Monday, December 28, 2009

Let the Rays Begin!

Monday December 21st began my radiation therapy. I go in daily to work, then at 11:35 a.m.leave for the cancer center, which is located across the street and down 2 driveways. I sit in the waiting room for usually no more than 5 minutes before they call me back for treatment. On Monday’s they weigh me (can you say motivation?) before I slip inside a tiny closet to change out of my top into a lovely hospital gown. I then wait (sometimes not at all) in another small waiting area just outside those tiny closets until they call my name.

The room where the treatment is given is a large room with one of those uncomfortable “beds” in the center of the room. At the head of the bed is a huge machine that delivers the treatments to my body. Once I lie down on the bed and grab the bars behind and at the top of my head, and they place a bolster behind my knees, they begin the process of lining my tattooed dots up with the intersection beams in the room. I keep wanting to scoot myself to help them, but they tell me to lie still and let them do the work. They lower the lights in the room so that they can see the laser beams better against my skin. They then take the sheet I am lying on and slide it to just where they need me to be, then one of the two begin calling out numbers to the other as they line me up perfectly with the beams of the machine as it begins to hover over me. Once they are satisfied that it is “perfect” they turn the lights up and leave the room.

The machine is positioned at two different angles and each angle administers two different doses. The first dose typically lasts about 15 seconds and is accompanied by a high pitch buzzing sound. The second dose lasts about 5 seconds with a lower buzzing sound. I count every time I hear the buzzing begin and each time it is slightly different. Sometimes the first dose is 14 seconds, and at times it has lasted as long as 17 seconds. The machine then angles to the other side of me and repeats the same sequence of doses. The only time the therapists come back into the room is after the machine has switched sides. They insert some type of plate over the dosing screen before the long dose is administered. I asked my therapist about the timing and she said the machine is loaded with my dose. The seconds, or half-seconds’ differences from day to day depends on the humidity in the room, my body temperature and the moisture in my body and even the weather outside. The machine knows the exact dose to administer regardless of the conditions surrounding it, and adjusts itself accordingly.

The entire process in the treatment room typically takes no more than 10 minutes, which is a good thing as my arms are usually falling asleep by then from being over my head. The therapist come back in and lowers the bed while the machine goes back to home plate. They then bid me good day, “see you tomorrow” and I go back to my tiny closet to dress for the outside world.

Every Wednesday I have appointments to meet with the radiation nurse and the radiology oncologist to discuss any side affects and have any questions I may have answered. Last week was my first appointment and already the doctor noticed swelling and some “pink”. He advised taking some Advil to relieve the tenderness but assured me all is well. I notice heat radiating into my coat as I am driving to finish up my work day at home. There is slight irritation and tenderness already, so as soon as I get home and log onto my work computer, I make myself comfortable and apply moisturizing lotion to the affected area. The heat I feel is a real indication to the burning that is happening to both the good and bad cells in my body. I know that radiation is for the best, but it is a little freaky knowing that good cells are getting burned up in this process too.

To date, I haven’t started glowing, so I’m not a dead give-a-way while playing hide and seek just yet. My eyelashes and eyebrows have begun to grow back in as well as the hair on my head. However it will be quite a while before scarves and wigs are put aside to make way for a new short hairstyle. Radiation will have no affect on the growth of my hair, so by late spring/early summer I should be able to don my new “do” to the world outside of home.

I understand that things will get a little tougher before they get better, but Dave, Jenn and I are looking forward to a healthier and happy year in 2010. I pray each of you have a better year too. Happy New Year!

Friday, December 11, 2009

X Marks the Spot!

Monday I met once again in a consult with Dr. C and his nurse and heard again how radiation “finishes” what my surgery started and how fatigue and sunburn are the only expected side affects I should experience. They said the fatigue with radiation is not as bad as chemo, that‘s a plus! The numbers of treatment have declined from the original proposed 33 treatments to now only 31. That’s like a sale where they mark off .50¢….on a leather jacket.

I went in two days later for a “simulation”. This is where my therapist marked me for precision radiation. A simulation is a CAT scan that creates a 3D image of me to map out my heart and lungs so that those are protected during radiation. We don’t want to destroy any healthy cells that shouldn’t be part of the radiation process. First Jennifer, my therapist, lined me up on the “bed”. I have no clue why they call it a bed as it is unlike any bed I’ve ever slept on. It was hard and uncomfortable, but I digress. She then marked me with an X, with a fine tip marker, where the laser beams in the room intersected me. She applied sticky tape with wires inside them to create borders as the CAT scan doesn’t recognize borders, only bones and tissue. Once the doctor approved the lines and borders, she scanned me. After the scan she took all the metal tape off and tattooed the X marks with a tiny dot in the center of each X. I’m living wild now, I’ve got tats!

I will go in again on the 18th of Dec for another simulation. This will insure that the “map” of my body lines up perfectly with me. Providing this is all perfect, I start daily radiation treatments Dec 21st and will end Feb 3rd. If you’re wondering, like I did... no, they don’t “do” holidays. So my first two weeks will be 4 day weeks versus 5 day weeks. I will still have 31 treatments regardless of the Friday holidays.

The nurse let me know that the first two weeks are the easiest. She said the body can repair itself after each treatment and I will hardly notice any difference. However by the end of the 2nd week, the body runs out of steam trying to repair destroyed cells daily and struggles to heal itself from that point on. That is when I will begin experiencing fatigue. They think I shouldn’t begin any discomfort from ray burns until after the first two weeks, however, as I am fair skinned we will have to “play it by ear” as to how quickly I react to the rays.

I am not allowed to wear deodorant or powder or any other topical solutions on the area to be radiated as it will act like oil on a sunbather’s body and enhance the burn. I learned that I haven’t had to wear deodorant under my right arm since surgery as they removed sweat glands when they removed lymph nodes. This was news to me, but there’s another silver lining. It will take twice as long to use up my deodorant as it has in the past. Think of all the money I could have saved if I’d known that earlier!

Thanks for sticking in there with me, only 6 ½ weeks of radiation. Drug therapy will begin once radiation is done, but, one step at time. Love you all.