Katie & Briscoe

Katie & Briscoe

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Simple Truths...

Life is not the way it's supposed to be. It's the way it is. The way you cope with it is what makes the difference.
This was the opening line of an email forwarded to me by a couple of my friends. It struck me that I know so many people out there who spend all their time being angry or disappointed or defeated by the loss of what they believe was their "destiny." We all have dreams when we're kids. Most of us go through a series of "what I want to be when I grow up" phases. Firemen (or women), police officers, cowboys, princesses, teachers, wives, husbands, parents, rock stars... the list goes on and on. For most of us, our dreams change and grow along with us. When I was in my teens I remember an acquaintance who wanted nothing in the world more than to grow up and get married and have babies. There are plenty of women out there who want children with a desire bordering on desperation. Men have their share of obsessions about who and what they want to be and want to have. We are all raised with notions of how life should be. Fairy tales probably don't help matters. They always end with everyone living "happily ever after." Worse, that ending always comes with the implication that "happily ever after" is something that just happens with no work at all. 

I'm not knocking fairy tales. I actually believe "happily ever after" CAN happen. I think it's happened to me. And while I would never, ever tell someone how to raise their children, I find it sad when I see children missing out on the wonder and magic of imagination given free reign. Sure, the real world is out there, lurking, and sooner or later we all have to learn to face it and deal with it. But these days kids seem to be growing up faster and faster all the time and that's a shame. We spend the majority of our lives as adults. Our childhoods ought to be filled with joy and laughter and impossible dreams. Reality hits us all too soon and I, for one, wish kids could hold on to their innocence as long as possible.

The problem is, too many out there grow up thinking they have some kind of RIGHT to get things their way. They get mad when things don't turn out the way they thought they should, or the way they were raised to believe things "should" turn out. As wonderful as the fairy tales are, I think we all need to remember that the real world just doesn't work that way. Like I said, I don't believe "happily ever after" is a myth, I just happen to know that it doesn't come easy and it takes a lot of work. And this is where the trouble starts. I'll use myself as an example.
I was supposed to go to college and get married. I was NOT supposed to wake up one day at 17 to find my mother collapsed on the bathroom floor. I wasn't supposed to be sitting in the ICU of a hospital on the one year anniversary of my engagement waiting for my mother to die. I wasn't supposed to bury my father three years later. I wasn't supposed to find out the day after 9/11 that my sister was dying of cancer. I wasn't supposed to watch my mother-in-law, and best friend, lose the ability to speak because of the terminal brain cancer that killed her. And I wasn't supposed to go in for a routine yearly exam and come out with breast cancer. I was barely 39. I have no family history of breast cancer at all. None of these things were ever a part of my childhood dreams. Until the day my mother died, I never even considered that losing her was a possibility. For a lot of years, I was lost to my anger and grief over this event. It wasn't "supposed" to happen. But it did. All of it.

I've been told by more than one person that I have a "good" or "wonderful" attitude as I deal with having cancer. Compared to the reactions I've seen in some others, I guess my attitude is a good one. But the reality is, I've learned how to face the often painful and ugly realities of life out of necessity. I lost so much time to depression when my mother died. Even today, more than two decades later, I occasionally have flashes of the old anger and grief. Mostly, I just miss her. I miss my father and my sister. I miss my husband's mom. The anger I once felt over the "unfairness" of it all is pretty much gone. Because the fact is, no one ever promised us that life would be fair. God certainly didn't. He never said that we would sail through life with sunny skies and smooth seas. In fact, He pretty much said the opposite. But that's a lesson too few of us seem to learn. 
And this is where that quote above rings so true. Life just never goes the way it's "supposed" to go. Tragedy strikes all the time. One viewing of the news should teach us all that truth. None of the nearly 15,000 who died in Japan expected that to happen. The hundreds who have died in the recent tornadoes that swept through the South didn't plan on that happening. Each person who died in these tragedies left behind family and friends who will now have to grieve. And that's what it all really comes down to. Whether it's the loss of a friend or family member, or the loss of a long held dream, or the loss of personal wealth or health, all of it is loss and inspires varying degrees of grief. How we deal with that grief is what defines us. 

I have learned to just let go of preconceived notions of what should or shouldn't happen. I have learned to change what I can and accept what I can't. In short, I have learned to "let go, and let God." I don't always understand why things happen, but I've learned to trust that there's a reason. Being angry helps no one, especially me. Being angry makes us miserable and just makes it harder on those around us. I sincerely believe that the greatest failing of most parents is that they do not teach their children to have an attitude of thankfulness. As Christians, we are supposed to be thankful even in the midst of trials, to be content with what we have instead of always wanting more and more. As a point of fact, I wish everyone knew God and trusted Him. But even those who choose not to do so would do well to learn to appreciate the blessings of what they have instead of being angry about what they don't. It's not that hard to do. Just open your eyes and take a look around you. You will see someone worse off than you. There is always someone who has it harder. I have lost many of my family members, but at least I had loving family. Some kids grow up without ever knowing what it means to be loved and cared for. I have cancer, but my prognosis is good while there are others out there who are told at their diagnosis that they're unlikely to survive. The side effects of cancer treatment aren't easy, but others reacted much worse than I did. I am just stunned by how many people out there can overlook the fact that however bad their situation, it could ALWAYS be worse!

I have encountered people who were bitter about how their life was going. Bitter and angry that they have an illness like cancer. Bitter and full of rage that someone they cared about died. Mad at God and the entire world because their life didn't turn out precisely the way they thought it should have. My response? GROW UP! Life isn't fair. It isn't a fairy tale. It isn't a bed of roses. Pick whatever metaphor you like. The basic truth is that we just don't always get what we want. Sometimes life can be full of grief and pain and tragedy. Sometimes it seems like we barely overcome one tragedy only to be slapped in the face by a new one. We have the choice to either rise above it or wallow in the grief and anger. The easiest way to do this is to stop feeling so sorry for yourself and recognize that it just is what it is and the only thing to do is keep moving forward. Even more importantly, we need to keep in mind that there is a reason for everything. Considering some of the absolutely horrific things I see on the news every single day, I do wonder what good could possibly come from some of it. The terrible things people do to each other every day are just awful. How could any good come of the unspeakable atrocities that are perpetrated on helpless children? Or the crimes and abuses committed against adults for that matter? How can we find any hint of good or benefit in an ill child or loved one? The answer is always the same. WE CAN'T!!!! Only God knows the ultimate outcome. Only He knows where our journey will take us. Only He can see every single aspect of every moment in time. When we try to understand things with our limited hearts and minds we will fail every single time. Because our human nature gets in the way. We start demanding explanations and answers from the One who created us. We start trying to grasp the infinite with our profoundly finite minds and understanding. I'm not trying to make excuses or avoid the very real issue of doubts and fears. I have just learned through my own personal life that the only way I can face the uncertainty and grief and fear in the world is to trust that God is always and forever in complete control. Whether I understand it all or not, He has a plan. He is at work in every moment of my life. The things that I think I cannot endure are tolerable because He makes it so.

The key to dealing with the unexpected changes to our plans and dreams and desires is to simply trust God to always work things out for the best for us. As Garth Brooks said years ago, "sometimes I thank God for unanswered prayers." Though I don't actually believe any prayer is unanswered. Sometimes the answer is just "no." Looking back I can certainly think of seasons in my life when I was utterly convinced that I knew what was best for me, that I simply could not endure to go forward if I didn't get whatever it was I thought I wanted or needed. Like the song, I too had an early love that I thought I couldn't live without. Yet here I am, two and a half decades later with the man God knew I would one day meet and love. And I am profoundly grateful that when I was begging God to keep me and my first boyfriend together that He, in His wisdom, said, "No." Wow, am I grateful for that!! I now cannot imagine my life without my precious husband in it. He is my heart, my best friend and companion. His mere presence lifts my heart. God knew what was right for me. He knew the plans He had for me and for Mark and even though I couldn't see it then, He knew that the grief of that moment would be utterly overwhelmed with the joy of being joined to the "right" man in the future. And this is what life is all about for me. Even though I don't understand it, even though some of the things I see or endure break my heart, I know that somehow, some way, some day there will be good that comes from it. Maybe I won't even see it. Maybe it will be a change in someone else's life that I won't even know about until I learn of it in heaven. I can't know everything now. I can't see everything. But God can. And trusting Him is the only way to live. It's the only way to find peace in a world that seems increasingly ugly and harsh.

Thank you, God, for saying no. Thank You for giving me what I need instead of what I want. And thank You for loving me even when I questioned You.



 

Friday, April 22, 2011

GOOD News/BAD News/NO News

GOOD News:

I got the results from my BRAC Analysis (which is actually a test of the BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 genes) and they were negative. Specifically, no mutation was found. This is very GOOD news! It means that there is no abnormalities in either of the genes that have so far specifically been linked to breast cancer. 

BAD News:

I got up with a sore throat this morning. More than sore, it's raw. I blame Mark. He was sick earlier in the week with exactly the same symptoms. My nose isn't stopped up or runny, but I've got snot running down the back of my throat, making it really sore. Not fun. Hopefully it won't last more than a couple of days. I waited until I got back home from Madison to take something for it because I was already tired when I left and I didn't want to make myself even more sleepy. I even stopped at the Java Bean to pick up some coffee, both for the caffeine and the warmth. (I could have made some here before I left but I just didn't think about it until I was already heading toward town.) Bill remembered me from the last time I was in and asked how things were going. I told him that I was finished with the chemo and radiation and he and Jay both congratulated me on it. Then Bill gave me a very yummy coconut confection on my way out the door in celebration. They're such sweet guys. If you're ever in the Vevay, Indiana area you really should stop in and have some lunch or dinner, or just try some of their fantastic confections. They're all heavenly!

NO News:

I still have another genetic test pending. It's called BART (BRAC Analysis Rearrangement Test). It's a test that looks at a broader section of the genes to see if there are any more rare mutations. For someone my age, my doctor says they like to test for everything they possibly can. So I'm still waiting to hear about this test's results. Hopefully they'll be in soon.

Now I want to touch on something I've talked about before, but I just have to mention one more time. GOD IS AMAZING!!!! I woke up this morning, feeling sick and tired and still a bit anxious about what I'd hear when I got to the doctor's office. I get several devotions and Bible verses sent to me through various avenues, Facebook, Email, Blogs, etc. I was sitting on the side of the bed and grabbed up my iPad to check my email. (It has a handy little envelope icon that lets me know whenever I have new mail.) I had 3 new messages. Two were random stuff and one was a daily email I get from James Ryle at Truthworks. In all honesty, I get so many devotions each day that I rarely get the chance to read them all. I save them to look back on later, but I don't always read them. The emails I get from James (he calls his devotions Rylisms) always start the same way. He bases each of them on a verse or verses and those verses are the first thing he writes. They're often the only thing I can actually see on the email. I have to click a link to go to his site and get the entire devotion. This was precisely what I saw when I glanced at today's Rylism in my inbox:
The Untouchables
“You shall not be afraid of the terror by night, nor of the arrow that flies by day, nor of the pestilence that walks in darkness, nor of the destruction that lays waste at noonday. A thousand may fall at your side, and ten thousand at your right hand; but it shall not come near...
 This is Psalms 91:5-7, minus the word "you" at the end. On his site James includes verse 8, but it was these words above that I saw and that felt like the voice of God speaking directly to my heart. I was not so much afraid as anxious, but the result is the same. It robs me of the peace that only comes from fully trusting in God. We SHALL NOT BE AFRAID of anything the world or the devil may throw at us because God is with us, He is our protector, our loving Father, our Sword and Shield against whatever comes our way. Praise the Lord for His love and care!

I didn't even read the devotion. I just saw this scripture and felt the touch of God. I got up and dressed and left just a few minutes later. And out in the car, when I plugged my iPod into my radio and selected a playlist titled "Favorite Christian" this is what I heard:

Either Way (I Win)
written by Frank Arnold, from the album "Faithful" by The Arnolds

Lord, I've fought this battle for so long, and while I've grown weary, I've tried to stay strong
Though the battle rages, when it's all said and done, I'll be undefeated 'cause I've already won

Either way, I win, if You should call me home today, or on this earth You let me stay
For when my life comes to an end, it's only then that it really begins, either way, I win

Lord, You hold my next breath in the palm of Your hand, it's Yours to release or withhold if You should plan
It's kind of hard to feel sad if I think of it that way, so it's all up to You, Lord, do I go, or do I stay?

Either way, I win, if You should call me home today, or on this earth You let me stay
For when my life comes to an end, it's only then that it really begins, either way, I win

Heaven or earth, torn between the two, I love my precious family, but Lord, I love You too, oh yes I do

Either way, I win, if You should call me home today, or on this earth You let me stay
For when my life comes to an end, it's only then that it really begins, either way, I win, either way, I win

Here's a video version of the song I spent way too much time working on. LOL
There were other songs with a similar thing that came after this one. God has done this before for me. He uses music all the time to catch my attention and speak to me. The verse from Psalms above and this song being the first that came on when my iPod is set to play the songs in random order is the hand of God. Call me foolish if you like. Tell me it's merely a coincidence. But I know my Lord is there and that He loves me and cares for me and speaks to me a thousand times a day in a thousand different ways.

If you're facing cancer or any other seemingly insurmountable foe, just remember that God is ALWAYS in control. And even if you lose this fight, you have already won the battle if you just trust in Him. Jesus won the war a long time ago on Calvary. Praise God!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Patience...

I am not a particularly patient person. (And before anyone suggests it, I am far too smart to actually ask the Lord to help me learn to be patient. Not gonna fall for THAT one! LOL) Having cancer pretty much forces a person to at least learn to accept that patience is indeed a virtue, whether you have it or not. The various treatments and tests and countless doctor's appointments leave a person with no choice but to spend a lot of time just sitting around, waiting. Chemo can take hours to get, all while sitting in a chair in a room with others who are in the exact same boat as you are. If you're at one of the larger treatment centers, this usually at least means that you have room for a companion to keep you company and a personal television to watch if that's your choice. I went to the closest treatment center I could find, which meant we were all in a tiny little room that barely had space enough for 3 treatment chairs and a medicine cabinet. I'm not exaggerating here. It's an incredibly small space. There is one television in the room that is on or off according to the whim of whoever gets there first. Which means you watch whatever they're watching, too. I saw several episodes of Bonanza, along with a few days of the new "Let's Make a Deal," "The Price is Right," and an assortment of soap operas.

Mostly I just hooked my iPad up to my headphones and listened to internet radio to drown out the TV. I'm not much of a fan of daytime television.

On a quick side note, KDH is building a new hospital up on top of the hill in Madison and the Cancer Treatment Center will be getting a new facility as well. Hopefully one that will give the nurses more room to work and the patients more room to relax during treatment. I certainly don't want to give the impression that I am anything but grateful for all those who took care of me during my treatment. As small as the KDH treatment center is, everyone there is beyond kind and caring. And while the size of the current center does make it difficult if you're hoping to have a friend or loved one present with you during treatment, that's hardly a reason to refuse to go there. Hopefully the new center will make it easier for everyone; nurses, patients, and the doctor as well. It's all due to be completed in approximately a year.

So, while I am not an inherently patient person, I have learned to tolerate the waiting. I have to say that having my iPad helped tremendously. It made it possible for me to listen to music, read, play cards, do crosswords, and countless other things while I was sitting there. Not to mention that I also use it to keep track of all my medical info. It's one piece of technology that has made my life easier and more convenient. Love the thing!

I've said all this to get to the point that despite almost a year of having to wait for one thing or another, I'm still not a patient person. I get antsy when I have to wait for something. Well, I get antsy when waiting for test results. I've done plenty of this already. From the day my OB/GYN first found the lump right on up until now, waiting to get some test and then waiting to get the results has been an ongoing theme. I don't really worry about what will be found. There's no point in that. From day one I've trusted that whatever came, God would get me through it. (And He certainly has!) But I'm a person who hates not KNOWING what I'm facing. It isn't that I think having knowledge will somehow change things, I just like being informed. I like knowing what's coming, good or bad. I am certainly not one of those people who would be comfortable burying my head in the sand and hoping for the best. I don't care if I'm facing a nightmare so long as I can go into it knowing what's ahead. This is why I researched every aspect of my cancer until I was going cross-eyed from reading. It's why I studied and read up on what the worst case scenario might be even before getting an official cancer diagnosis and stage. Having the info doesn't change what's coming, but it makes it easier for me to face it, I guess.

It has occurred to me that this could be part of the lesson I should be learning from this whole experience. Facing something WITHOUT knowing what to expect might just be the whole point. I'm sure God wants me to learn to trust Him fully, to rest in Him and not be so anxious even when I don't have a clue as to what I might be facing down the road. I'm trying to do that, Lord, I promise.

Okay, back to the issue that has me thinking about this in the first place. I had genetic testing done last week to see if I carry the currently recognized genes that are tied to breast cancer. It must be stated that geneticists believe that the handful of genes that are currently recognized are merely the tip of the iceberg, meaning that eventually there will be many, many more that will be found. So even if someone tests negative with the current BRAC Analysis, that doesn't mean they don't have some kind of genetic anomaly. It just means that if you're positive, then you have some serious thinking to do. I got the call yesterday afternoon that the results of my test are in. We weren't here at the time and by the time we got home, they were gone for the day, so I had to call the office first thing this morning. My radiation oncologist - Dr. Eileen McGarvey, whom I really like - prefers to sit down face to face to discuss the results. On the one hand, this is what I love about her. She's my kind of doctor, meaning she gives a lot of information about whatever it is she's explaining to you. My surgeon - Dr. Amy Gefaldi - is the same way. Love them both! On the other hand, this means I have to wait until tomorrow to see her and get the results of the test. And so, here I am, feeling antsy and hyper and just wishing I knew what they'd found so I could know if I'm going to be facing more testing and/or possibly surgeries, or if I will just be doing the regular routine of preventative healthcare in the future. The anxiousness won't change a thing, but I can't seem to help feeling it. Here's what I'm looking at:

If the test is positive, then I have to sit down and consider how I want to handle it. Being positive means I would be at a higher risk for not only another breast cancer, but ovarian cancer as well. That can be handled a number of ways. I could get more frequent testing, which would include regular monthly breast self exams and a breast exam performed by my doctor twice a year. The heightened risk of ovarian cancer would mean having ovarian ultrasounds twice a year. Of course these tests would be in addition to standards like a yearly pap smear and mammogram. These are what would be considered the most conservative options. From them we swing to the other side of the pendulum where we find more radical options. I could have a bilateral mastectomy, which would obviously reduce the chances of another breast cancer. Besides this surgery, I would have to decide on what kind of reconstruction I would want. More surgeries. And then there is the option to remove my ovaries, which would significantly reduce my chances of developing ovarian cancer. Significant meaning 75% to 90% less chance of getting it. Of course that means entering menopause for good, which would come with some issues of its own.

If the test comes up negative, that unfortunately doesn't mean I'm necessarily off the hook. As I said, the genes that are tested for are just the ones which have been definitively connected to breast cancer. I could be negative for them and positive for one that hasn't been mapped yet. Then again, the fact is that any one of us could be a cancer time bomb just waiting to go off. I've had it once, which means I'm more likely to get it again, but that's not such a big deal when you consider that everyone is cancer free until they aren't any more. Basically, cancer is like any other illness or accident or tragedy that might come upon anyone at any time with no warning at all. We can't lock ourselves in our houses and hide. We have to just live our lives and take on the challenges when they come our way.

It would probably make things easier if I wasn't always feeling so impatient. I see the doctor tomorrow morning to find out my test results. Between now and then I'm going to do my best to not stew on it. Like I said, it's not that I'm worried about what I'll hear. Either way, it's out of my control. But I hate the waiting. I want to get on with whatever will be coming next. [sigh] While I won't pray for patience, I will (and do) pray for peace and strength to not give in to my flawed nature. I'll be back tomorrow to let everyone know what the results are and what the next steps will be. Until then, keep on trusting God. I know I will!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

NO MORE RADIATION!!!!


 It's finally over! I got my LAST radiation treatment today. I even got a Certificate of Completion, LOL. Coincidentally, the other side of the office, the medical oncology office was having an open house to celebrate the completion of the remodeling on their office. They had balloons, punch and cookies. So I got my last treatment, then picked up some punch and cookies on the way out the door. Mark and I are going to go out to celebrate on his next day off.

My radiation burns are slightly worse, now, but should be improved within a few days. There's a large burn beneath my arm and the area in the crease beneath my breast is raw. It's uncomfortable, but if you saw the photos from my last post you know that it could always be worse. I keep it covered with ointment and that helps.

I had the genetic test done last Wednesday and should get the results some time in the next couple of weeks. If it's positive then I'll have some decisions to make, but I'm not going to think about that until it comes. I got my herceptin yesterday (Thursday) so that means I don't have anything medical to do until May 3! I go then to get another MUGA (heart) scan. If my heart function has dropped again, we may suspend the herceptin treatments for a while or even stop them completely. Like the genetic test, I'm not going to worry about it until I have to. I'm just planning to enjoy the time off. The past seven weeks have been hectic and I'm very glad they're over.

On a completely different note, we're in the market for a new microwave since ours suddenly gave up the ghost a couple of days ago. Right out of the blue it just stopped working. No warning. The lights and vent and everything still function just fine, but the magnetron has apparently gone out because it no longer actually heats food. It's not like I actually do a lot of cooking with the microwave. I cook rice in it and Mark heats up canned pasta in it when he's in a hurry to eat. I'm perfectly capable of cooking everything on the stove, but now we HAVE to cook everything on the stove. We've turned it into a running joke that we're having to do everything the "old" way. I actually had to put a frozen package of hot dogs into a bowl of water yesterday so Mark could grill them out! Oh, the horror! LOL I think I miss the defrost capabilities of the thing most of all. So it looks like we'll be having a combo End of Radiation Celebration and microwave shopping session all at the same time.

I'm planning to rest for the next few days, though, and just enjoy not having to get up every morning to head to Madison to get my boob microwaved.
Smiley

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Final Regular Radiation Treatment

I got my final regular radiation treatment today. Yippee! I have 7 more treatments to go, called "boost" treatments. These treatments are targeted so that they only hit the area right where the tumor was. I was very happy to get to the end of these treatments because I've started having skin reactions to the radiation. I've got a raw area in my armpit and a very itchy (and sore) area in the fold beneath my breast. I've also got a new spot that's irritated and itchy because they put a sticker on me the day before yesterday in an effort to keep some new marks they'd made from fading. I have several tattoos already and they were trying to keep from having to give me any more. On Monday I went in and they ran me through an extensive setup process to get me ready for these boost treatments. This involved several x-rays and a bunch of new paint pen marks. Unfortunately, the paint pen wears off really quickly on me. So the techs decided to put some little clear stickers over the marks to protect them. Unfortunately, the stickers only irritated my skin more. They took them off yesterday and sadly, removed a layer of skin with them because my skin was already irritated from the radiation treatment.

Now that the regular radiation treatments are done, the area under my breast and my armpit are no longer within the treatment area. This means they can finally start healing. The doctor told me yesterday that it won't take long for them to improve, a week or so. I thought I'd have to get more tattoos, but the techs used the ones I already have and measured to the new marks so that I wouldn't have to worry about trying to keep the marks from wearing off.

On a cheerful side note, I think my eyebrows are finally starting to grow back. My eyelashes can't be far behind!

I know this is short, but I'm feeling flat worn out and I think I need to go take a nap.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

A Closer Look at Radiation Treatments...

Five weeks of radiation down, and two more to go. I go in later than usual on Monday so they can do some additional setup for the final seven treatments, called "boost" treatments. So far, the radiation has targeted the entire breast. At this point there is actually a visible square from the middle of my chest to my armpit where the skin is darker and mildly irritated. It hasn't been overly uncomfortable, though on Friday the area in my armpit started being very irritated and tender. It's a bad location and one they warned me would likely be an issue. It's been really sore since I got up Friday and I guess it won't get any better until at least the end of the regular treatments. The "boost" treatments are more precisely targeted at the area where the tumor was located, so presumably it will miss my armpit.

So, I've decided to post some pics of the radiation machine and of the effects it can have on the skin. Some of these are a little graphic, but they're the reality of getting radiation therapy for breast cancer. (And other kinds of cancer as well.) We'll start with a few shots of the machine itself and the setup used for breast cancer patients.
This is the linear accelerator used for treatment. It rotates all the way around the treatment table so that it can precisely target the desired area of the body.
This shot shows the arm rests that arc over the top of the table. In my therapy we use both of them, so that both of my arms are lifted over my head. You can also see the lasers (which come from both sides and the ceiling) that are used to line up the machine.
The tattoos I mentioned in an earlier post are used to line up with these lasers. The bed moves in all directions, including the head of the bed (waist up) being able to pivot side to side so that they can make sure the lasers are lined up exactly.
This drawing shows how the beams are aimed from two directions so that the entire breast area is treated.

Okay, now come the more disturbing images. There are a few of them that show the damage that can be done by the treatments. If you're squeamish, you might want to skip over them.
This is very extensive skin damage. Generally, it isn't this bad. I'm nowhere near this irritated. But potential patients ought to know this kind of reaction is possible.
The quality of this image isn't great, but you can clearly see the outline of the treatment area. This is more what I look like right now. It's red and irritated, feeling a lot like a sunburn.
Blisters and irritation in the crease beneath the breast are also very common. I am having more trouble with my armpit at this point, though this area on me is tender.
These shots indicate the skin changes in a woman at the end of her radiation treatment and the same woman a month after the completion of her treatment. So you can see that the skin damage is a temporary issue.

Here is a list of several websites that deal with the side effects of radiation treatment, as well as offering some ideas for treating the side effects.

Radiation and the Skin
Be a Survivor
American Cancer Society: Radiation Therapy Effects
National Cancer Institute: Radiation Therapy and You

I know the idea of going into radiation therapy can be daunting. But it isn't as bad as it seems. And while some of the above images are scary, the truth is that most of us won't have severe reactions. Like the Chemo, the side effects vary tremendously from one patient to the next. I'm the kind of person who wants to know what the worst case scenario could be so that I don't have to worry about being caught off guard by it if it should happen. Through all my treatment, though, I can honestly say that I have had nothing near the worst of the side effects I have heard others talk about. I won't pretend that chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy is easy. Neither of them is. But it isn't the end of the world. They are temporary. A mere blip in the course of an entire lifetime. If you are facing cancer treatment, don't let it scare you. Inform yourself with every scrap of information you can get your hands on. Research, research, research! That way you won't have to be afraid of it. And trust that God is in control. If you are His child, you have nothing to fear at all because you can rest assured that He will carry you when you cannot carry yourself.