Daanielle Needs TWO Percocets
Sorry for the lack of updates. I've been in kind of a funk lately. I think side effects are starting to catch up with me more, and even when I'm not napping, I'm laying down watching TV and my mind is too unfocused for writing.
The news on the treatment front is mostly positive. The tumor on my cervix, which was about 7.5 cm (a golf ball is about 5 cm, for reference), is shrinking nicely and is only at the top of my cervix now. It had been moving into the top of my vagina and pushing back toward the rectum, so that's awesome. I had two lymph nodes that were impacted, and the cancer wasn't going away as much as we'd hoped, so the doctor has added additional external radiation and they're targeting the lymph nodes more. We're basically continuing chemo along with the radiation, though we reduced the dose. I'm getting some ringing in my ears and Cisplatin (my chemo drug) can damage hearing, so we're keeping an eye on that. Or an ear, rather. I'm also seeing more hair loss, but it's just thinning. I lose about as much hair now with chin length hair as I did with hair halfway down my back when I wash it now, but thankfully, I have A LOT of hair.
The other new thing we've started is internal radiation to treat the tumor, also known as brachytherapy. A couple of warnings: First, I'm giving all the gory details (as usual) and these will make you cringe. Second, if you're reading for medical purposes, I've heard of several types of brachytherapy, so this is just the method used by my radiation oncology team. Now that the disclaimers are done, on to my cervix.
A thing most people don't look forward to is having things stuck into their private parts. Well, specifically in a medical setting. What you do on your own time is up to you.
My first brachytherapy treatment started at 6:30 am. I was given prescriptions for Percocet and Ativan with instructions to take the Percocet 90 minutes before my appointment and the Ativan 30 minutes prior. My appointment was at 8:00, so I was up with the sun. After about a half hour, I was glad I started getting dressed right away and also understood why you're not supposed to drive on that stuff. Thankfully, that was the week my dad was visiting and he know how to get to both the oncology center and the hospital in case I had a reaction or did something dumb to hurt myself while under the influence (kidding) (mostly).
Anyway, I took my Ativan as we were leaving the house and we drove the 20-30 minutes to my appointment.
I got to strip down to my bra and put on a lovely hospital gown, then lay on a mobile hospital bed. This was at the clinic, not the hospital, for the record. My doctor has a room right next to the other radiation/scan rooms for this procedure. Once I was undressed, the whole team came in. My gynecology oncologist started the fun by inserting the speculum into my vagina and prying it open so they could see what they were doing. Ladies know what a joy that is. Next, they looked me over briefly and both oncologists seemed very pleased at the appearance of my vagina and cervix, and they commented on the tumor shrinking. I'd like to interject that I was high at this point, and my perception of the situation was probably a little more colorful than theirs. I was amused at their admiring of my lady parts.
Then the real fun began. The first step in this procedure is to take a thin rod, about the size of a drinking straw in diameter (if I saw it right), and insert that into the opening of my cervix. I can not express in words how much that FUCKING HURT. my doctor was being gentle, but any woman who has been to the OBGYN knows that poking the cervix with a cotton swab hurts a bit. Scraping it for a Pap test is worse. Taking a couple small pieces of tissue for my biopsy was downright unpleasant. The only thing I can say is that my doctor told me that pain was the closest thing to childbirth pain a woman can experience without actually giving birth. And mind you, the cervix dilates when giving birth. Guys, do a google image search for female reproductive system, and see if you can tell how small that hole is. Hint: NOT BIG ENOUGH FOR A STRAW.
At that point, the medial assistant (who is 9 months pregnant) was holding my hand, telling me to squeeze hers, and reminding me to breathe. It was decided I was in enough pain for a second Percocet, so the radiation tech grabbed my backpack and water bottle so I could get some relief.
After that part, the rest felt like a breeze. There are two more small rods that are inserted just into the vagina, not into the cervix, and they have what looks like foam or plastic cushions on the end. Those are placed on the outside of my cervix, a small flat paddle/spatula type thing is inserted into my vagina so it presses against my rectum, and then all the parts are screwed together.
Once the hardware store was assembled in my hoo ha, they wheeled me down the hall with instructions to keep my legs together and don't move. We got to the CT room and the whole team lifted me onto the CT table using the blanket underneath me on the bed. They did the scan and then moved me back to the bed and wheeled me back to my little room. At that point, Percocet #2 was kicking in, and I was left alone to nap for a bit while they looked at the CT to check on the placement of the metal rods and ensured the radiation would be delivered to the right places.
Once they were ready, a radiation doctor connected some wires to the metal rods. The wires or tubes or whatever they are (I was high) connected to a machine about the size of a small radiator. They pushed some buttons, then everyone left the room again. I could feel the cables vibrate a little. I had another nice nap. Then the radiation doctor came in with a little box and held it over me to make sure I was at the proper level of radioactivity before the rest of the crew came back, disconnected me and disassembled the hardware store, and I was done. I got dressed again after cleaning up a bit.
As anyone who has had their cervix poked can tell you, sometimes there is a little bleeding. It was pretty minor and everything was flushed out within a day or two. I didn't notice any pain or anything afterwards.
I had chemo right after my brachytherapy, so I basically napped some more for the next 3 hours or so. And then through a full movie when I got home.
My second treatment went about the same. I took two Percocets in the morning before my appointment, and I found out you shouldn't do that on an empty stomach. Threw up some water before I took my anti nausea meds and ate some crackers. Oops. I'm new to the heavy stuff. The strongest painkillers I've ever had are extra strength Advil. That one was less painful (I want to emphasize NOT pain free), but I did find the tissue in my vagina felt tight afterwards. I really don't know how to describe that feeling, except it was like when you've been washing dishes or cleaning and your hands get dry and the skin feels tight...except in my vagina.
One side effect of brachytherapy is what's called vaginal stenosis. What that means is the tissue inside the vagina shrinks or tightens and for some women, actually can grow shut. Aside from the impact on future intimacy, it can also make medical exams extremely painful. I'm only 34, and I'm not willing to sacrifice that part of my life for the next 50 years, so I got some sterile lubricant from my doctor, which sort of helped. After we're done with brachytherapy treatment, there are dilators/stretchers I'll be getting from the doctor. That's code for "sterile medical-sounding dildos of various sizes" to get the tissue back into shape. Sadly, there's not much you can do in the way of prevention, so I'm relying on healthy young tissue to bounce back. Fingers crossed.
If, heaven forbid, anyone reading this is in my situation in the future and you have a resistance to pain medication, you may check on dosage with your doctor, you know, before you're on the table, so to speak. Redheads are notorious for requiring higher doses of painkillers than non-gingers. While I'm not a true redhead, I have a lot of them in my family, and I think my skin and freckles are pretty good evidence that I have the gene somewhere. Every trip to the dentist for cavities involves two shots of Novocain and me still feeling the drill a little. If I let them go until I was actually numb, I wouldn't feel my face for a month. I've never been able to take just one Advil for a headache. Why I thought a single Percocet would do the job, I'm not sure, but now I know.
Oh, and in other non-vagina news, I finally got my hair cut! And it went from the gross green remnants of my formerly awesome teal color to a brownish red. It wasn't my first color choice, but we had to go red to counteract the green, so we'll see what happens from here...