Radiotherapy in a nutshell

No joking around, I am t-i-r-e-d. They say that radiotherapy can cause exhaustion, and while the majority is due to radiation, at least some of it has got to be due to routine. And speaking of which, here is my Radiotherapy Routine, which I’m guessing is similar to others undergoing treatment.

Every morning I take a shower and scrub down. Why not in the evening, you might ask? Because revealing two sweaty armpits while a group of people lean into your chest is embarrassing. My first radiotherapy session, I go in and take off the three layers of shirts (undershirt, t-shirt, jumper) and was most definitely sweating with nerves. Getting on the table, the nurse asks me to raise my arms above my head and – whew!—in that shaming moment the lesson was learnt. No more night-time showers, it’s every morning from now on. Nothing like complete strangers having to inhale your body odours to drive a lesson home.

Right. So I take a shower and put on fresh clothes.  Makeup, deodorant, perfume etc are not allowed.

Next Zsolt drives me to the hospital. This is generally pleasant until we reach the hospital parking lot. The radiotherapy ward shares a teeny tiny parking lot with eye care emergencies . . . and I don’t know how many people are sticking objects into their eyes per day, but this parking lot is always full. So, per routine, I get out of the car and check to see whether any places are available. If not, we wait at the parking lot entrance until someone finishes their business with the hospital and leaves. Today while waiting, cars behind us somehow assumed we were broken down and started driving into the parking lot, totally gong-ho on finding a spot, only to reverse their metallic butts back into line once they realized there were no places, duh (expect for one line cutter, but she got a honking).

Anyhow, at this point, with or without Zsolt, who may or may not still be waiting for a spot, I head into the radiotherapy department.  It’s essentially a large hallway with padded chairs and magazines. The ceiling is high, the lighting is bright and there is a garden area that is currently seal off due to poor weather.  I scan my bar code – there is no receptionist – and wait to be called.

The longest I’ve waited to be called is about ten minutes. These people are fast.

“Catherine Brunelle” and I go in.

During my first appointment they took several measurements – by the time I was allowed to move again my arm had gone numb. However, since then it’s been much faster.

They escort you into a large room, center of which is a scanning-type machine with a long, hard bed/table  covered in paper. The table has a rest for your butt to be pushed against, a board to anchor your feet on, and some holders for the arms. It’s like the dentist chair taken to a higher, harder level of discomfort. And it’s flatter.

In the background music plays. You take off your clothes (whatever may be necessary) and get onto the table.

At which point they ask you to look up at the ceiling, totally relax your body, and let them move you around. As this happens the nurses have a very strange discussion: “A little emph here” “9.8 emph” “Lined up here” “A bit emph to the right” “13” “9.7” “10” “Emph?”

Okay, so if aliens were to abduct me tonight and lay me on their hard lab table, maybe they would use a similar language to these nurses. I have no idea what they’re talking about, and they have no time to explain. It’s all very quick.

But this isn’t an abduction. On the ceiling there is a picture of a tree with blossoms.

They move me very slightly here and there – I’m not quite sure what the point is because despite doing my best ‘rag doll’ impression, I’m bound to be moving a milimeter here and there, plus when the table rises or falls those vibrations shake me around.

Anyhow, they move me into position and the nurse put this rubbery/gel-ish ‘blanket’ across the area to be shot. Apparently this fools the machine into thinking it’s treating the area, and the skin ends up with more radiation. This is a good thing? Anyhow, they tape the blanket to my chest and then boot it outta there.

It’s just me and the machine.

The sounds start – machine sounds, a lot of quiet whirling, and then the radiation . . .

Firstly, it doesn’t hurt to be shot with radiation. Apparently the reaction comes later. Secondly, the beam is invisible. But there is a sound. An ugly sound. The loud static buzz of bees. Ugh.

And then the machine does it’s thing on one side, then the other, and then it’s done. Presto. The entire treatment take about six or seven minutes.

After which I throw my clothes back on, say goodbye to the nurses, Zsolt validates the parking and we go home.

Three days down. Twelve more to go. As of yet there is no reaction, but it’s still early days. Fingers crossed for some good progress!

Sometimes I get angry

Alright. Here we go. Radiotherapy has begun and today wasn’t so bad. Honestly, sometimes I get so angry at being in a situation that requires chemo, surgery, radiotherapy, hormone therapy (etc), that it’s  easy to forget the benefits.  Chemotherapy coupled with hormone therapy dropped my chances of re-occurrence from 90% to 50%. Not the whole pizza, but not terrible. And radiotherapy will help ensure I don’t redevelop cancer in the site where the original tumour grew.

These are good things. So when I harp about the possibility of cancer down the line (because admittedly it’s a very low chance of secondary cancer resulting from treatment), it’s mostly defensive against the fact that I have cancer, and that I need to hurt my body to help it.

I’m angry – you know? Not all the time, but sometimes.

However, I nevertheless appreciate the smiling doctor who recollects skating the canal, and the nurses who chat about their day, and the patience with which my left breast is repeatedly checked. I appreciate it.  They are on my side.

So I forget that occasionally and get mad at every damn thing associated with cancer. From the ache in my side to the drip of a medication.

Zsolt pointed out to me today that having such a negative perspective isn’t helping, and he’s right. Sometimes I get angry, but that doesn’t mean I’m not appreciative (even when it doesn’t sound like it).  This crap is hard. I think the treatments could be better – but then, who doesn’t? That’s why bazillions of dollars of research are poured into the area. In twenty years, who knows what great advances will be made?

SO, that’s me eating my words. Filling.

Tomorrow (or sometime soon) I’ll write about radiotherapy – the actual session. It was certainly an experience, if only a brief one, and totally worth sharing.

Radiotherapy is about to start

Tomorrow is radiotherapy.

From the experience of others, I’ve heard it’s not a difficult process: Go in. Lay down. Get Radiated. Leave. And that was a relief to hear, but not entirely relieving. Tomorrow is radiotherapy, which means tomorrow I’ll start another bout of hospital visits and another therapy that could possibly give me more cancer in fifteen to twenty years time. Okay, so it is a small possibility, but nevertheless . . . (wouldn’t it be nice if there was a medical therapy that wouldn’t possibly give me cancer in fifteen, twenty, thirty years time? Yes. It would be nice.)

And this will help kill any lingering cancer cells in the right chest area.

It is my great and ardent hope that at this moment there are no cancer cells remaining. All the cancer cells have vacated the body, with my recovering immune system accompanying them to the door. Good bye and good riddance. But, if there are some lingering little buggers who think they’ve escaped – I have a message for you:


And leave me alone.

I’ve never wished death on any person, nor would I – and I certainly don’t wish it upon myself. But sometimes we need to be tough; we need to survive (think animal kingdom and our omnivore roots). And cancer isn’t a person, it’s a disease. Besides, I’m feeling a bit shitty about having to do radiotherapy – so funnelling that frustration into some anger bullets for cancer-hunting is constructive.

BANG! goes the cancer.

At least, that’s what I’m aiming for.

Frig. I’m still freaking nervous.  Frig. Frig. Frig.