Monday, November 3, 2008

Radiation is finished, but it ain't over yet...

Yesterday was a good day (and so far I'm OK today; I'm sitting with my leg up and a freezer gel-pak on it to keep the swelling down.) That helped me SOOOOOO much yesterday. Saturday night my leg was so swollen and it hurt so badly, I sobbed throughout the entire All Souls Vigil Mass and for probably a couple of hours after that.

Unfortunately, lymphedema is a common problem after radiation therapy. I really hope mine is only going to be temporary (acute) and not chronic, which is a possible long-term side effect. Click here for more info on lymphedema.

As of 10/24, my wounds are a little too gross to post here, so I'm posting them at a separate link now: I updated my post of 10/27 today, so even if you read it before, there is a little bit of new" info there. I still have to catch up between my birthday (10/17) and 11/2, but I'll do that in NEW posts so it won't be so confusing.

Aren't the roses my friend (and cantor/choir member) Becky sent me much prettier to look at? Thanks, Becky!! I got these on 10/22, and I still have about 6 that look pretty good! They brighten my spirits every time I walk into my kitchen.

Since radiation ended, my "recovery" has been a series of sharp contrasts of good and bad from day to day--I never know what to expect. It wasn't nearly as bad DURING the radiation as it has been this past week, so they were right that it would "get worse" before it gets better. (At least they warned me, but I just didn't have any idea that it would be FAR worse than what I had become accustomed to.) I've told people that it's kind of like a stock market chart (a rollercoaster is too smooth in this case.)

Here's a chart that kind of looks like what I'm going through. The initial downturn is the last 3 weeks of radiation. The steep decline after that is the past 11 days or so, and the jagged peaks and valleys with the upward trend are where I hope I'm headed now. I consider the red and green like good and bad days mixed in together. I got this chart here.

I didn't know how on earth I would be able to make it through two Masses on Sunday after Saturday night was so awful, but God had mercy on me. I brought the gel packs to Mass in an insulated lunchbox and wrapped the biggest one around my leg as inobtrusively and often as I could while seated at the piano during Mass, and that was a huge help. It seems that keeping my leg from swelling is the key to keeping the pain under control.

I've also been trying to take Ibuprofen on a regular basis to keep the inflammation down, instead of waiting till it hurts. Although I tried to stay away from the stronger drugs, I've had to take Vicodin a few times these past few days. My healing definitely seems to be on an upward trend, but the valleys are emotionally and physically painful, and I can see where more damaged skin is definitely going to have to come off before it can heal over. I just hoping that the skin underneath these outer margins will be more healed by the time that happens than the parts that came off already, so it won't be as painful. (Right now the area that is exposed is getting LARGER, not smaller, (the largest one is about 2" x 1" and it's almost certainly going to join the one speading out from the crease of my knee in a couple of days) but the redness and swelling around them isn't as severe as it was last week, and my wounds were never infected, so I think I'm relatively safe there--I would assume that the greatest danger of infection has already passed.) Also, some of the skin in the crease of my knee has healed noticeably just in the past couple of days, so that also gives me hope.

Again, I'm grateful that I didn't have to have chemo, but honestly, the after-effects from radiation have not been a walk in the park for me. But I'm ALSO grateful for the timing of this, because I have been offering up the only suffering I've ever really had in my life for a bunch of different intentions including the souls of specific loved ones who have died, for souls in purgatory who have noone to pray for them, and for a pro-life outcome to our election.

I can't tell you how much your prayers and support (and everyone's prayers who have helped me through this ordeal) have meant to me. I can't imagine the despair non-believers must feel going through this without God.

I am working from home today if anyone needs me since I can keep my leg elevated and iced. It really hurts when I stand or sit in a regular chair for any length of time. Even within just an hour it starts throbbing. They said that radiation destroys some of the lymph vessels and small capillaries, so my circulation isn't as efficient as it was before. I sure hope that I'll heal quickly from this particular side effect, but I've also been forewarned that lymphedema can be a long-term side effect from radiation therapy. Oh joy. At least when my skin is healed I'll be able to massage the area a little bit to help get everything moving.

Last night was the first time in over a week that I could bend my knee 90 degrees without significant discomfort, since my leg wasn't as swollen as it has been. The tendons/ligaments/muscles in my left knee are kind of achy since I haven't had full range of motion in that leg for at least 3 weeks now (and since my surgery in August I haven't been able to sit on my heels. I really hope I'm not going to need physical therapy for my knee because of all this, but if I do, I will ask to go back to the place I went last year for my shoulder (which was killing me due to an old injury.) They did a fantastic job in a short time considering how long I postponed getting proper care for it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dear Helen,

I am glad the healing begin and that the pain is starting to let up, finally. You seem to have some energy back, what with being able to teach "Go Tell it on the Mountain" at 9 PM. ;o) Ah, the Advent choir season has begun. . .

Continued prayers for healing and many blessings as you recover.