Scary Masks

Radiation mask 2017
Radiation mask 2017

And Other Melanoma Frights

This blog idea has been a long time coming. There are hard parts with cancer treatment; there are parts that are nearly as tough as our mind makes them! It’s that balance idea and also, I’ve learned to not suppose, guess, or imagine how things will be.

This is written not to frighten, but to inform. It’s a brief description of my radiation experience in 2017. It’s taken some time to process this part of the healing. I’ve kept my mask in the basement, stumbling on it every now and then reminds me of how challenging this was and hopefully, how life saving it is. The pictures were taken the other day, just to show what the mask looks like. If you are considering radiation, remember each experience is unique. Ask me a question if you’d like!

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Words of encouragement found on my fridge magnet from Dana Farber Cancer Institute.

Learning takes on many forms, and this treatment taught me that I don’t always know how I will react, that I am human, and that I am braver than I think. One piece of my metastatic melanoma treatment was radiation. After multiple excisions and healing, the time came for radiation. Conferring with radiation oncologists at Dana Farber, a local team was most sensible as treatment is Monday through Friday.

Mask Making

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As a Mom and librarian, I’ve always enjoyed projects with children and teens. Mask making was a favorite, whether paper mache or natural construction. I’d never really thought I’d have my own face sculpted, much less my own personal mask!

This took place at yet another location; the measurements, the warm towels, the casting of my mask. Precision and professional knowledge are key; the medical staff of two worked well together, and in no time at all the drape of some mesh, fishnet substance formed a likeness of me.

Well, not really. My mask fit me but there was little likeness to the flesh and bones person that was to wear it. The real me had another lesson ahead!

Lock Down

Mentioned earlier, there are parts of treatment that we cancer patients don’t quite anticipate. Questions are asked, caregivers take notes and listen hard, but no oncologist, medical person, counselors, or others are able to understand the human reaction, the emotional element. Humans are unique individuals!

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Claustrophobic tendencies are not me; I endure scans, MRIs, small closets, and tiny spaces with no concerns. On the first day with the local radiation team, more measurements were noted, the irradiation location exposed on the mask, and equations exchanged. No problem.

Turn of the Screw (by Henry James)

And then, while I lay on the platform they screwed my head to the table. I knew this was coming, I knew the process. Momentary, solitary panic only known to me ensued. Tense body parts, mind wondering how I could ever escape if need be, and a foreboding feeling in every inch of my body.

Fear was trying to drown me. to hold me down, so I pushed back with courage, the desire to heal, and hope beyond this damn radiation. The staff was professional, moving through their routines with more measurements, a warm blanket, and conversation to access my level of comfort.  What great acting I did! This was the greatest mask of a lifetime, the emotional one!

Radiation treatments to my left cheek continued for weeks, 5 times each week. A friend had mentioned that he had found waiting room comaraderie in his Boston radiation treatment; my more rural setting meant less of that, though two of us passed each other daily, bestowing sincere well wishes on each other, smiles robust with empathy.

That Healthy Glow

Ironically, my face, the same one that has had multiple melanoma excisions most likely do to sun damage, was brilliantly red after just a few treatments. This “hot spot” focused most of the controlled dose very specifically. My mask provided boundaries for the radiation staff, a way to zero in.

Risks are many when considering radiation. For me, the lack of alternatives meant this was the next step in my path to being disease free. Side effects vary depending on the course of radiation; each situation requires different radiation calculations.

Treatment left me exhausted as it has a cumulative effect. My face was, and still is, super sensitive to the sun. I also have dental trays made with my dentist. Radiation damages salivary glands which helps protect teeth so daily use of the trays with fluoride may protect my teeth. Hearing is questionable as something has changed in that regard.

Radiant, Just Like Wilbur!

Would I do it again? Absolutely! I’ve always been one to shy away from various drug solutions and to work through to a healthier me. Cancer is different and fights back with vengeance, learning new ways to work around medical treatment. This time I’ve chosen to try all options that make sense for my metastatic melanoma because I need to kick this thing called cancer.

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RADIANT!

Radiation treatment was trickier for me than any other part of this process and I surprised myself with the emotional challenge of being so helpless (and literally stuck!) while the immobility was essential to safe treatment. Each day, each moment I knew it to be the right decision. I learned that each of us reacts differently and that I’m stronger than I think!

Inspiration came when treatment was over, my body whooped, my face fried, and my grandson gave me a hug. Sometimes that is why we go through the scary stuff.  It’s really ALL about the hug!

#melanomatheskin #cancer #melanoma #FlashbackFriday #Halloween #maskmaking #scarystuff

We can-cer vive!

Janis

 

Sun Worship Part III

Time’s Up…We Know Better

Yeah, I’ve written about my childhood days in the sun and my days as a naive adult, too. But how did I manage to continue this sun worship until I became another cancer statistic? Those of you who are still sun junkies will want to read this I hope.This sun habit is no longer sensible. It kills.

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With adult children with lives of their own, my time beyond work was…well, mine! A novel idea, I readily choose more warm weather vacations in the Spring, sought out time at the beach, and did a lot more mucking about with boats. For me, life has always been best when on, in, or near water.

My sun-safe habits were moderate. Because of sun damage at a young age, I applied sunscreen to my nose regularly. Super solar days, I’d put on a baseball cap and bring a long sleeve shirt for the end-of-the day sunburn. If at the beach, I’d turn my chair away from the late day sun. On a boat, I’d be sure to cover up my skin as the day floated along. I started wearing sun glasses more…I mean who had heard of ocular melamona?

Feel the Burn

For those warm weather Spring vacations, I did something that I felt was very smart. I went to tanning beds. Being a logical person, I wanted to not burn on vacation and be able to participate in whatever sand, sun, sea adventure that came along. By tanning, my skin had a base of tan allowing me to be out and about without worrying about frying. I wouldn’t call myself a frequent flyer for tanning, but felt better for going. Perhaps it was a vitamin D boost or perhaps it was feeling warm?

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Whatever my source of sun, mindfulness had a different spin. At the end of the day, using lotion to prevent sun damage was part of the routine. Some days, a soak in an oil bath rejuvenated my dry skin. Different home remedies might include using a vinegar soaked wash cloth or a cold compress for sunburn. What sunburn remedies do you know of? I’d like to include them in a future blog listing so let me know!

The BIG Burn

The result of my sun-safe habits?  Metastatic melanoma. Hear my sarcasm? I wasn’t protecting myself. For the most part, I was doing “after: sun damage care. In my lifetime, our culture had no fear of the sun. We worship tan bodies, warm heat, and the relaxation of the hazy, lazy days of summer. My logic on how to have that healthy glow was actually setting me up for the big burn, the burn of fighting for my life.

Are you thinking you won’t get skin cancer? Or that if you have a little area removed, that life is good so grab that beach chair? There are different types of skin cancer, all of them are scary and melanoma is deadly. You don’t want to hear this but neither did I when I got that biopsy result that changed my life. Please think again!

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Thanks for following me and please let me know how you are changing the sun worship culture in your life. #Sunsmarts are in! Love being outside and  being sun shy is where it is at now that we know better! Save a life-yours! Be practical and learn sun-safe habits. #melanoma #melanomatheskin #naturalskinrocks #cancer #mindfulness

We can-cer vive!

Janis