Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Radiation: FINALLY!

It feels like months in the making...wait, it was months in the making. Originally I was supposed to start radiation at the end of May; then the middle of June; then a 4th surgery came up and radiation was supposed to start on July 15th. Well, the 15th came and went and through no fault of my own, radiation was still not on the calendar. I was getting really tired of this "hurry up and wait" routine. And I was only a little (okay, a lot) bitter that I missed out on the family vacation because of this. Grrr.

Well, I had my radiation simulation on the 17th, which means I was cleared to start radiation yesterday. FINALLY! So, the simulation was a pain in the ass: two hours of not moving all while breathing weird, holding your breath on demand, etc. Everyone promised me the actual radiation experience would be much better and faster.
And, would you believe it?! THEY WERE RIGHT! Holy crap! When has that ever happened during this whole process?!

As you can see from these pictures of the machine, which I'm willing to wager probably costs $12 billion dollars, radiation is pretty much like getting a CT scan, MRI, or PET scan, except you're not actually fed through a tube of death. Instead, the beam of radiation moves around you as you lay flat on the table. I am being radiated in three separate spots across my chest and armpit, so I get to lay on my back with my arms raised above my head. (You can sort of see this in the second picture). 
Everyone has been asking, "what is radiation like?" And now I am such an expert after two whole days of it, so I can share the details. Here's what I get to do EVERY DAY for the next SEVEN WEEKS...yes, it really is every day...

(1) Get changed into an awesome gown. Because only the top half of me is being radiated, I get to keep my pants on (YEAH!). I've been wearing my comfy jeans because it's not the warmest room I've ever been in. And my great new flip flops. 

(2) You get to wait in the waiting room until they call you. This is complete with mini fridge, make your own coffee/cocoa/tea, water, snacks, comfy chairs, and a soothing waterfall. Terrific, my insurance is really getting their money's worth at this BRAND NEW facility.

(3) They call you ON TIME! Like to the second. Holy shit, those chemo folks could learn a thing or two.

(4) Back to the room with the fancy machine you go. Gown opened, lay down on the "cushioned" "table" (using both of those terms lightly), arms above your head. The techs are AMAZING (as, quite honestly, everyone has been through this process...well, except for the billing departments, but that's another story). I am offered heated blankets for my legs and arms, and they prop up my knees with a pillow. I get to look up at the twinkling starry sky mural (again, my insurance $$ at work, I'm sure), while they adjust me to where I'm supposed to be lined up with the beam. (I now have several tattoos to mark my center so they can put me in the same spot every time).

(5) I get cool virtual reality glasses because I get to do a "breath hold" technique. When they zap me with the beam, I have to hold my breath. The glasses help me see the lines that tell me how deep to hold my breath and for how long. Hard to explain...maybe I'll get a screen capture of the computer in the next week or so. The reason that I have to hold my breath during radiation is that my awesome heart is really not in the right place compared to where my cancer is. And since I don't really want my heart zapped with radiation, holding a deep breath causes it to shift locations and away from the beam. It's actually kinda cool to see the CT scan of how they determined this.

(6) Once I'm in place, glasses on, and everything is lined up, the techs get to leave the room (because it's radiation you know and they don't want to be anywhere near it). Then they start the process. It's four distinct zaps of the beam and then I'm done. Takes about 20-25 minutes, start to finish, with about 5 minutes on either end for changing and check in, etc. 

Sounds easy, right? Piece of cake, right? Okay, compared to chemo, it totally is. 

However, there are some quirky things here. 
--This every day thing is already getting old and I'm only two days in. 33 more days to go. Crap, this is gonna put a crimp in my social calendar. And the family's. The girl child is going to DIE because she cannot make random plans with friends, at least if she wants them to happen at our house.

--All those back to school trips we take to Oregon will likely have to be done without me. Did I mention this every day thing? My whole life is revolving around this now...ugh.

--Once you are in place on the table, you CANNOT move. AT. ALL. Not even a twitch or a sneeze or the process of setting you up has to start ALL OVER AGAIN. Wanna know what it's like? Turn on the A/C at your house, lie down on the ground (sorry, the bed/couch is way too comfortable), put your arms above your head at funky angles, turn your head just enough to one side to be uncomfortable, put on some glasses that pinch your nose and leave an indentation on your forehead (I actually think after a couple of more days, this might become permanent), uncover a body part that's typically not seen on the beach...now DON'T MOVE for 20 minutes. And every couple of minutes, hold your breath for a minute. But DON'T MOVE! Don't twitch, sneeze, wiggle your finger, because they will know! I'm not even sure I blink.

And the other question I get, "what are the side effects?" I've been told TIREDNESS (great, because I just haven't had enough of that in the past bazillion months) and "really bad sunburn" soreness. Sounds fun! Because I know where I've been zapped, I can see and feel it already, but it's not bad yet. So I'm guessing that it's a buildup to the badness, and I might just get the first week symptom free. KNOCKING ON WOOD NOW!

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