It is more important to know where you are going, than how long it takes to get there.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Real Deal...

Monday I had a practice radiation treatment. The set up and machinery is the same as a real radiation treatment, but instead of shooting radiation into me, they shot x-ray pictures of me. The x-rays were another way to verify that they marked the correct areas to target the radiation.

The radiation treatment room is similar to an x-ray room, except the radiation is much stronger than a normal x-ray. The door from the control room to the treatment room is about 12 inches thick. Three radiation techs watch me on a monitor from the control room; there is no window into the treatment room. I think there are at least four computer screens in the control room. The treatment room has the most interesting ceiling. Two rows of ceiling tiles - you know the ones you count while lying in a dentist's chair - look like they are made of rice paper with leaves fixed to the inside. The leaves look real. The colors are brownish and greenish. It is very pretty and zen-like. I have never seen anything like this, but I think medical offices should be required to install these ceiling tiles - especially dentists. (No, I don't have a problem going to the dentist. It just seems like time goes by so slowly in a dentist's chair.) The techs play good music too.

Yesterday and today were the real deal. The set up and positioning of me on the table takes longer than the actual radiation. Radiation set-up requires three technicians. Technicians stand on each side of me while I am on the table, lining me up with green laser lights that shoot down from a cross cut into a plain ceiling tile. The third technician stands at the foot of the bed, positioning it too, and reads off some numbers from a computer screen. Sometimes they move me the tiniest bit to line up the numbers - it is all about precision. My arms are stretched over my head in a somewhat uncomfortable position, stretching the limits of my physical therapy for my left arm. My head rests in a little cradle. During the radiation, I turn my head to the right, away from the radiation field. I get radiated eight times in different locations on my left chest and left underarm each visit. Each time I must hold my breath while the machine is doing its thing. They talk to me from the control room telling me when to hold my breath and when I can breathe. The breath holding has something to do with protecting my left lung from accidentally getting radiated. Normally, holding my breath isn't a big deal, but I still have this dumb cough! I am going on 6 weeks! Maybe if my lung was radiated, it would kill this cough. Other than a couple of coughs between radiation zaps, I have managed to make through okay.

The machine that administers the radiation is called a linear accelerator. (I thought that a linear accelerator was the mile long building at Stanford used to break up atoms.) First, the machine is positioned on my right side, and after a couple of zaps, the techs come in, reposition the table and me, and move the machine to the left side. The machine is a very large circular disc on the end of a long arched arm, with a small glass panel about the size of a sheet of paper in the middle of the disc. When it is on my right, I can look directly into the rectangular glass plate that has two rows of teeth on the inside, similar to the teeth on a comb, but the thickness of spaghetti pasta noodles. Each tooth moves independently, and the opening between the two rows of teeth changes shape, depending on the target for radiation. It's pretty interesting and entertaining. I make up different images for the shapes - kind of like imagining clouds are animals, flowers, a piece of apple pie, etc.

The entire process goes fairly quick. I am in and out of the building in 30 minutes or less. It is too soon for side effects, so I feel like I am just getting x-rays in a strange contorted position. Maybe I will have some interesting side effects to report in a couple of weeks. For now, the worst thing I am dealing with, besides this cough, is some burnt fingers. I spastically burned some fingers last Friday while taking something out of the oven. They are taking an unusually long time to heal. For some strange reason, my left pinkie go the worst of it, and it will spontaneously throb with pain - during the day or when I am sleeping at night. I am guessing that along with a weakened immune system, my self-healing from burns or wounds was compromised too. I have never had a burn act like this. During chemotherapy they warn you about being careful in the kitchen, but I think that was related to knives, not burns. I should have stayed in that burn-proof bubble.

Whacky thought for the day...
Most underarm deodorants have metal in them and interfere with radiation. Some believe that the metal in deodorants can be a contributing factor to breast cancer. The only deodorant that I know for certain that does not have metal as an ingredient is Tom's of Maine.

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