As one door closes, another opens. This entrance is labelled ‘Radiotherapy’.
Zsolt and I went to the hospital level D last Wednesday, which is where all cancer related consultations take place. It has a large reception and waiting area. The walls are painted blue and orange and beige, the seats are coloured to match. There are piles of magazines because doctors never run on time, and a wait is inevitable. So far we’ve gone here three times. Once to meet my surgeon, once to meet my oncologist, and last Wednesday to meet the radiotherapist (radiologist?).
Eventually we were shown to a consultation room, and eventually the doctor appeared. I really enjoy meeting these men (they’ve all been men), because they are so incredibly confident in themselves. Whether they ooze charm, reserve, or whatever – they all know they know what they’re doing. And because they know it, I believe it.
In walks my radiologist and the first thing he says to me is, “Dr So and So told me you’re Canadian! Where are you from?”
“Ottawa! My wife and I skated down the Canal,” and he launches into a story about how while living in Toronto he and his wife took up skating with the aim of conquering the Rideau Canal.
Clearly this man has some people skills.
He then sat down and dove straight into the concept of ‘radiation’ and how we’re always exposed to radiation, and how we’ve been using it for a long time to treat illness, and how the process has become much better over the years so things are now at a point of low risk and better recovery. Etc.
Why radiotherapy? Because apparently, somewhat like chemotherapy, it stops cells from dividing. Fast growing cells possibly remaining in my breast/chest tissue (if missed during surgery) will be stopped dead. At least, that’s the idea.
He drew me a picture of a woman’s chest, and demonstrated which layers will be struck by the beam. Apparently they angle the beam so a minimal amount of lung is effected (though yes, my lung will get an unnecessary dose). However I may be a ‘candidate’ for a more precise form of radiotherapy that uses CT scanning to move the beam according to the bumps and dips of the body. (he mentioned this after examining my scar and chest area . . . so perhaps my theory of having an overly bumpy rib cage is correct, hmm). This CT scanning helps reduce the side effects.
And then he gave me a choice. There are two routes, 25 treatments or 15 treatments. If I were having reconstructive surgery then 25 would be better because the treatment is spread over time, which therefore protects the tissue more. But reconstruction won’t be happening. No thank you.
I cannot tell you the exact pros and cons of 15 vs 25 treatments. I cannot tell you because as he explained each option, my head went into a slight tailspin and my ability to focus stopped (interestingly the same happened to Zsolt). Maybe something was in the air, or maybe it was the force of this doctor’s personality. Who knows? All I remember is him saying “gold star treatment” for the 25 shot option. But frankly, I’m leaning toward 15, it’s an overall lower dose, despite being very similar to the 25, and gets things done more quickly. I think the real difference between these two is time and flexibility. 15 is faster, 25 is more flexible.
Anyhow, I’ll google it before deciding.
Here is another interesting bit of opinion. Dr Skates mentioned that much of radiotherapy is done to improve surgery results. He seemed quite confident in the skills of my surgeon (which is why my armpit, neck and shoulder areas won’t be getting radiotherapy), but suggested that some surgeons he’s worked with in the past are less reliable, which means they need to shoot a larger area to cover up for any potentially missed bits of cancer.
Another good reason to find a surgeon with a strong reputation.
I get such a kick out of these doctors. These are men of power – and I suppose they are powerful; lives are held between their fingers. Maybe some people would also suggest they’re men of ego, but better ego than uncertainty or meekness or lack of experience.
Now that doesn’t mean I won’t double check their opinions, look around online, talk to other doctors and ultimately make my own decision . . .
Zsolt always says that I don’t believe him. He tells me one thing, I need to double check it. The other day I had him meet me at a restaurant because it was snowing outside. I was on the mobile phone with him saying, “I can’t get a ride because the road is covered with snow” (this is England, driving stops when it snows), and he’s on the other end of the phone saying, “But there’s no snow outside!” to which I reply, “yes, there is, I can see it from here – come and get me.”
He came and got me, but there wasn’t a snowflake on the ground. From the back of the restaurant where I looked out the window, the orange street lighting did look like snow. Really! But – no, he was right. This was one instance where I should have listened.
But the doctors realize we’ll look up everything they say. Dr Skates wrote down the two treatment options and told us there will be tons of information once we start typing into our computers. They know. And still, they are confident in their own expertise. I appreciate their confidence, because ultimately I rely on it.
That was radiotherapy step one. In January there will be a planning meeting, which will include tattooing my chest and possibly a CT scan.
As one door closes another will open. Chemo is almost done. Soon I’ll have a rest, and then it’s onward in the road to breast cancer recovery.
We are getting there.