This is a fairly detailed account of my experience on Week Two of high dose radiation treatment. The likelihood is that most folks will find it boring, and they can skip right down to the italics at the bottom, which is a moderately humorous rant on Not Eating.
The rest of this is for folks who are either caring for someone who might end up having radiation treatment, or for folks who are contemplating getting radiation treatment (specifically to the abdominal area). And for folks who for some reason have a desire to read about someone else's boring medical symptoms. We don't mind whining about our own symptoms, but other people's boring symptoms tend to induce the dreaded Eye Glaze Syndrome.
Having published the well intentioned warning, let us proceed.
I've decided to count the 'days off' in my accounting, because radiation keeps working for a while after you stop doing it. According to my oncology counselor, it keeps working for about twice as long as the treatment regimen - I'm taking radiation treatment for three weeks, and that means it will keep working on my tumors (if it is working at all) for six weeks altogether. I assume it will keep working on my internal organs for that long, as well, which is less pleasant, but there we are.
I know that this is true at least in part because during my friend from New York's visit, my husband went to bed before I did. This meant that he did not apply 'Special Skin Care Cream' to my hips and backside, and the burny thing has gotten worse during this period. Oops.
I will miss my friend, now that she has returned to NYC, but it may be a good thing for me that she did so relatively quickly. I'm back to the skin care routine, and I'm sure my dermis is grateful.
Other than the burn thing, and the fact that my hip pain has gotten worse rather than better over the past couple weeks - causing my blood pressure to remain elevated - the major side effects during radiation treatment seem to be related to my digestive system.
This mainly involves transient nausea (urgh), and... ummm... intestinal upset and discomfort.
Cancer treatment is not for the squeamish. A lot of the side effects of treatment involve more awareness of and dealings with various bodily fluids and semi-solids than the normal person generally cares to experience.
So far the nausea medications we've tried have either been completely ineffective, or they have actually made the nausea worse and added dizziness and headaches to the mix.
The diarrhea medications worsen the nausea and swing the problem over to the exact opposite end of spectrum, which may possibly be worse than the original situation. On one hand, it's easier on the backside and the general bathroom atmosphere; on the other hand, even very moderate straining is hard on the tumor pain issue, and I end up feeling as though I have swallowed an entire yard bag full of clay.
It turns out that I would not enjoy ingesting an entire yard bag full of clay. Who knew?
It also turns out that I've learned a lot more about what I would and would not enjoy ingesting, because the other thing you need to do when your intestines are being irradiated is eat... well, it turns out there isn't an awful lot you can eat, actually. Especially if you have other conditions that already limit your diet.
For my other issues, I had to eliminate grains (yes, all of them, including corn and corn products - try that for a while), and nightshades (potatoes, tomatoes, sweet and spicy peppers of all sorts, eggplant), and I was supposed to raise my intake of healthy fats. For me, this involved a lot of salads, mostly salads that included meat and a good amount of dressing. I happen to actually like salads, especially in the summer, so this diet isn't as difficult as one might think. Once you get used to it.
I did hit Rebellion Stage when my doctor suggested that I should cut out the dairy. It turns out that life without yogurt and cheese is not something I can face like an adult. Not with the above limitations, at least.
For this situation, I can't eat anything with fiber (including veg with skin or seeds, fresh veg or fruit, leafy veg, nuts, or seeds). And I'm supposed to avoid fats, even the healthy ones. Which also eliminates frying and sauteing and nearly all saucing.
Which pretty much leaves me with chicken broth and skinless chicken breasts (no onions, garlic and shallots probably also banned if I were to actually specifically look the information up), and baked skinless sweet potatoes with apple sauce (because butter is a no-no). And tapioca pudding, if made with sugar rather than high fructose corn syrup.
Under no circumstances should I have anything even vaguely resembling a salad.
Of course, then the skin and energy issues become a problem, because I'm not getting the fats I need to digest and function properly. And of course, the fat restriction thing also means restricting dairy.
I mentioned Rebellion Stage, didn't I?
So I am compromising. I'm eliminating (temporarily) the veg and MOST of the fruit. Watermelon is the only thing that I find helps with the nausea, so I am eating a moderate amount of that on days where the nausea is really getting to me. And I'm drinking a little cherry or lemon juice in my water when I'm just dying for a bit of bright flavor. I'm eating meat, eggs, and/or soup (no veg, unless skinless & seedless and highly pureed) for pretty much all my meals, accompanied at dinner by baked sweet potato (no skin).
That far, I am willing to go. But I'm eating whatever meat I want, and if it has fat, well that's just tough. And I'm having dairy. I am also cheating a bit and allowing myself sauces and mashed potatoes or hashed browns when we go to a restaurant with friends. Because otherwise I'm pretty much limited to meat or plain eggs without any side at all. Otherwise I know from experience that I will just chuck the whole thing and either eat whatever the heck I want, or I will pretty much refuse to eat at all**.
Even with that, things are pretty boring in the eating department, what with the limitations on the butter, olive oil, sauces, etc. I like veg, I really miss them. When your independence and mobility are limited, and your activities are largely curtailed, meals end up comprising a depressingly large section in your list of Things That Make Today Different From Yesterday.
Other than the above, things are going okay. I'm easily fatigued, but not too extremely - I attribute this to the LDN*, and I am grateful. The radiation burns aren't too bad, which is a surprise, given my thin oversensitive Irish skin. I attribute this to the skill of my radiologist and the care of my skincream-wielding husband, and again I am grateful. The medications are, as usual, not working well and causing bad side effects - not surprising, and for this I am resoundingly ungrateful, but resigned.
And that, as they say, is that. For now.
*Low Dose Naltrexone
**Looking at me, you'd think the 'eat everything' option would be my preference, but past experience is that my first reaction is to go on hunger strike. For some reason this is easier on my rather faulty Decision Making faculties, being a more passive approach. It also works well with my particular digestive system, which doesn't trip the Hunger Switch on any particular day until I've actually eaten something.
You would think this situation would lead to a tendency to lose weight, but evidently I am a walking example of the physics Law of Energy Conservation. My body is enthusiastically Green - I recycle the same single calorie hundreds, perhaps thousands of times. The government should study me in their attempts to design a system that accomplishes both ecological and fuel conservation.
Granted, you'd have to take your car and heating system to the doctor fairly frequently, and that would stress the health care system. But that's a burden that we'll just have to take on. There's no such thing as a free lunch. But since we've already established that lunches aren't absolutely necessary to this particular paradigm, we can probably get around that.