Radiation started two weeks ago and I have done a total of 12 of the 28 sessions necessary. I go every day Monday through Friday at 9:30 am for any where from 15 minutes to an hour depending on the day. Every two weeks is an extra set of x-rays to make sure everything is lined up and every Monday is Doctor day! The first day I went through about 40 minutes of x-rays to give them a baseline, lying in one position and not moving. They then asked if I’d rather stop and come in the next day for my first “dose” or could I possibly stay still for another 15 minutes. My arm was already numb, my back sore, so of course I said, “turn up the music and go for it.” There was a rather nice mix of tunes on the CD that day and I found I could get lost in it. One down, 27 to go.
Before I started radiation I had a mold made, it is made of styrofoam, a balloon of sorts and once in position it is formed around me and used each time I will have radiation so I will lay exactly the same way. They also measured and made markings with sharpies so the physicists could figure out the exact position to point the x-rays to get my chest wall, clavicle area and lymph nodes. After two weeks of therapy these markings would be replaced with a tattoo, a small blue dot in 6 spots so the beams can be lined up.
Radiation is intimidating in a different way than chemo was intimidating. Chemo required 3-4 hours of my time and usually Tom’s every three weeks for 8 sessions. The side effects were fast and furious as was the abatement of them towards the third week between doses. I sat with an IV in my arm watching the witches brew drip into my arm and hoping it would cleanse me of the sins of cancer. A couple of weeks after chemo, most of the side effects were better and on their way.
Radiation on the other hand is every day, invisible and much more ominous. We have all been told we do not want to be exposed to too much radiation anywhere in our lives, so we limit x-rays on our teeth, chests, virtually no one gets an x-ray unless really necessary, they can cause cancer. Technicians taking the x-rays stand behind shields or go in the other room and at the dentist this huge heavy lead apron is draped over your body. X-rays are nothing to sneeze at!
So there I lay, a huge machine hovering over my chest then moving, first the right side, then the left side, then right over top shooting x-rays. The techs move in and out changing shields, putting a towel and plastic gel “diffuser” on my chest (I am so thin hahaha they don’t want the x-rays penetrating into my lung) and making sure the settings are correct all the way through. The machine buzzes, clinks, hums and moves internally and then I hear the buzz and can see the large red lights go on the sign BEAM ON. Eleven times the BEAM ON sign glows red, three long, 5-6 seconds and the rest short on and off. I have memorized the pattern and know by the sign and the position of the machine when I am done, but I do not move an inch until they walk in and say “all done Barb.”
I lie there overwhelmed, dismayed, frightened and disturbed knowing this is putting x-rays into my body. They are cumulative and the effects will take longer to resolve than chemo, a friend told me two to three months after I am done. I would love to be a fly on the wall in 50 years when this room and this machine where I purposely get irradiated becomes a museum piece and the tour guide says…”can you imagine 50 years ago they actually irradiated people with this machine to cure cancer, barbarian, while today we tweak your genes and you don’t even get cancer.”