When I was a tween, my family went on a trip to California. I think it was San Diego. I went to the beach, and I did not wear sunscreen. Out in the sun all day with a fair complexion is a bad idea. Where was my mom in all of this? I think I was… 11 or so. There are six of us kids, so maybe she just gave up…. or couldn’t keep track… or assumed I was responsible enough. I don’t know. In any case, I got a HORRIBLE sunburn. I was red all over, and I had the thing where you are simultaneously too hot and too cold, so you spend your time both shivering and sweating. That night, I slept on the floor of the hotel room. Well, I “slept” in that I laid there miserable. Everything hurt. I couldn’t have a blanket because it hurt, and I sweated and shivered all night. That is the worst I have ever been burnt.
Radiation burns are nothing like that. First of all, it’s localized. You don’t burn all over: you burn in just a few spots. It comes on gradually, getting a little bit redder with every treatment. My radonk-a-donk says that I am on the low end of the bell curve in severity, which is still plenty bad from where I’m sitting. If I could just stay home in a vat of coconut oil, it wouldn’t be so bad. Unfortunately, I have to go out in public. In Boston. In the winter. So I chose some old clothes (sorry workplace) and now they all have oil and goop stains. I look like a ragamuffin.
I’ve talked to my body throughout this experience. With the radiation, there is a chance that the tissue expander will fail. Something like 20% of cases where you have radiation with a tissue expander results in so much contraction of the tissue that the expander gets displaced (usually moving up and out, which gives me some pretty specific nightmare material). If that happens, you have to have surgery to remove the tissue expander, and your only reconstruction option is either creating a breast from your stomach (which I don’t have enough of), your shoulder (resulting in 20% reduction in shoulder strength) or your butt (which is still pretty new). I don’t want to do any of that, so I’ve told my tissue expander (my not-a-boob, my fake boob, my foob? My “not an implant, not yet a boob”?)— whatever it is, it’s mine. And I’m keeping it. I told my tissue expander that if I can’t bail, neither can she.