Wednesday, 21 May 2014

May 21: Journey to Radiation Galaxy

I began my radiation with a 160km journey (each way) for a planning meeting.

Not a beach or blue waters in sight on this journey but a girl can dream ...

 I'm not sure journey describes it -
“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.”
Ernest Hemingway
... because I don't know where the journey will ultimately end, except the radiation to my thigh will in 3.5 weeks.

The first step entailed having a CT (I think) scan and getting six tiny tattoos - so the Radiation goes only where it is supposed to!

My first inking , now I have six tattoos ; two on my left thigh, two on the top of my pubic area and one on each hip...six bluish/green dots about size of a freckle.

These tramp stamps permanent marks guide the therapists each day for precise and accurate positioning.

The first step in making the tattoo was to place a drop of ink on the skin, then the ink spot was scratched with a needle to draw the tattoo.It hurt ( a little )

Then they made a special hard blue foam cradle to position my left leg (angled like a frog's leg) and my right leg - straight and out of the harmful radiation beams.

Radiation Therapy uses a special kind of high energy beam; highly targeted and highly effective way of killing any cancer cells that may be hanging around too small to be removed by surgery. Invisible to the human eye , the beams damage a cell's DNA (the material they use to divide) to reduce the risk of recurrence. In comparison to chemo, the side effects - fatigue and redness / burns / blistering to the skin are minimal. I have to go in 4 -5 days a week for seven weeks (30 targeted sessions).

Radiation is pain-free and over in 5 or so minutes though positioning my body and setting up / lining up of the machine that takes an extra 10-15mins.

I was given a barcode'd card that I scan as I arrive each day , my patient number pops up, then I proceed to the change rooms, change into scrub pants put my belongings in a clean basket, go to the sub waiting area, sit and wait to be called to the waiting area.

Despite knowing the drill with my husband , the my first treatment visit was a bit overwhelming and I dropped a few tears when the social worker asked me how I was. I felt truly sorry for myself and those seated around me. Victim mentality ; pity party.

Now I find myself at the halfway point through my radiation therapy with 15 treatment days to go 3.5 weeks. I am okay. My leg is red and a little irritated only .I'm grateful there are few side effects.

Compared to chemotherapy it is a much simplier process but much more personally and emotionally invasive because they expected me to be naked from the waist down - I made a fuss - it was my inner thigh towards my knee and they really only needed to see the tattoos not my VJ comletely exposed for F's sake - I will not leave my dignity at the door - with my left leg in the frog leg position - because NO !!@ ! A pillow slip flipped here and there continually , was unacceptable.

So they agreed and left the room while I put my undies back on ; with great relief. A few times one or another has made comments about it being harder but whatever ! Still exposed and vulnerable , but not to the same extent that I would be without undies on...imagine the view with frog legs.

I had no idea that would happen at treatment planning or on day one - as it was implied I could put my undies back on. It wasn't an issue after I asked - despatately

After 10-15 or 30-45 mins, whatever it takes I'm called into the room that houses 'Machine 1' most days , I identify myself and sans pants - Not my undies - I lie down on my back, in my personalised leg cradle, on the table . I am given a blue ring to hold. My head lies in a foam head cradle.

I am re-marked with texta markers around my tattoo's -like four compass point marks and a template placed on left thigh (radiation site) - a series of texta dots.
Then they join the dots...well virtually. Everyday I must be in the exact same position.

The lights are dimmed / turned off ? once I've positioned myself on the bed, and green laser beams appear on my body.

The radiation guys and gals proceed to push and twist my hips and thigh or knee, flatten my flab , poke my sternum, bear hug me to shift me millimetre's or cm's till I'm in the required position . It feels awkward ; so meticulous are the technicians in ensuring that the measurements precisely match that of the computerised treatment plan.

They remind you that you shouldn't try to help unless asked as usually only millimetre adjustments are made. The worse feeling is the nervous belly rumbling and anticipation of a pungent gas leak.

Never the less , they demonstrate , professionalism with their skill, precision and patience - as two therapists call out numbers to each other from screens on each side of the room.

The dots I had tattooed onto my leg, hips, pubes play a role in this and a special thick gel pad is placed over the scar too so the radiation goes right to my skin. As one radiation assistant call out measurements, the other shifts the bed - moving and jigging it up, down or side to side in correlation to the measurements.

Once both are satisfied with the my position and the machine I am bid a cheery goodbye and left alone - with the bright lights turned back on , startling me often. As I zone out during the awkward positioning.

Everyone leaves the room while I'm receiving radiation treatment so they will not be unnecessarily exposed to radiation. Outside of the 'lockable door' , they watch on a monitor/screen outside the room. I think the rooms are lead lined bunkers.

There is no pain with the treatments but I do feel warmth and maybe my overactive imagination or for real a tingling sensation too.

Apparently , today, one door wouldn't lock so they couldn't use that room.
Picture me here ...this is position my machine finishes in , my leg cradle.

The machine rotates around me (up to 360 degrees) to deliver different beams as part of my specific treatment plan. It changes position a few times during my daily treatment and the bed moves once - again I've been startled a few times. Closing my eyes is better than keeping them open, I shut them to focus on my breathing instead of the treatment. I don't hear much of the buzzing and whirring because I remove my hearing aid to fit in the foam head cradle. I hear and feel my heart was racing directly under my still arms/hands ( especially sans boobs) .

Then before I know it (or rather hear) , the radiation assistants are back in - sometimes to re-check measurements and positioning. My treatment over for another day.

“If we are facing in the right direction, all we have to do is keep on walking.” – Buddhist Saying

Not being able to hear clearly around me is unsettling - as I can't wear my hearing aid in the head cradle.

 I occasionally chat with other patients (and relatives), all of us have traveled different cancer and road journeys to bring us into Radiation oncology ... most of us 100 km + . There is little opportunity to share their own adversity, adventures and triumphs.Maybe, over the next 3 wks when I stay at the lodge , located near Radiation suite.

I'm still one of the youngest I've seen in 3 weeks well except for the baby faced young radiation therapists / assistants. I saw children waiting for their radiation treatment when my husband was having radiation.

The radiation staff are kind and friendly , the nurses too. Though I barely see them.
Soft music of all genre is played ... I just remembered - the music - I didn't hear it yesterday or today whilst having my treatment.

It's funny how, in this journey of life, even though we may begin at different times and places, our paths cross with others so that we may share our love, compassion, observations, and hope. This is a design of God that I appreciate and cherish.”
Steve Maraboli, Unapologetically You: Reflections on Life and the Human Experience 

May 21: Write about a journey in your life

Tell me about a journey unique to you