As of today, I am 3 weeks into my 5 weeks of radiation. I am happy to be over the halfway hump. I will admit that I am feeling more tired than usual and the radiation is causing some pain, inflammation and skin problems. Nothing that I was not warned about or that I cannot handle. I mean, Hello!, it is all worth it to be rid of this terrible disease!
For those of you who are not familiar with radiation treatment, let me break it down for you. As with most things in life, there is the serious aspect…..then there is the humor in it all. Most who know me understand that many of my experiences in life are kinda humorous. I tend to be clumsy, sort of a bull in a china shop. It’s ok, I have embraced this and don’t take myself too seriously.
So, picture this! Before the actual treatments begin, there has to be a simulator session. Due to the location of my tumor, this involved me lying on my stomach, naked from the waist down. There were about 7-8 people in the room. Yes, nothing like being on display with a hump’d hump on your backside!! Now, they would alternatively take x-ray pictures, snap pictures with THEIR CELL PHONES (were they HIPAA approved?, Secure?, Duke Health approved?, who knows) and draw on me with a sharpie! Yep, just a regular old sharpie pen! Oh and they also applied stickers and pieces of tape. Not sure what it all meant but it sort of resembled a map…..with no treasure at the end. They would draw, snap pictures, confer in low voices, then repeat. All the while I am not sure what to do while lying there so I tried to think about anything other than where I was… I planned my to do list for work, thought my about Christmas present buying list, what I needed to pack to bring to Durham, etc. Finally, it was over and I was told that it would great if I could avoid washing off the sharpie masterpiece that went from the middle of my back to my thighs before I returned a week later. I mean, I did my best. I am impressed by how long the ink lasts when you don’t scrub it.
A week later I was all moved into our apartment in Durham and reported for my first actual treatment. The radiation machine is no joke. I am told that a new one takes 2-3 months to set it up, test and configure before they can treat the first patient. I also now know that it is not like an MRI that does the same thing on everyone. The Radiation Oncologist maps a treatment plan for every patient, monitors it during the course and makes adjustments. The technicians have to make sure they are placing you in an exact position and running the proper program. It’s really fascinating to me.
So, I am assigned to the “tan” machine. It’s not tan but that is what they call it. I pretty much have the same technicians each day. I show up, get undressed, put on a gown and head to the tan room. I assume the position, they move me around until I am in place then hit start. The machine reminds me of the transformer movies. Two big arms come out and the machine spins up and around me then moves to different positions to administer the radiation. This week they began placing a thick square of material on top of the tumor area. It is meant to simulate additional tissue. Wait, what? Yes My Friends, for once in my life I need MORE tissue (or fat) on my backside!! Talk about silver linings!! The whole process only takes 10-15 minutes tops.
Finding the humor in all of this keeps me sane. I imagine I am not the only cancer patient who feels this way. Setting my mind this way helps me to avoid getting bogged down in the anxiety and worry that comes with fighting cancer. Make no mistake, the doctors and nurses and technicians at Duke take their job very seriously and they are some of the most caring, compassionate, intelligent folks I have ever met. Their jobs are not easy and they see things everyday that would break the spirit of most. Yet they always greet you with kindness and compassion.
I encourage anyone who has time, means and opportunity to get involved with the cancer associations in our area. I have listed some links below. I know this has opened my eyes and I pray for the opportunity to give back and help…. just as so many have done for me.
Happy Friday! 💕