Radiation Consultation

uab hazelrig salter radiation oncology

This whole cancer thing has kind of been swept under the rug for the last few weeks as life settled back into some sort of normalcy after the path report had come back. But as you can imagine, so much of what we have come to terms with resurfaced today as we talked through the days to come with my radiation oncologist. Those appointments are never fun, but the more days that pass the more thankful I am that I work in the department and I am used to seeing and hearing the beautiful struggles that often accompany radiation therapy (RT).

I’ve been so filled with joy lately, even today as I knew my consult with Dr. Spencer was this afternoon and things were about to get real. I so vividly remember laying in our bed just days after we found out it was cancerous, and asking KT if i would ever have joy again. I seriously thought the light in my eyes may never return and the fog of disease would never leave my brain. And at this point, as I laugh at the same dumb stuff I used to all the time and as I enjoy the days as they pass more slowly now, I can’t find any other explanation for the peace in my heart other than the Lord, whom has given me so much evidence through so many different people and places that this is, in fact, another season. And this too shall pass.

But first…radiation awaits me. So a few quick facts about what lies ahead:

  • Dentist visits: Because saliva production tends to decrease with head and neck radiation therapy, your teeth are more prone to cavities. Therefore, I get to get my teeth cleaned every 3-4 months.
  • Fluoride trays: Similar reasoning as above, but this is to help with maintaining a healthy dental condition through the years. Lord knows we don’t need my teeth falling out.
  • A mouth piece: This is something specific to treatment and will be used to keep my tongue pressed to the right as RT is given. This helps with lessening the potentially damaging effects to healthy surrounding tissue that radiation presents sometimes. I do, in fact, need my tongue for eating so I’m totally fine with this new piece of hardware I get to add to my collection.
  • A mask: It won’t be green like Jim Carey’s and probably wont be scary even though Halloween is coming up, but it will keep my head stabilized as treatment is delivered so that precision is ensured.
  • Side effects: This wasn’t my favorite conversation to have but before I even tell you what they are, please pray they are minimal or even non-existent. Im totally accepting of being a miracle child through this. Ok so…
    • Deep cheek pain since they will be chasing the nerve in treatment. My tumor was plastered onto my facial nerve and since Dr. Carroll didn’t sacrifice any of my facial nerve they have to assume there was perineurial invasion. There is nothing that says there are still any cells in my nerve but thats the whole point of this treatment is to make sure there isn’t and wont be in the future. Basically my nerve will be irritated and hurt.
    • Sore throat. This isn’t the actual symptom but many patients have described the sensation as this. Your throat is obviously very close to where Glanda’s former home is so it’s no surprise that my throat would be somewhat affected. Nothing some chloraseptic numbing spray can’t fix…I hope.
    • Loss of taste. Apparently the way things taste will begin to change towards the end of week two of treatment. Taste will come back starting around a month after treatment ends and return to normal around 6 months post RT.
    • Loss of appetite. So with the above combined, Dr. Spencer said many patients struggle and have no desire to eat which is where the real struggle starts with lack of nutrition and dehydration. Im pretty much going to shove food down my throat and have advised many friends and family so far to do the same. This is NOT like the zoo…please feed this animal!
    • Skin irritation. This is the one most people associate with RT but actually the last to show up. This might feel like a sunburn (which im totally used to since I’m as pale as they come) but I hear our techs and nurses have some secret sauce that is basically magic for this part of the process.
    • Fatigue. Sooo many naps are in my future, and this is the one I can get down with. I love bed.
  • 60 gy/30 fx (In human terms, thats 60 grays of radiation at 30 fractions/treatments. Roughly 6.5 weeks M-F.)
  • The steady death of any and all cancer cells that may still be hiding out. Remember this is preventative treatment, so this doesn’t mean that there is still any in there, but that the possibility is there so we’re going to nuke them….with radiation.

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Also things to note which I was super excited to hear today:

  • The solid mass of my tumor was 2.7cm in diameter, however, it was only 10% cancerous cells.
  • They took 3 lymph nodes during surgery and we knew one of them had a trace of cancer in it, but it was the one they took that was right up against Glanda in my salivary gland, and the other two were outside of the gland and were completely clean. (KT said he’s known that the whole time but I missed that detail so i was supper excited to hear that today)
  • My tumor was considered T2N0 for all my medical folks which basically means stage 2, no spread to regional nodes.
  • Little tiny Powells can and will happen…Lord willing! 🙂

Now that we’re fully educated and trained up, we’re ready to bulldoze through this and come out on the other side better, stronger, closer, and more thankful than we’ve ever been before. I don’t even say that to talk myself into what I hope will happen. I truly believe God has given us this opportunity to clean out the danger that lived in my body and to make me whole again in His perfect way so that my life will be long and healthy as the Lord intended from His very first thought of me.

I don’t have a doubt in my mind that everything is going to be ok, and I don’t want anyone else to either. Yes, cancer can be scary but today’s technology and medicine is truly amazing and evolving every day. The intelligence that surrounds us in the world is impeccable and something to marvel at. I’m just thankful I get to share my journey with even one person that may find hope in our story.

We hope you’ll pray alongside us for continued healing and absence of disease. Please pray that side effects will be minimal and that my little neck and cheek will respond perfectly to radiation treatment and that cancer will never be spoken over me ever again. There is no immediate concern about anything and I will be watched like a hawk for several years, but this mess is not one I want to do twice.

As always, thankful for you, for reading, for caring, for praying, and for just being a part of our lives.

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