Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Going to Radiation

Going to radiation is very annoying. I have to go five days a week. That really doesn't make any sense. If it's so good, why don't we go every day, seven days a week, until we're done?

The only thing I have to say in favor of this experience is, everyone who works for Dr. Trip (that's my nickname for him) is completely gung-ho about what they do over there at the Superconducting Supercollider Radiation Center. Man. I've never met people who are so into what they do. Whenever I have the slightest question or observation about what's happening, they jump at the chance to explain, explain, explain everything that's happening.

What happens? I don't pretend to understand all of this. I've previously had a CT of just my upper chest and neck ,and that scan is the guide for how they radiate me. It's a foreshortened view of that part of my body, and they get a look at all the numerous "slices" of my upper torso, all stretched out like a loaf of bread that's been pulled apart. All that information from the CT gets fed into the computers that delivers my radiation treatment. They are supposed to radiate just my breast and my lymph nodes on my left side — and nothing else, like my heart or lungs. They don't "eyeball" anything. It's all done with very sophisticated computers — state of the art, I'm told.

Five days a week, I go into the dimly-lit radiation room, where there is a machine that looks a little like a scanner and a hard "bed" you lie down on. I've got 4 Sharpie marks on my body now that are covered in clear stickers to protect the marks. Three are in red, right along my waistline. These are the marks they use to line up my body every day, corresponding to all these laser lines that are shooting out of the walls and ceiling of the room. One is in black and it's right at the top of my breast. It marks the edge of the "fly zone" of the radiation.

I eschewed their lovely exam gowns and I bring my own shirt every day instead. I lie on the hard bed with a wedge under my knees and they secure my feet with a little Velcro strap. My head's cradled in a plastic "bowl" thing. It allows for a bit of movement. That's good, because I must turn my head slightly to the right, so my esophagus doesn't get radiated. I have to raise my arms over my head and grab a kind of trapeze bar and stay that way for the entire time. They elevate the bed with me on it and my body gets close to the thing that the radiation comes out of. The technicians leave the room and close the lead door behind them. They see me on a TV screen on the other side of the room, and I can see a computer monitor that has all the data about what they're doing to me — not that I can understand it. The only thing I know is they can't mess it up because the radiation oncologist has input the data exactly the way he wants it and it's not possible for radiation to begin unless everything is precise. If there's any data highlighted in orange, that's wrong and they adjust things until it's no longer highlighted. There are no accidents. They can't radiate anything that's not supposed to be radiated.

The first thing that gets radiated are the lymph nodes on my back. Then the machine rotates around me three other times to get the other portions of the target area. When the radiation is being delivered, a lighted alarm goes off in the room. Each blast lasts around 10-12 seconds. Once when I had a different technician I commented that the blasts seemed longer than previous treatments. He gave me a very long explanation about it, but the upshot is, I wasn't getting more radiation than any other time. They just took a little longer to deliver the same dose. Again, the technology won't let them screw anything up.

A single radiation dose is 200X than what you get in an X-ray. I'm getting 33 treatments total. It opens a can of whoop ass on your tissues. Kill, kill, kill those cells. It's usually 10 minutes from the time I get out of my car and back again. That's how short the whole thing lasts. My skin is beginning to get a little red now and the area feels swollen. Remarkably, the few palliative steps you can take to help this don't do all that much — creams, ointments, etc. I'm not grossly uncomfortable yet but I've seen on other people how bad it can get. Mostly, I get extra tired sometimes. That's the cue for me to nap or go to bed early. Of course, I would rather ignore how I feel and keep doing what I'm doing, anyway.

Today's treatment will be No. 16. (Nov. 4). Almost halfway.

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