Friday, January 15, 2016

Welcome to the machine...

Yes, the random mechanical noises of the Pink Floyd song were the first things out of my car stereo as I left the hospital parking deck after my initial radiation session. I kid you not.

So, what's radiation like? So far, painless. At the same time every day, I show up at an office in the hospital where I'm promptly escorted to the dressing room by one of the radiation therapists. I trade in my shirt and bra for a lovely hospital gown, and the therapist brings me to a desk that looks kind of like a television producer's console, but with a couple of monitors that show the inside of the therapy room. Two therapists ask me my birth date and compare me against a photo they took of me when I had my CT scan. As if I'd really trade this lovely experience with somebody else. 

Then we go into the treatment room, passing a foot-thick door that reminds me that I am going to get zapped with radioactivity. There's a big machine and a table with a special cradle on it. I lay on my belly, with my face in one of those massage table cradles and the affected breast hanging through a hole. Then the therapists turn down the lights, boost the table up and move me around to line me up for treatment, aligning the marks they made on my chest during the CT scan with laser beams that come from the walls. The first time around, I was tempted to tell them it was the weirdest massage I'd ever gotten, but as nice as these folks are, they don't seem to be very big on humor.

From there, they turn on the lights again and leave the room.    

A few moments later I hear what sounds like a computer printer working, an apt analogy given the registration marks they Sharpied onto my chest and back. Since I'm face down and can't move, I have no idea exactly what's happening when, but some of the noises are the actual radiation and others are the rotation of the big machine. Considering the size of the thing, the printer comparison worries me a little. I mean, what if it gets jammed? Given my past corporate experience with notoriously faulty multi-function printers, I'm a bit wary of a sound that indicates I could get gummed up and mangled like a wayward document. 

I kid, I kid. At no point am I actually inside the machine, let alone being run through a set of platens and rollers.

I haven't asked if I can video the treatments, but I found a great vlog that gives you some indication of what's going on. There's a lot of random stuff in it (this kick-ass woman was prepping for a triathlon during her treatment!) and she's face-up while I'm face-down, but the actual treatment starts around 3:50.

The treatments themselves don't take very long. Yesterday was my third one and the first that wasn't special in some way. Tuesday they were doing a bunch of adjustments because it was the first one in the series, plus I had to see the nurse for instruction on skin care for the area they're zapping. Wednesday they took an x-ray for the doctor because that's the day I see the doctor, and that's part of the drill. Anyway, from what I could tell yesterday, I get two big zaps that last about 10-15 seconds apiece, each from a different direction. It literally takes me longer to find a parking space in the deck when I get to the hospital. Come to think of it, finding a parking space is probably more stressful than the treatment.

As for other stuff, I was a bit annoyed the other day when the nurse told me I had to get weekly blood tests because I'd had chemo. I'm all for keeping ahead of potential problems, but it seemed a little excessive, given that my numbers have been improving and I'm checking in with my chemo doc every three weeks along with the Herceptin infusions. I don't like the idea of opening up a vein any more often than I have to, especially since they can't pull from the left arm anymore. Plus, it's a pain in the ass. The less time I have to spend in waiting rooms, the better.

Instead of debating it with the nurse, I asked the radiation doc when I saw her Wednesday. Armed with the lab report from last Monday's infusion, I stated my case, and she agreed we could forego the weeklies in favor of a test halfway through and at the end. 

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