This week is the first week (I think) since my cancer diagnosis that I have not been inside a doctor’s office, an infusion chair, hospital bed, etc…. This is the first week I have been free from all things cancer. I have gotten to pretend, for a bit, that life is back to normal. No more prodding, poking or sticking. This week some of my energy has returned. Maybe it’s because I’m not running around all over the place but yesterday I took a nice brisk walk and it felt energizing. This time last week, the same walk would have sent me into complete exhaustion, although, I never would have let anyone know.
This is all short lived because next week I start my radiation treatment. I am fortunate to qualify for yet another clinical trial where I will be getting stronger doses of radiation at a time for a shorter total treatment period. It is my understanding that women with breast cancer who need radiation must get it for 5 days a week for between 5 and 7 weeks in a row. In this trial, I will be getting radiation for 5 days a week but for only 3 weeks. The other thing that sets this trial apart from most other radiation treatment is that the radiation will be administered while on my stomach rather than my back. This is a technique that was in part pioneered by a radiation oncologist at NYU, Dr. Formenti. This face down position makes it less likely that the radiation will affect the lungs or heart, which can happen in the back lying position. And I’m all for that!!!!
Dr. Formenti is leaving NYU so she will not be my radiation oncologist but my current doctor, Dr. Perez is continuing the trial and seems wonderful. I can’t complain.
Last week I was fitted for the radiation machine. Yes, I get a custom fit! I’d rather get a custom pair of shoes or coat but hey, I guess radiation tailored especially for me is ok given the circumstances. I was really scared going into this day but there really was no reason for that. So I’ll share my experience here just in case any of you will be starting this process soon and want to know what to expect.
I had lay flat on this bed. What you can’t tell from this picture is that on the right side, there is a hole for where my breast would be. This is where they are going to radiate. I walked in and saw this machine. It was intimidating and all I could think was, “It looks like a big vagina!!!” I didn’t share my thoughts with the nurses.
I was asked to disrobe (I was naked from the waist-up) but it was weird because there was a male technician in the room with me. The nurse saw me give a sideways look but assured me that he’s seen it all. He told me that he has been doing this for 30 years and that he’s seen it all. I believed him so off came the robe.
At first, I was asked to lay on my back. This felt vulnerable to me. They placed stickers with wires in them on my breast and on my scar and I waited there until my doctor came in to make sure all of the stickers were in place to her liking. Then they asked me to turn onto my stomach. They told me not to move, that they would move me from that point on. I know that they were doing this because they have to get my position perfect but it made me feel like a helpless sick person. I didn’t like the feeling so I made a joke about how I wouldn’t help them if they asked anyway. I’m sure they’ve heard that one before but they laughed anyway.
This is the position I was eventually put in. I have to hold onto a bar in front of me and turn my head to the left. This doesn’t look so bad but when you are told you can not move a muscle and have to hold this position for 10 minutes, it starts to get a little painful. Next, I was inserted into the machine where my measurements were taken. This will give them the parameters for when I start my radiation treatment next week. At some point I must have taken a heavy breath and I was told not to do that again, that the machine measures within millimeters and that a big breath like that could throw it off. Yikes!!!!!!
This part of the process took about 10 minutes or so. As I was taken out of the machine, I was able to relax my arms. And then (here’s the exciting part!!!!) I GOT MY FIRST TATTOOS!!!!! I didn’t know until I met my oncologist that I would need tattoos to mark the parameters for the machine. But I do so, I got 5 little dots. My first tats!!!!! I asked if they could write, “Tough Bitch” while they were at it. The answer was, predictably, “no.”
After that, I was free to go. I got to check out the imaging center as I left. This is what they were looking at while I was in the machine.
On the left, that’s my insides!!!!!!!! Right next to that is my breast. Then on the bottom is an aerial view. You can see my breast, my spine, my heart and my lungs. So cool!!!! I liked being able to see what my doctor’s saw. I don’t know why but, it makes me feel in control. The nurses were happy to tell me about it, which was great. And they were also excited to take the pictures for my blog, “Shoot it this way!! Oh, get the machine in the next shot!!! That will look really cool!”The NYU staff is great.
I’m scared going into this next step, but the end of my cancer treatment is only a few weeks away. That is something to look forward to. Soon, this will all be over!