That's not me in the photo. You know how you can tell? Because he's wearing black socks. Oh, and because he's a man. But that is very much like the radiation machine that I'm spending intimate moments with every morning for the next five weeks. And that's the position I assume.
Here's how it's gone: Tuesday morning was the last day of the treatment "planning" sessions and what I call the "undress rehearsal." Not too big of a deal--just me practicing the "walk in, check in, grab a gown, strip down to the waist, throw on the gown, put clothes in the locker and report for duty in the waiting area with similarly attired folks" routine. Once the radiation nurse comes and gets me, she has me lay down on the "bed" that is very much like what you see here. The tricky part is that they manipulate you and move you around by pulling on the sheet underneath. It's hard not to lift up and let them pull the sheet out, but that's not the point of it. Once I was positioned they commenced with the artwork.
See the photo on the right? Yeah, that's not me either. Know how you know that? That's a left breast and as we all know by now "my" cancer was "right breast 10 o'clock." But that is a very good photo of the type of artwork they created on my body. Only my ink was purple. And they circled each of my little "freckle" tattoos. Luckily this drawing stuff was only done on the practice day and won't be done every day. Thank goodness, because the ink was difficult to get off and the office wasn't well prepared (or, prepared really at all) to help me get the ink off so I could get dressed and return to work without turning my top purple. She gave me little alcohol swabs--and by little I mean 1" by 1 1/2" --to dab at the ink in my dressing room but all that did is get it wet enough to smear it all over the place. Of course there was no tissue or paper towel available. (This will just be our little secret--I used the hospital gown to wipe it all off. Hey, they should have given me something reasonable to clean up with!!). I always get the feeling that I'm the only person who returns to work after treatments. How exactly does one get 6 months off for cancer treatments??? I don't understand why the treatment offices aren't more prepared to deal with things like, oh, I don't know, the fact that not everyone is headed home to a shower after their appointment?
Anyway, so on the undress rehearsal after the drawings are done they do a dry run of the radiation. But that's boring, so I'll tell you how the actual radiation this morning went. See the black and white photograph? That gives you a good idea of how the patient lies still and the machine moves around the patient. In my case though, my arms were above my head holding on to a little bar and of course, the right breast is exposed. The other thing you can tell from that photo is that it's a pretty big room. Once things are positioned everyone else clears out. The two nurses are kind enough to explain though that I am on camera and there is an intercom if I need them. These are slightly scary things to say right before they leave the room. Because for a moment I'm just lying there alone in this big room, partially naked, with this machine pointed at me and everyone else has fled to safety behind a very thick vault-like lead door and concrete walls. So naturally I'm thinking, why would I need them? Why a camera? Jeez, how serious is this?? Of course that's when the machine starts and the green rays become visible--across my chest. It's a little noisy and lasts maybe 10 or 15 seconds. Then the machine moves, shoots out another laser and radiates again for a short interval. This happened 4 times and basically the machine rotates from my left side around to my right--radiating the breast from different angles. And then, that's it. I didn't feel anything (physically; mentally it's a little weird). I was in and out in probably 20 minutes and most of that is the changing in and out of my clothes. I was in my office by 9:30.
The first few of these aren't going to be difficult. It's after the skin starts getting sore that it gets tougher. And the fatigue will come back after a few weeks as well. Right now, I'm just tired because I'm getting up earlier than normal and I haven't been sleeping well--which may be because the construction has started on my office expansion (yeah, I know, life isn't exciting enough right now) and there's a lot going on there too. Busy, busy times.
Several people have asked me, and you may be wondering, why I have to have radiation even though I had chemotherapy. The way it was explained to me was that the chemotherapy was to save my life; the radiation is to save my breast. Okay, fair enough. I'd like both of those things saved. I'll keep going back. And I'll keep you posted, of course.
PS. Remember to vote on the new poll on when Chris should cut his hair. And while you're at it, remember to check out Chris's latest Forgotten Grapes posting.