Radiation Vacation – Week 1

November 6, 2012

First full week of radiation down.

Here’s how it works:

Every day I go here:

Staff is great.  I walk in.  Everyone says, “Hey, Gwen.”  Just like an episode of Cheers.  The receptionist buzzes me back right away.  I go to the changing room, get into my wonderfully fashionable open-to-the-front gown and then head back to the radiation room where The Machine lives.  I verify my name and birthdate and my favorite tech, J, tells me to head on in.

Once in the radiation room, I slip off my gown and lie on my back on the LINAC couch.

Linear Particle Accelerator

(The radiation room where I receive treatment looks almost exactly like the picture above.)

Once situated, J and another tech (sometimes E, sometimes T) come into the room to position me.  They batter a lot of medical jargon back and forth across my naked chest (really the most awkward situation I’ve ever been in) while they draw arrows and lines all over me with red and black sharpies.  They push and pull my body certain ways on the table (“Don’t help,” they always say as they tug me in varying degrees of up, down or sideways.) making sure that I’m lined up just right.  They move the table up and down to get the right height.  Put my arms in slings above my head.  And turn my head to the right to keep my esophagus protected from the radiation beams.

A green light-beam shoots at me from either side of the room.  They have to make sure the one from the left side of the room lines up with the little purple tattoo on the left side of my body and the one from the right side of the room lines up with the little purple tattoo on the right side of my body.  They also have to make sure that the red beam coming from the gantry (the big arm on the LINAC) is hitting the little purple tattoo in the center of my chest.

Once I’m lined up just right, they cover my chest with this metallic blanket.  (I don’t know what it’s called, but it looks exactly like Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak.)  This is to trick the machine into thinking I have more body mass than I actually do so that the radiation spreads as evenly as possible.  They also have to get this thing placed exactly right.  So they match it up to some of the lines they’ve drawn on my chest and once it is on all the correct spots, they wrap me and it in masking tape to keep it from sliding.

“Okay.  Here we go,” J says.

And then the techs run out of the room.  (Cause radiation is bad for you, ya know.)

They start my playlist.  (This past week, they blasted a mix of The Avett Brothers and Mumford & Sons.  I sang my way through each treatment.)

And once the music has established, the machine begins to move.

The gantry rotates around my body.  Shooting radiation at me.

I have to lay completely still.

There are these little metal bars (kind of like what you would see in the mechanism of a music box… what the thingy strikes against to play the tune, only much larger) inside the head of the gantry that move back and forth, opening and closing, so that the radiation only hits the right parts of my body as the gantry circles me.

It doesn’t feel like anything.  Occasionally I will feel a flush of heat in one very concentrated spot.  It feels similar to the sensation of the very beginning of a sunburn.  The moment you know you should get out of the sun for the rest of the day.

The gantry circles me a total of 3 times.  Then J appears and says, “All done.”

I get dressed.  I go home.

So far, I haven’t noticed any change in my skin.  I use aquaphor right after each treatment and Burt’s Bees After Sun Soother every night before I go to bed.  I use my amazingly gentle, skin calming Squid Balm soap in the shower every day.  Dr. K says this is an excellent regimen to keep the skin as healthy as possible throughout treatment.  But he suspects to notice a burned look on the left side of my chest (the side that is receiving the radiation) within the next couple of weeks.

Really, the worst part right now is the forbidden use of deodorant.

No deodorant while living in Phoenix for 6 weeks is a harsh fate.

Oh… except now it is 7 and 1/2 weeks.  They wanna get some extra strong blasts in at the end of regular treatment.  (“You have a very aggressive cancer, so we have to treat it aggressively,” I was told for maybe the hundredth time.)  So I am now slated to be here until December 14th.  I’m not gonna lie.  Being away from work for this long is a pretty substantial financial burden.  (Now is the part of the program where I shamefully and embarrassingly remind readers about this: The Cancer Games)

The days are lonely.  Treatment takes up about an hour and a half of each afternoon.  And that’s it.  I have found it surprisingly difficult to be in Phoenix without my fleet of friends.  It’s hard to get through the days without hugs.  I am incredibly grateful to be staying in a place where Omie is able to be with me.  (The house where we are living was a last minute find by an unexpected ally.)  I would be Patsy Cline Blue without my Omie Lou.

Here are some pictures from our first week here:

baby goats at AZ state fair

Ranger. Omie. Blue.

Hiking at Lookout Mtn. Preserve

sunset behind our house

And last but not least…

The physicist who blueprinted my body and charted my radiation treatment plan (yes, I have my own physicist – Dr. S to the Y) walked me through everything this week to show me how they place the beams to ensure that nothing hits my heart or my lungs.  He let me take video of all the modeling and mapping.

It’s all incredibly complex and undeniably cool.

Here’s the video of the mapping of me:

End cancer chapter 18


2 Responses to “Radiation Vacation – Week 1”

  1. Tara W Says:

    Just wow. You are your own solar system. I am sorry you are alone in body. But you are never alone in spirit. Loving you from a far and sending only strength and good thoughts your way. Can’t wait to see you!

  2. Jeanne Says:

    You are an amazing young lady. I admire your strength, courage and spirit! Great music selection to listen to during your treatment. You are in my prayers!! ~ Jeanne

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