well, there really is no comparison. I'm still recovering from the physical effects of chemo, most notably in my finger and toe nails. They are still discolored and prone to lifting.  I've started wearing polish on my nails to cover it up. That makes me feel better about them, and they look nice too.  As for the radiation, I have not had any abnormal fatigue.  My skin has not yet shown signs of burning. I'm not expecting that to remain, however. The radiation oncologist said it usually shows up suddenly during week three. Lovely. Something to look forward to.  I'm doing what I can to keep my skin healthy now. As I'm in the dressing room right after treatment, I use an aloe based lotion. I don't need to warm the lotion in my hand before I put it on to avoid the cold shock...I'm numb in that area from the surgery! What a time saver! Later in the day, I apply a calendula lotion. I love this one, because its the same lotion (Weleda) that I used on my babies.  The smell takes me back to those early days when they were just days old and I would use the cream to do infant massage on them.  At night, I slather on the Aquafor right before bed.  I'm hopeful that this will help keep the burns manageable. 

The radiation office is a busy place.  I generally see the same patients there every day.  We don't talk to each other. At most, we give each other a sympathetic nod. I've taken to trying to guess what kind of cancer they might have. I'm the only bald one that I've seen so far.  At my appointment time, all the other patients are men.  When they come out of the radiation room fully clothed, I figure maybe a throat type of cancer. I have no idea what types of cancers are treatable with radiation. But it is something to pass the time.  Yesterday I was there early and the guy in front of me was in a dressing gown without his pants on. Yikes.  That can't be good. I heard him laughing with the techs as he went in, which was nice to hear.  Cancer sucks, so its good to try and laugh where and when you can. 

More problematic is my lymphedema. I went into the physical therapists yesterday and there was an increase of .5 cm on my lower arm (5 and 10 cms from my wrist).  The other spots we measure were all within the margin of "error" of my baseline measurements taken before radiation started.   My PT suggested I wear the bandages for a bit longer each day to address the swelling.  To the naked eye, you can't really tell when I hold up my arms.  But the measurements do not lie, and she re-checked them twice.  We don't want to let them creep up each week and then at the end of radiation have 2 centimeters to deal with. 

What a bandaged arm (not mine) looks like
I continue to get in two good sessions of manual drainage each day.  In total, this takes at least 45 minutes, sometimes 60 or more if I really work on it.  Last night, I bandaged and used some foam on my lower arm. I also kept the bandages on until about 9:30 a.m. today.  Usually I take it off when I get up at 6 a.m.  I'll experiment with wearing it longer this next week and we'll see what kind of effect it has on next week's measurements.  I don't mind wearing the bandages at night-I'm sleeping anyway. But they are bulky and a pain during the day when I need to get things done. My hand and fingers are wrapped (unlike this photo, where the fingers are not wrapped). I'm not supposed to get the bandages wet.  How do you cook and clean up after 5 people that way?  It's not very easy.  If I have to go that far, I will.  During the times I'm not in bandages, I wear compression garments. This is an area where prayer is needed.  Radiation really does a number on your lymph nodes, even if they are healthy.  To already have an impaired system that is struggling to keep up makes it all the more difficult. I am very thankful that my PT has taught me techniques to manage it.  I feel like I am able to control it as best I can.  Of course, the other thing I've learned throughout this cancer journey is that I have absolutely NO control.  

I'm very thankful to my mom for everything she has done for me throughout this time.  Well, for the last 41 years too! Since my diagnosis, she has been amazing. During this radiation phase, she takes time each day to meet Jean-Marc and I at the radiation office and she hangs out with him while I'm in getting treatment. They sit in the van and read books together. Today I came out and they were reading a story about the Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly. Jean-Marc looks forward to this time each morning as we leave the house. I don't know how I would be able to manage this without her help and support. All of you who know my mom know exactly what a gem she is.  Love you, mom!


  1. Ahh, that is sweet, Tonya. I'm just doing what mom's do. I love you and your family and I am just thankful that I live close enough to be able to pitch in on occasion. The blessing is all mine.

  2. Sounds like you are coping pretty well with radiation, plus you have not lost your sense of humor!! What a nice mom you have. Your little boy is pretty cute!