We had only been home from California one day and it was already time to jump back in the saddle. Gamma West had been silently waiting on the sidelines for me to finally get the approval that my body was healed up enough to tolerate the radiation. The day had arrived, October 22nd, the first of 28 daily treatment was set to begin. I thought this day would never come. Not that I want or am excited to received radiation, but from the beginning it was on the list of important things that would be required of me. I’ve been trying to get here, but seemed to always have something come up that prevented me from making it to this point. I was told our course would be chemo, surgery and then radiation. Instead, I decided to do my own thing and I took the path that was chemo, surgery, surgery, surgery, six more unexpected weeks of weekly chemo and then radiation!
There are two locations here in St. George that offer to nuke one’s body. One at the old hospital and the other is Gamma West. I chose Gamma West based on the fact that they have the TomoTherapy machine, which I felt would be most beneficial in zapping all the areas of my body that needed a little tanning while missing my most important and vital organs at the same time. I was a little apprehensive about the whole thing and not quite sure what to expect or how this would make me feel…..
I was seen a couple of weeks prior to this appointment for the simulation set-up. What is simulation you wonder? Well, its a process where the radiation treatment fields are defined (Where my tumors were located along with infected lymph nodes). They are then filmed and marked on CT. The simulator machine is actually a large CT scanner that they use to contour my body. The images are then sent to a physics department who, with my radiation doctor, Dr. James Clarke, arrange the radiation beams and make a customized plan that is just for me because I’m just special like that. I like to explain it to people somewhat like playing a game of “Battle Ship” but only with my body using coordinates……..I’ll take a D6……you either hit or miss the targeted ship and hopefully sink the darn thing in the end without missing too many shots. Make any sense?
During this process I was also given three tiny tattoos. One in the middle of my chest and one on each side of my body. This helps them to line me up everyday in the same position to ensure they hit the correct areas. They also made a plaster cast of my head and arms raised above my head. Apparently, to try and make things more comfortable and help me lay still when I receive each treatment. Sort of funny I think….the word “comfortable” being used in the same sentence as plaster cast. To me, that doesn’t really seem to go well together!
I tried to brag to my kids about my tattoos and initially they thought I was pretty cool! However, that coolness quickly went out the door when they couldn’t pick out the tattoos amongst the pretty display of freckles on my chest!
Once I’ve changed into my “bat cape” that exposes just about everything I have to offer, I am greeted by the three guards below…… who make sure I am who I say I am and we begin. Honestly, would one really try to take my place and take one for the team? I think not! lol Seriously, these guys are some neat people that have been added to my book of special people who do extraordinary things to people like me feel at ease during a not so “easy” time.
What I found most disturbing during this phase of my treatment was the thickness of the door I had to walk through to get into this room. ALARMING!!! Just take a look at the width of this dang door!!! I asked if that was really necessary and the reply was, “It’s not just the door that is that thick, the entire room walls are several feet thick to protect so as to protect the employees working their everyday. They can’t risk any amount of radiation leaking out of the room and exposing anyone. The people working closing with me also have to wear a monitor on their coats that is checked on a daily basis to make sure they haven’t been exposed while helping us. Boy, that would sure make one feel good now wouldn’t it? I learned real quick just how dangerous this radiation was to those around me yet it was something that I was in need of to live. This was no longer the radiation treatment room in my mind….the Gas Chamber seemed more appropriate for such a party!
The next process is pretty simple, they lay me down on a not so comfortable and cold table, put my arms over my head and away we go. A new CT scan of my body is taken every day. That scan is quickly sent to the doc in another room where he would review it and would make any necessary adjustments on the coordinates before we can begin. So, if I lost or gained weight during this process they would make changes because we are all about sinking the ship. We can’t afford any misses in my case.
They have made some effort in taking ones mind off of what is happening to their body with this beautiful Spring display of flowers on the ceiling. My only suggestion would be to change it according to the season outside. It was hard to “pretend” I was looking at this outside during the months of November and December. Wouldn’t a running billboard-type display of the sales going on at the local stores be more appropriate? After all it is prep time for the big day in December. This is only a suggestion, but I think it’s a pretty darn good one if I do say so myself!
The process itself is initially painless and rather quick. For me it was about 15 minutes. Sometimes I wished it took a little longer as I usually would just get into a deep sleep when it was time for the machine to shut off. I was asked what it does to me and the only way I can explain it is its like getting a sunburn each day. Day one it’s not bad, day two is still okay. But as each day progresses, the burns get worse and worse and worse. A sunburn on top of a sunburn at some point is going to kick your butt. I made it through about 19 treatments before my chest area just couldn’t take it anymore. I developed a very itchy rash and a bright red sunburn that was just driving me nuts! Anything touching that area irritated it like crazy. I couldn’t itch because my skin would just rub off. If I could get away with not wearing any clothes on top I would have been okay; however, I don’t live on a nude beach. I live in Utah on Black Brush drive with the Bishop living just down the street so this was a problem. Dr. Clarke gave me some prescription creams to help and we decided I needed to take a break to give that area of my skin some time to heal. We initially thought four days would do the trick, but I ended up needing an entire week before I could continue. No complaints from me! The break was coming at a perfect time…Thanksgiving. I’ll take it. Going back after Thanksgiving and finishing up the remaining 9 treatments was a breeze. My skin tolerated everything better than expected, my vocal cords and esophagus weren’t affected and the fatigue factor was doable.
On December 9th 2012, I received my 28th and final treatment of radiation.
I DID IT!
They don’t mess around either when you are done, they presented me with my certificate of completion and a yummy candy bar! Just what a cancer patient wants….sugar to feed the cancer. lol I most certainly did partake.
The completion of radiation marks the end of any kind of “cancer” garbage for me for a few weeks. I am officially on Christmas Break until precisely December 28th when I will receive my next infusion treatment of Herceptin. Until then Merry Christmas everyone!