Today was radiation treatment #19 of 28. Nine more to go. It seems so surreal to be almost done. Well, having cancer seems very surreal to me even after a year of treatment but being done just seems completely unreal. I have been thinking a lot recently about this whole experience. It changes everything in a way that nothing else can. I thought my life was full and busy at this time last year and never would have imagined that everything I did every day would or could completely change in an instant. Little did I know that it was about to.
Radiation is going well. I really am fascinated by the process and I have new questions for the techs every day. I am going to meet with one of the behind-the-scenes people (he has a title, I just can’t remember it) and try to get some pics for the blog of my images. There have been some changes in my treatment and I’ve also gained some knowledge from my constant barrage of questions which I will share with you now.
Every week throughout treatment x-rays are taken to verify treatment, margins and the amount of radiation I receive. The x-rays are taken through the linear accelerator so I go through the regular process of getting lined up like I’m getting radiation except first they take films and then I get the radiation without moving. The x-rays sound just like the radiation, a hum from the machine, except the little window is all the way open during some of them. I have to say, it is weird to hear the hum with the window all the way open, it kind of makes me want to jump off the table just in case they pushed the wrong button and I’m actually getting zapped. I know that isn’t the case, but it’s a disquieting feeling staring at that window.
A couple weeks ago, the techs took my x-rays a few times and I kept waiting. Then the doctor came in so I knew I was in trouble. Turns out that my right boob (which we took a bunch of saline out of) was still in the way a tad so they were moving the table down to get rid of the “flash”. The doc didn’t like that they were moving me down but they weren’t getting good clearance without doing it. So, we went for the super high tech fix of taping my right boob down (it gives a little bit since we took the saline out) which allows them to keep the table at the right height. We’ve taken films 2-3 times a week since then so we are pretty verified that it’s working. I don’t have any feeling in my chest so I can’t feel the tape there but it goes around my arm and attaches to the bottom of the table so I get a nice arm wax every time they remove it.
I also have been getting a sunburn and a rash from the radiation. It feels like regular sunburn so most people can relate. It is also very itchy from the rash so the doctor told me to use hydrocortisone to see if that helps and will give me a prescription next week if not. It is helping some but you will see it in the pictures below. Yesterday I noticed that you can really see the line from the collarbone lymph node treatment and the chest wall. Here is the pic showing where they separate the dose:
You can see the green laser lines. They mark that line to do the first dose above it and then they do my chest wall below it from two angles. They’ve been putting wet towels on my chest wall to basically intensify the treatment. My skin has gotten irritated to the point that the towels were removed this week and will stay off for the rest of the treatment. Here is what the skin currently looks like:
So, you can see exactly where the line is and how much of a difference that wet towel makes for skin irritation. Since I’ve had a mastectomy, the skin has nothing between it and the muscle wall. So that is where any remaining cancer cells would live. So the skin irritation is really the only proof we have that the radiation is hitting the right spot. It would be nice to have something that wasn’t so painful but at least there is a purpose for it. The sunburn and rash go all the way under my arm to the edge of the “field”.
With the towels removed, I now have two frequencies for each of the three angles of radiation. I’ve also noticed that the little metal things (which I have discovered are called “petals” move a lot throughout treatment. These are the things I’m talking about:
Apparently there are “hot spots” that naturally occur during treatment and they block them out by moving the petals. This is a relatively new advancement in radiation. Nice to know we are cutting edge.
All things considered, things are going well but I have a whole new reason to look forward to the weekends now. It is so nice to have a break and let my skin heal a bit. When I started treatment I was surprised that the office was closed on Memorial Day (or even weekends). I was so used to chemo going forward no matter what day of the week it was. Now I am so thankful for whatever break I can get. If it weren’t for Memorial Day I would have finished on my birthday, but I think the day after will still be a nice present. Nine more to go.