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My Story

BJ | age 71
Business Owner, VP of Marketing and Sales, Racecar Crew Chief
Tempe, AZ
13 years, 2 months since her MammoSite treatment.

An excerpt from BJ's email to her family and friends after the first day of her MammoSite treatment:

Hi There,

Today my twin squirrels, Sammy and Suzy were rolling in the tall grass. Part of my household responsibilities is caring for the backyard. However, when the temperatures reached 100 at 8:00 in the morning, I quit mowing. It's now 118 at 2:45 pm. The grass is not quite a foot high but it makes great cover for squirrel hide-and-seek. I found out that they really like peaches but they don't eat the skins. So my patio is covered with bits and pieces. I also noticed, they mostly eat standing up. The twins are about half grown now. Suzy is very aggressive and picks on Sammy all the time. That probably explains the crook in Sammy's tail. I haven't seen Mamma or Billy for a few days and hope the neighborhood wild cat didn't get them. The twins stay very close to the nest in the woodpile and they are extremely fast. I'm going to set up my digital postage scale with some peanuts and see if I can find out how much they weigh. Just curious.

I had my first doses of radiation today. Totally painless. But let me back up a bit. In my last email I talked about the balloon in me, called a MammoSite Radiation Therapy System (RTS). It is my understanding that the MammoSite RTS was actually developed at a research hospital in 1997 but it wasn't cleared by the FDA until 2002. It's a fairly new technique to allow a more focused internal radiation treatment. "Once we're all done, it will be deflated and removed and you'll only have a tiny little, barely noticeable scar," Dr Hernandez said proudly. That was last Wednesday.

Thursday I went back to the oncologist, Dr Olyejar (pronounced O'Lear) and got my first CT (cat) scan. Because my problems are all on the left side, he said, "I want to make sure nothing is going to get in the way, oh like, lungs, bones, heart." Heart? What do you mean heart? Although this might be a real concern, he was just kidding. He assured me that nothing was going to get anywhere near my heart. The CT scan was to measure the exact position and size to determine the exact amount of radiation needed. Computer Axial Tomography Imaging (CT or CAT Scan) was originally used to scan the head, way back in 1974. But once the word got out, doctors were using it for all kinds of things. It is based on the same principles as the X-ray. As the x-rays pass through the body, they pass through several different types of tissues, which absorb the low level x-rays at varying levels. This difference in black, white, and gray in the image shows the different thicknesses of the tissues in 2-D. Why use CT instead of MRI? Because CT is better for showing soft items like tissue where as the MRI is better at showing denser items like bones and organs.

My first trip in the chamber was a bit eerie but very exciting. All I could think of was Star Wars! First Lacey, my technician, explained in great detail what was going to happen. "Lay down on the table and try not to move," were my only instructions. The table is about 2' wide and about 6' long. I kept wondering how would they ever accommodate a big man. Once I settled down, the table began to move up and into the chamber. The chamber is only about 3' long and about 4' wide inside. I was giggling so hard I was afraid they were going to think I'd lost it. The red laser cross hairs made me imagine I was a huge piece of meat being checked out at the grocery store. The chamber is equipped with an x-ray generator and x-ray detector. Because they are opposite each other, they circled around me like a cat chasing a mouse around a narrow wheel. One full rotation consisted of about 1000 separate images and can scan one centimeter at a time. "Whoop, whoop, whoop," it went, faster and faster. It was just too cool! Then it was over and the table pulled me out and down again. I got thumbs up from Dr Olyejar then he was on to his next patient. That explained the question, "Are you claustrophobic?" I was told my radiation would start at 6:20 Monday morning, "Have a great weekend," said Lacey.

Friday I was still a bit sore from my stitches so I stuck around the house all day, not moving too fast or too much. By Saturday, I felt good enough to take my bookstore orders to the Post Office, go to the bank branch at the grocery store, and shop for the daily multi-vitamins suggested by both my doctors, as well as a few other items. By the time I got to the register, I knew I was over doing it and I needed to get home, fast. Even though I spent all day Sunday on the couch again, I was so proud of that little trip, because it made me feel free again.

Today, started at 5:30 am. Mike has been sleeping in the bedroom and enjoying the idea of a king-size bed all to himself. I've taken to the couch because I toss too much and wake up for potty breaks and Tylenol during the night. Also, the couch can support me sideways and I sleep better sitting up because of the pressure of my "implant." Once this silly tube comes out, well move over Mickey. I don't think I got more than 3 hours sleep last night. I was ready to get the day going. We arrived at the research center at 6:15, right on time. "Just head on back when you get here," were Lacey’s final instructions on Thursday, so I did just that. In the dressing room, I put on the ruby red toga then headed for the “Star Wars” waiting room. There were 3 women a head of me. At 6:20 in the morning? What insane individuals get up so early? I get another ride in the CT before every treatment. Afterward, I waited my turn for the radiation machine.

I was escorted into a room with a huge, Electra x-ray machine towering over a table much like the one for the CT. “This is the EBRT,” Lacey said with a proud wide grin on her face. I could tell she loves her work. EBRT stands for external beam radiation treatment. I’ll get a dose of that in a few weeks. The radiation machine I was in for today matched the trim, compact design of the MammoSite. It was about 1 foot square, standing about 3 feet high and the gray colored front had a clear, white tube (catheter) extending out of it. This tube was to hook up to the tube in me. They explained, but I knew exactly what was going to happen because I researched it on the web last night. “There’s a camera over there,” as Dr Olyejar pointed to the wall on my right, “Just wave or call out if you need anything.” With that, he left the room and Lacey and another technician set about hooking me up to the machine. Actually, hooking the machine up to me.

The machine is completely handled by remote control. I could watch the sequence of events on the secondary computer monitor across the room. In the background was this gentle earthy, meditation music. I wondered if I was to bring in some Three Dog Night, if they’d let me play it during my 10 minutes. I only felt a slight nudge when the rod snaked its way through the tube. It wasn’t at all frightening and I kept waiting to feel the tingle. Nothing. No pain. No tingle. Nothing. So I relaxed and enjoyed the music. Well, as best as I could enjoy meditation music. Boring. After about 8 minutes someone I’d not met before came in with a Geiger counter to make sure the radioactive seed was back inside the box. Doc came back in and said, “Looks good. See you this after noon. Any questions?” Like am I going to glow in the dark?! What happens to this thing if I sneeze? How does it know when to stop before it goes right through me? I said, “Sure, what just happened inside me?” As he uncrossed his arms with a look of sizing me up to how much info I could handle, he said, “Well, because most cancers return to the same spot it started in, the radiation kills the cells, all the cells, directly surrounding the balloon. Then your lymph fluid flushes all these dead cells out of your body through your blood.” The idea is to kill a certain amount of cells, to make sure that all the bad cells are gone. There is a standard formula for this. Any good cells will regenerate over time. “Get dressed. See you tomorrow,” and he was on to the next patient.

Everyone keeps asking me, “How do you feel? And, does it hurt?” Well, I feel fine and Mike and I both have positive attitudes. This is just yet another adventure in life, so I’m going to make the most of it. It’s a great learning experience. (ha ha ha ha) No it doesn’t hurt exactly. My chest doesn’t hurt at all except for the hole where the tube goes in. The pharmacist recommended a good topical antibiotic with a slight pain reliever for my stitches after my first surgery. That works great and so does 2 Tylenol every 4 to 5 hours. I only took prescribed pain reliever the first day after surgery and had so many side effects I gave up and went back to just plain Tylenol. Mostly, it’s my arm that’s uncomfortable. The upper back outside was numb from nerve damage during surgery, but it’s getting better everyday. Now, it’s kind of prickly. The under part of my arm hurts like a sunburn. It’s very sensitive to anything touching it, like clothing or bandages, especially bandage tape but lotion helps. My armpit is just plain dead. Can’t feel a thing. I suppose that’s why they suggested an electric shaver. If I were to cut myself, I would never know until the blood started flowing and we are very concerned about infection right now. The only real pain is when the nerves reattach themselves. That’s like a small electric shock that usually only lasts a few seconds. So every time it happens we say, “Yep, another one grew back. This is a good thing.”

The other question is, “How did you find it?” What sent me on this adventure in the first place? Well, I wrote about it in detail and those interested can request a copy. But basically, during a regular self-exam, I found a lump in the deepest part of my armpit and it wouldn’t go away. I had to wait 5 weeks to get an appointment for a mammogram and I insisted on an ultrasound. I’m convinced that had I not made such a big deal about the swollen lymph node, they never would have found the 2 mm spot on my films. Because I just knew something was wrong and pushed the issue.

Okay, tomorrow is going to be another busy day and I’m running out of steam. Time to quit. I’ll keep you updated.

Love yas,

This profile is solely the words of the person who received MammoSite Targeted Radiation Therapy to treat breast cancer. Note that this profile is specific to this particular person, and experiences will vary.