Wednesday, March 12, 2014
..... so what's it like to have radiation........
....... on a snowy stormy day in mid March!!! What a crazy winter... yesterday we were re-potting plants and folding seed pots on the front porch. Today I am manoevering through driving snow which is acumulating and sticking to every surface. I am truly grateful that a lot of people are home through the March break leaving less traffic to get snarled in on the way to work. Today I will be going to radiation in between classes. It is Wednesday - I will have the neck and liver done today. I asked the lovely Radiation technologists to take pictures before each procedure.
Procedure 1 - neck lesion. In this photo, you can just see the CT scanner as the wings folded back. The radiation element is the circular module that faces down on the table. The table is in the 'eject mode with the arm and head positioning arms that were set up just for me. This ensures that my body is in the proper start position. The technologists will do the fine tuning using measurement devices and laser guides that co-relate to the tattoos they put into my skin. This assembly is stored in the room and will be placed on the table prior to the start of my appointment. The table is adjustable up/down, in/out and side to side.
Here I am positioned on the table and you can see the foam leg holder. This releases the pressure from the lower back and puts my back flat on the table. My hand is tucked into my yoga pants to prevent it from falling or moving off the table. It is actually really comfortable. You can see the dark faceplate of the radiation module above my head to the left. The techs will now move the table so that the area being treated is directly under the radiation module. The table will lift until I am just inches below it. Inside the module through the thick tinted glass is a light with a measurement for the technologists to line up the center targets going down the middle of my chest when the apeture plates are slid all the way into the fully open position. The techs will trace the lines cast by the laser lights and this measurement shining down to ensure proper targeting. After the measurements are done, the apeture plates will slide into place with a mechanical sound to the starting position for my lesion. This apeture will be adjusted a number of times through its travel to ensure it correctly directs the high energy radiation to only the lesion. The lesion is three dimensional and these changes through rotation make sure that all of the lesion is radiated.
Procedure 2: Radiation to the liver lesion. Below is the head and arm form that was adjusted in the first appointment when the tattoos were put in. It is a rugged plastic bag containing thousands of polymer balls - similar to a bean bag chair. the valve hanging (with my name tag on it) was hooked up to a vacuum while I was laying in it and the air removed. With the air removed, the bag is rigid. This too is stored in the suite with the other unit for use in every appointment. The white sheet will cushion my head making it more comfortable. Once I am finished with this unit, the technologist will open the valve and allow the air back in. Once disinfected, it will be used for the next patient.
I am now nestled into the form in the exact position that I was in when I was originally tattood and charted. The CT scanner plate is seen to the left of me. A series of CT pictures are taken before each procedure takes place to ensure that I am in the exact position each time. Minor adjustments are made from the control room guided by the images on these scans. The block on top of my diaphragm is monitored by a camera mounted to the ceiling and it will gauge the distance of my belly when i breath in and out. All organs move when you breath so they will only give the radiation dose when you breath out and stay within the safe margins. When the element is radiating you can hear a buzzing sound like a busy bee hive while it is moving in an arc above at the same horizon as the lesion. I can hear the element shut off (quieter buzz in stand-by) and see the module stop and wait until my diaphragm drops within range and then turn on and continue in its path until the next intake of breath. Today I am very relaxed and am breathing in a way that allows the element to move smoothly. The techs thought that was great. I can feel heat in the exact position on my liver that the dull ache has been in for months.... weird warming feeling and I picture the bad guys exploding as their moisture turns to steam within their cellular structure. I can picture their phalanges retracting in horror as they burst into flames.... take that!!!!! I envision a pile of charcoal like cinders in an extinguished fireplace - inert and harmless. It makes me feel that we are doing a great job knocking these univited intruders out of my body. I then imagine the immune system coming to clean up the mess with their dust pans and brooms.
You can see in the picture below how the camera will see the block resting on my diaphram .... almost reminds me of an aircraft altimeter in an aircraft to let you know where you are on the horizon. This method insures that the radiation is administered to the exact position as per the set up appointment. It takes more time to do the set up to ensure accuracy than it does to complete the radiation. You can also see both CT elements to the left and right of the machine. They fold outwards to allow the passage of the radiation element to move in an arc across my body and to just underneath the table I am lying on.
From start to finish, it would be almost 45 minutes. The time shortened quite a bit now that I have learned to relax and breath... while my brain took a trip to the ocean. I am in every day this week to do the neck lesion and every other day to do both.
I am asking for positive vibes and prayers for my dear friend Melina as she continues to battle with her cancer. She has been through so much and I hope to get a huge collective of positive vibes and well wishes for a successful new chemo regime for her. I love you Melina.