Tuesday, June 19, 2007

How Do You Bandage Your Underarm (and Still Use the Arm Attached To It)?

Last Wednesday (June 13) I had my last radiation treatment before surgery. Phase 1 is officially over, and the resting period before surgery (Phase 2) is upon me. Of course, things were going a bit too smoothly, so Week 5 of the radiation brought its own delights - skin problems. These were expected, they just hadn't manifested through Week 4, so I thought I might miss this part, even though it had been told to me that such a scenario was common.

Basically, the accumulation of high-energy X-rays finally caused the skin under my arm to burn and peel. So I have a kind of sunburned patch under my arm that is raw, which is annoying and sporadically painful. More of an nuisance than really problematic in the pain sense, but needing to be dealt with. The Biafine cream is fine, but the doctor decided to prescribe another cream, one which is used to treat burn victims and helps them grow new skin, as well as some other agents. The new cream is Silver Sulfadiazine.

Before the cream was available from my pharmacy (a 2-day wait), the prescription for my underarm was to put a kind of dressing over the area, called Xeroform, which is a yellow "gauze impregnated [their word, not mine] with 3% Xeroform (Bismuth Tribromophenate) in a petrolatum blend." Translated, this is a sticky yellow gauze that keeps the area moist and clean so that it can heal. Think gauze soaked in Vaseline with an anti-infective agent that's bright yellow. Then I covered the Xeroform with a non-adhesive dressing (called Telfa). Then I used tape to hold that in place while I made a kind of shoulder harness from the tape to go around my shoulder and hold the whole thing in place. I had to use two long strips of tape, one slightly longer than the other, and place the two strips with the sticky sides facing each other except for the ends. This allowed the part that went around my shoulder not to be stuck down on my shoulder, because removing that much tape from skin is not a pleasant experience. The sticky ends were taped to the back of the non-adhesive dressing and held it (mostly) in place. The whole apparatus was mostly a Rube Goldberg contraption, especially as the movement of the shoulder makes placing a bandage to stay put under your arm highly problematic. I did it for two days, and it took about 30 minutes each day to put the thing on. Needless to say, the fit was not overly comfortable.

When the Silver Sulfadiazine arrived, I was instructed to put it on
the affected area with one half of a tongue depressor. This white cream is the consistency of cake frosting, so it feels rather like icing a cake a couple of times a day. But it stays in place without a bandage, so I've ditched the Xeroform, non-adhesive dressing and Elliott Ness shoulder holster tape job for just the Silver Sulfadiazine and Biafine creams. I don't wear my best shirts, and it's a lot more comfortable. It also seems to be working, as the Silver Sulfadiazine (an antibiotic that helps burned skin heal and regenerate) and Biafine combination has, over the past 5 days, lessened the annoying pain and begun the healing process of the skin. Also, not receiving radiation helps the process immensely.

All in all, things are going along just swell. I'm busy at work, getting ready to go to a conference for 3 days in DC, and just short of one month before the surgery. Perhaps I'll have fully regenerated skin under my arm before then - who knows. In the long run, the effects of the radiation on the tumor site seem to have done exactly what was hoped for, and now I'm getting my house (figuratively and literally) in order before going on to the next challenge.


Anonymous said...

Estabanito: John turned me on to your blog. Holy Shit! You are going through some kind of shit. Your blog makes me feel that you are handling it though. Will give you a call. Roger

Jack Orrick said...


Just spoke to Roger who passed your blog along. Sorry to hear of your travails; good luck with the surgery and keep the positive vibes coming.