I started my radiation therapy this week. This is the newest phase in my Cancer vortex. I had been looking forward to having another week "off" of any sort of treatment since the initial plan was to start after Thanksgiving, but in some ways it is best to just get this over with.
Radiation will be a series of 33 treatments- It will be done every day, Monday-Friday over a course of roughly 6 weeks. It is not as simple as just showing up for treatments. There is a two part process to go through before I could actually start my treatments.
The first part was to have my simulation done- which I did a couple weeks ago. Each new phase has been nerve wracking. Anyone can tell you what to expect but until you are there, in the moment, you never really know how you will react. On the morning of my simulation, I was lead into the dressing room by a very pleasant radiation therapist. He showed me where I would change and where the lockers were to store my personal belongings. Every day I will come in there, get undressed from the waste up and put a gown on. I will sit and wait for the therapist to come and get me. The radiation oncology department has a different intensity to it. Everyone who has gone through this tells me it is “easier” than chemo, but for me it completes this sci-fi experience of the whole cancer vortex. Maybe I just watched too many Twilight Zone episodes with my father (mind you I was under 10 years old and these were very scary) but there is something to be said about what goes through your mind when you enter the cold, sterile rooms. There are giant machines in the middle of the room and molds of other patients body parts stacked up on a shelf. These molds each have their own story to tell, but this of course is mine.
For the simulation, I walked into this huge room and there is a CT scanning machine in the middle and a large glass viewing room off to the side. The nice radiation therapist ( they are all lovely people) was trying to make me feel more comfortable with my surroundings. He began to explain to me what will be happening. I had read the little radiation booklet they gave me during my consultation, but who really remembers all of that when you are in the moment? I was told I had to lie down on the long metal sliding table with my left arm up over my head and not move for at least 30 minutes. During this time, my radiation oncologist Dr. M is sitting in the booth viewing the scan and starting the process to create my own personal radiation map. The CT scan helps to make sure he knows where my heart and lungs are situated so he can try to avoid them-I certainly wouldn’t want them to just point and shoot. On the table I was laying on is a bag filled with a chemical mixture similar to the molding foam you can get from the Home Depot. It is in a bag so it doesn’t actually touch my skin, but it is heat activated so while I’m lying there not moving, they are also creating a mold of my torso. This mold will be used for each treatment to ensure I’m in the same position each time. Once Dr M. got the map of my chest that he was comfortable with, they then used these red laser lights from the ceiling to help the therapist mark my body with a Sharpie. He then actually tattoos a dot in each one of those spots. I think I have about 7 of these marks. This is to show the radiation team where my radiation field is (where to zap me). They will use these permanent tattoos daily when they set me up on the radiation table.
Part two is what they call a dry run. This is to double check that everything is all set to go. I had to go in last week and this was actually done in the radiation room. There are two rooms. One on the left and one on the right. I will always be in the room on the left. I guess it is all about consistency and routine. Both have huge doors that slide open with red and green lights over them to indicate a treatment in session. I was not receiving a treatment on that day but they walked me through the exact steps. They had to take some more x-rays, line me up to my tattoos and make sure the field and the map all match up. I do like all this double, triple checking- I would hate to have them miss! I have even had a nightmare that I moved while being radiated and everyone screamed “NO, STOP the Machine”. It was a horrible dream.
Monday, the day of my first radiation treatment, came very quickly. I was very nervous. I got up on the cold metal table which had only a sheet and my mold on it. I nestled right into my mold and my therapist is talking me through the process again while the lights are off and she is using those red laser lights to line up to my tattoos. I had my head turned slightly right so I could not really see what she was doing. She has me all set up to go and before she leaves the room, she asks me what music I like. There is a CD player in there but I forgot my music- They had told me I could bring my own music. But since I did not, she turns on the lights so she can see me from the outside viewing monitors, hits play on the CD player and walks out of the room saying “I think it is the sound track to Glee. Ok, I will be right back and remember stay still”
I am all alone in what is now the very bright cold scary room- I am not only not able to move, but I am stuck listing to a horrible rendition of "Don’t Stand So Close to Me" from Glee. Note to self, bring your own music. I close my eyes and try to find my happy place but can’t help the tears rolling down my cheeks into my ear. Thank GOD this doesn’t last but 6 weeks and each session is only about 15 minutes. I tell myself "I can do this." Now, what music do you think would go best with radiation?
Monday has come and gone and I have completed my first 5 treatments and I have only 28 more to go. It has gotten a little less scary but I am still nervous about what it is doing to my skin and my body. I still have to finish reconstruction at some point down the line and I would hate to develop lymphodemia after all of this crap. I have pretty fare skin and I’m already turning a little pink. Right when I leave the treatment room I have to put Aquaphor on the area in which they are treating. This area starts from my sternum, down to my lower rib cage, up under my arm where they removed my lymph nodes and all the way up over my clavicle. Of course don’t forget the breast itself. They are treating this large area due to my pathology results. I had positive lymph nodes and extra nodal extension which means the cancer got into the fatty tissue surrounding my lymph nodes. The clavicle area is because there is breast tissue that high up that cannot be removed in surgery and there are lymph nodes up there they want to treat as well. They are also radiating my chest wall, near where my tumor was, just in case the cancer decided to detour to my lungs. I have to keep reminding myself that my PET scan was clear and I received clear tumor margins and this is all done as insurance to try to keep from getting a local recurrence.
I had a routine follow up with my oncologist Thursday before I had to get my Herceptin treatment. It is hard to believe it has been three weeks but time flies….My blood counts were “perfect” so it is good to know my body is bouncing back and that I am able to produce my own white blood cells without the help of modern medicine. Just a combination of healthy eating, fresh air and riding my bike are all that I need.
It is Saturday which means I get two days off of working on my tan. I am looking forward to another great fall weekend of riding with my guy. Yes, I am back riding after my little mishap two weeks ago-my ribs and bruising have healed up quickly. I remain cautious but frankly, I have to ride my bike. It is what keeps me centered.
I hope you have a great weekend!
Thank you for reading.