Breast Cancer: The last day of radiation

When I was arguing that I’d prefer a lumpectomy over radiation, the breast surgeon and the plastic surgeon both took radiation as the big down side to a lumpectomy.  With a mastectomy I wouldn’t need radiation, though women with more advanced cancer often do.  I remember after the surgery I told the surgeon I was happy with the results.  “Well,” she said, “we’ll see what you say after radiation.”  O thanks.

I had the accelerated Canadian protocol, as it is called in the States, but still it was 5 days a week for 4 weeks.  Sometimes there were long waits since the machines were down; it usually took minimally 2 hours, including driving back and forth, waiting for the car, etc.  Patients getting radiation were given free valet parking!

Those waiting for treatment sit in a small area.  Everyone brought in some snacks for their last day, and we’d sit and tell our stories and sometimes munch.  Many women had also had chemo and had lost their hair.  There were very amazing women.  Women with very little hair can look like medieval saints.

The first picture has me in the kit we tended to wear to the radiation machine.  You won’t be able to miss the machine.  That big thing moves up and over one; for most of my treatment I got rays from two different angles.  It isn’t really frightening, but I felt it should be.

At my cancer center you ring a bell the last day of treatment, as in the picture below.  The technicians joined me and my partner.  This center apparently picks staff who are very friendly and upbeat; sometimes they seem to carry one’s mood forward.  The young man to the far left is in training, and he’s still permanently in a state of mild shock.

  If I look uphappy it was because (1) by this time in radiation one is often slowed down and not exactly chirpy; I had had in four weeks the dosage that most women are given in six, and I count myself fortunate that I have had only one automobile accident;  (2) I had been up to 2 am the night before because my child, who lives a thousand miles away, contacted us with an exceptionally serious medical problem, and my husband was getting a flight the next day to go see him; (3) I am investigating filing a complaint under the Americans with Disabilities Act, among other things.  Collecting documentation of a history of alleged adverse treatment is profoundly depressing.  It’s also the last thing I want to be doing.

It is astonishing what negative actions will be taken against  women on medical leave for cancer treatment. 

On the positive side, the Missoni sweater I have on cost 25% of its regular price, and I’m considered something of a miracle person since the radiation left my skin and breast looking almost exactly as they did before.  So there, breast surgeon and plastic surgeon!

I haven’t yet gotten around to investigating whether women with cancer have more problems on leave than men do.  One problem is that a lot of people get cancer after 40-50, and so their employers may be figuring that any excuse to replace them is not an opportunity to be missed.  The cancer center has all sorts of advisors on these sorts of issues, so I was often suggesting people contact them.  In effect, having cancer may just make one a good target whatever one’s gender.

I have an indirect connection with an organization that does documentaries, and when I get my strength back, I may look into seeing if one could be done about the women getting radiation at a major cancer center.  Everyone is going on going on, and finding a way to do so.  Since the group is very mixed in race, class, education and religion, the ways people were finding to keep going are very different.    Many, many of them had much worse reactions that I had; one young woman of 23 was being treated for reoccurrent breast cancer, and her whole chest and much of her neck was bright red and very itchy.     She will probably burn and peel for two more weeks.  She is here alone, as indeed are many people who come from around the world.  I gave her my name and phone number and said she could call me at any time about anything except spiders.

Another woman had cancer that also grew on the outside; she discovered it about 3 months ago, and she went immediately into palliative care.  There is no hope for her survival, and managing quite intense pain is the main objective of her treatment.

If I got the documentary organized, I’d looked at a number of different things, including some of the interesting research going on at my university.  But my main motivation is that I think the four weeks spent with these women forms a really valuable part of my life.  It is such a cliche to find deep value in the circumstances surrounding painful and scary treatment.  This time at least it was very true for me.

Next up for me is five years of what I think of as a mild poison.  Bone loss, joint pain and hot flashes are its major bad side effects.

The Sunday Cat says, Oh, yawn. Addition

We looked at cat agililty contests before, but they seems to be becoming more big time. The NY Times is excited about this sport (NB) and has slide shows, good links, and the sort of knowing observations cat people love. We’ll provide some snippets after a video that’s on the topic.

It is a sport in which the contestants sometimes lie down in the middle of the field, unmotivated and bemused.

Feline agility competitions, in which cats run through a miniature obstacle course full of hurdles and tunnels, have become fixtures on the cat show scene. Modeled after canine agility competitions, the tournaments feature a ring in which cat owners — some of whom have trained their pets from kittenhood — brandish a feather or sparkly wand to try to coax a cat to climb stairs, weave around poles and leap through hoops in as little time as possible.

Some cats tear through the course in seconds. Others make it clear to the eager onlookers that they could not care less.

“You have to get the cat to focus on the toy,” said Anthony Hutcherson, who raises Bengal cats in Port Tobacco, Md., and whose oldest cat, Justin, has run the course in nine seconds. “Cats will pretty much chase a feather on a string anywhere.”

This weekend the two major organizations for cat lovers — the International Cat Association and the Cat Fanciers’ Association — are holding their annual cat shows, one in New York City and the other in Indianapolis. At both events, any cat registered at the show can partake in the agility event while the pedigreed cats are being judged…

“I think it’s more the personality of the cat,” said Reimer, who breeds Burmese. “There are some Maine Coons that won’t do anything in there, and there are others that’ll tear the course to shreds. The same with the Abyssinians.” …

Feline agility got started about a decade ago when two couples who met on the cat show circuit went out to dinner and started talking about the tricks their cats did. They modified some dog agility obstacles and showed them to their cats; from there, a group called International Cat Agility Tournaments — or ICAT — was born.

“When we first started it, everybody said, ‘Train a cat? Impossible!’ ” said Shirley Piper, one of the four founding members.

She and her partner, Kathy Krysta, live in Riverside, Calif., with their 20 cats, which they train regularly, using toys and a system of taps. Some of their cats are so well trained that they will run an agility course on their own, with no feathers or other incentives…

Vickie Shields, one of the founders of ICAT, is hoping to invigorate the sport. She and her partner, Adriana Kajon, experiment with new obstacles in their living room in Albuquerque, where their cats get up every morning and sit expectantly by the drawer where the hoops are kept.

“We think of new things — ball pits, a tiny inflatable swimming pool,” Shields said.

The latter was a flop. “We tried to get the cats to jump over it, but they would run up to it and stop or take a drink,” she said…

Veterinarians are in favor of this kind of play. “I think we let cats’ brains rot, and I think it’s really sad,” said Cynthia M. Otto, an associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine.

She herself has trained her cat to ride a skateboard, and her dog to push it. “If you start doing this, it really changes your relationship with your animal and enhances your bond,” Otto said.  </blockquote>

Addition:  this is the only video on cat agility from the weekend shows that I could find:

Read it and weep

It’s Shit my Students Write.

Some of it’s hilariously depressing:

I think Harriet Tubman was courageous because being an underground construction worker was very dangerous. That is why I think she was courageous.

Some of it’s enragingly depressing:

Racial profiling has been around forever and can happen to any race, of any kind, at any time. However African Americans, Hispanics, and descendants from the Middle East are far more likely to complain about it than any other race.

(I guess a charitable reader could see the above as a poorly worded way of saying it happens more often to these groups. Though the moderator titles it “Profiled as the Whiniest Race”, suggesting a different reading, which I do think is more natural.)

Open letter to Chancellor Linda P. B. Katehi

Today you ordered police onto our campus to clear student protesters from the quad. These were protesters who participated in a rally speaking out against tuition increases and police brutality on UC campuses on Tuesday—a rally that I organized, and which was endorsed by the Davis Faculty Association. These students attended that rally in response to a call for solidarity from students and faculty who were bludgeoned with batons, hospitalized, and arrested at UC Berkeley last week. In the highest tradition of non-violent civil disobedience, those protesters had linked arms and held their ground in defense of tents they set up beside Sproul Hall. In a gesture of solidarity with those students and faculty, and in solidarity with the national Occupy movement, students at UC Davis set up tents on the main quad. When you ordered police outfitted with riot helmets, brandishing batons and teargas guns to remove their tents today, those students sat down on the ground in a circle and linked arms to protect them.

What happened next?

Without any provocation whatsoever, other than the bodies of these students sitting where they were on the ground, with their arms linked, police pepper-sprayed students. Students remained on the ground, now writhing in pain, with their arms linked.

What happened next?

Police used batons to try to push the students apart. Those they could separate, they arrested, kneeling on their bodies and pushing their heads into the ground. Those they could not separate, they pepper-sprayed directly in the face, holding these students as they did so. When students covered their eyes with their clothing, police forced open their mouths and pepper-sprayed down their throats. Several of these students were hospitalized. Others are seriously injured. One of them, forty-five minutes after being pepper-sprayed down his throat, was still coughing up blood.

This is what happened. You are responsible for it.

Read the full account of what happened with links to further photos here.