Friday, December 12, 2008

Radiation

I’ve had 8 days of radiation already. Time is flying by. Do enquiring minds want to know what it’s like? Every week day I have an 11:48 appointment on LINAC Machine #2 at Mass General’s Radiation Oncology department. That time is falsely specific, however, as they are usually running 20-60 minutes late. One benefit is that I get to use valet parking for only $5 a day. And I am fortunate that I live so near to several excellent hospitals – when I had my first radiation prep appointment a while ago, they gave me an info packet that included a list of less expensive local hotels and charity organizations for patients who live far away and need housing. I hadn’t previously considered what it would be like looking for treatment if you lived in the boonies. I can drive to the hospital in half an hour, or take the subway which goes a few blocks from my house. So, hooray for Boston.

After I’ve been sitting around the waiting room in a hospital gown for a while, addressing Christmas cards or chatting with the lady who has the standing appointment in the time slot before me, I get called into the room by one of a team of about 5 technicians who always take care of me. It’s a bunch of women and Barry, whom I have assured my husband spends all day with half-undressed women, most of them quite old, so Colin has nothing to be jealous of. I lie on a table on my back, with my arms over my head in “surrender” position. There are special arm rests as well as a cut out area for the head and cushions at the butt and below the knees for comfort and to keep me in place. I get to wear my iPod during treatment, so I am listening to a series of lectures on Byzantine emperors that Colin found somewhere. First they spend about 5 minutes lining me up on the machine, aligning my blue tattoo dots with various beams of light. They shift me, jiggle me, and poke me until they have it just right. They also inevitably whip out their Sharpie pens and draw more blue lines and red dots on me to help direct them. The machine is about 10 feet long and 6 feet wide, floor-to-ceiling, with one or two “robot arms” that move around me. The table lifts and lowers too. I get 4 beams of radiation each day, lasting from about 5 – 30 seconds each, but it takes about 10 minutes to do all of them and I have to lie very still the whole time. Each one is a set position with the robot arms moving to different angles and the technician coming in to the room between each beam to do something that I can’t see. I feel alternately like a car on an automotive assembly line or like I’m in a giant expensive tanning bed, if you desired to tan only one breast. And it’s working: I’m turning pink in the areas they are targeting. I am supposed to apply special cream 3 times a day on my front AND back, because the beam enters from the top and goes out all the way through and out again.

After the last beam is done, someone comes into the room to tell me I can relax my arms, which is good because I am always at the point of becoming quite uncomfortable by then. Then I get dressed and get the heck out of there. Some of my days there are longer, though. Once a week I get checked by my doctor, once a week I have to stay in the machine a few minutes longer for X-rays, and once a week I get a free 20-minute chair massage from the in-house masseuse. Yes, really. I received her services in the chemo ward as well. I told ya Mass General was good.

Current side effects felt are continued fatigue, pain in feet, and my body just feels like it’s been through a lot, which is hard to describe. My irritability is getting better, likely due to happy pills and getting further and further away from chemo. My hair is about a half inch long now, dirty blonde, but Colin swears he sees red highlights when I’m standing just so under a bright light. I’m not convinced yet. Strangely, while my hair has been growing since October, my eyebrows continued to fall out through last week. The last of the old ones just disappeared, and now I just have a little bit of pale wispy growth. Eyelashes too. I am not very thrilled by this, I think I look freaky. Picture of new hair has been posted.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

You look just wonderful to me ...

Anonymous said...

Great to see you today, and great to see the girls as well! :-)

-- RP

Elaine said...

You look great to me, too. And you look red-headed in those photos, at least to me (but I'm a terrible judge of color). Have you tried the ipod downloads of "This American Life"? Or try browsing the website of kcrw, the best npr-station in america. Or maybe you're really interested in byzantine emperors? I'll see you soon, so you can tell me in person.

Anonymous said...

Martha,
You must be embracing 2009! A new year, with what we hope to be a radically better one for you and the family.
I can't believe you've been to hell and back. I'm so glad about the "and back" part!
Can't locate your email address...can you please send me that? Got your Christmas letter--thanks! Dan
dreardon_2000@yahoo.com

Anonymous said...

Martha - I see red too. Not lots of it, but it's there. So glad for you that chemo is over. Looking forward to seeing you guys soon. It's been way too long. DebW

Anonymous said...

Hey Marty, I hope you are starting to feel like your old self and putting all this INSANITY behind you. What a bizarre thing to have happened, really. But you kicked some cancer butt. Yay! Love, Carrie