When last I wrote, I laid out my condition(s), the treatments I would be undergoing, and my concerns regarding them.
As of today I have now received eight radiation and two chemotherapy treatments.
Prior to this I made a point of speaking with others who had been through something similar.
Of those who were kind enough to share their experiences, they’d had one or the other, but not necessarily both. If they had had both they were given them sequentially, but not simultaneously. Some spoke positively of radiation, and others Chemo.
Primarily the issue with radiaton is that after a certain point all those I’d spoken with had experienced some sort of burn, on the order of an extreme sunburn, which required creams and in some instances some form of pain management to counteract the effects.
I was also told that I would find myself lying on a large table and the radiation device would be lowered over me. Each person’s initial reaction was one of panic to a greater or lesser extent. Certainly understandable. I was counseled to simply do my best to relax and not to follow their examples.
One poor soul had such tremendous fear his blood pressure shot up so high that they had to stop the treatment.
With all this in mind, I approached my first encounter with a certain level of trepidation.
Imagine my shock when rather than lying on a hard table with a device being lowered over me, I found myself in something akin to a CT Scan. Before I go further, I should mention that two weeks prior to the first treatment I was given three tattoos, the size of microscopic dots for the purpose of lining up the machine with the area to be treated. This is standard across the board, regardless of ones religious beliefs. I mention this because a good friend is Jewish and for a number of reasons not the least of which being the Holocaust, tattoos are unacceptable.
Given that this was involuntary, she made her peace with it.
So, day one of radiation. I was led into a small room by several attendants. They directed me to something that, as previously mentioned, is very similar to a CT device. I was helped up and physically measured via laser scan. A styrofoam “pillow” was placed underneath my head to make an impression. After the first treatment it would be vacuformed and used specifically for me each time. Each patient has one. Another piece of triangular styrofoam was placed underneath my knees for support, and my hands were placed onto a bar that lay above my head. The table was then raised.
The machine I’m being treated with is known as Tomo Therapy. It was introduced a little over a decade ago and remains one of the leading edge devices used to treat internal tumors accurately that standard treatments would have difficulty reaching, while at the same time minimizing damage to surrounding tissue. I’ve included a link that explains precisely how it works, in layman’s terms.
Prior to radiation the machine performs a CT scan of the area to be treated. My tumor is located at the lower part of my esophagus and is six centimeters long. Radiation is directed at the tumor as well as an area four centimeters above and below the tumor itself.
My shirt was pulled up to access the alignment tattoos and my upper upper torso is drawn into the machine. A scan is then performed which lasts approximately two minutes. Once the scan is complete the table is then returned to the start position and the technician makes the necessary adjustments in accordance with the results.
About a minute later the table is then drawn into the tube at which point the radiation process begins. The first time I did notice a distinct odor, almost like something burning, which I later realized was me. However I experienced no pain either during or following the procedure. This did not occur again during subsequent treatments. The duration in my case is six and a half minutes each time. After roughly the first minute a sound emanates from the device that sounds similar to ice being crushed and it appears to move in a 360 degree pattern across the affected area which also minimizes if not altogether eliminates the “radiation burns” experienced by those receiving traditional therapy.
Once the process is complete the table is then moved out of the tunnel. The table is lowered, and the technicians remove the knee support and lower my hands off the bar then gently help me off the table. In one instance I became quite dizzy. I found out the hard way that proper hydration is absolutely critical during radiation.
There were no noticeable detrimental side effects following my first experience other than a heightened sensitivity to smells and fatigue about an hour afterwards.
Prior to my diagnosis I had experienced difficulty following swallowing as though the food was getting “hung up.” Eating kettle cooked potato chips proved particularly painful.
After my 2nd treatment I noticed this condition had improved dramatically and continues to do so, at least for now. I have been warned that as the treatments continue there will be some narrowing of the esophagus and I will likely experience difficulty swallowing solid food. For now though I’m enjoying the moment.
I would be negligent if I failed to mention the quality of care and attention I’ve been receiving at what is a regional cancer center. They treat people here regardless of their financial circumstances and also do their best to minimize not only the physical, but the economic impact to the patient as I’ve discovered by speaking with a number of people being treated here.
Let there be no doubt, the United States remains a World leader in quality and cutting edge medicine.
Having lived in other parts of the World and having friends in both Europe and Canada, I can state uncategorically there are very good reasons that people from all over the Globe come here to be treated, particularly for advanced life threatening illnesses especially those who live in Countries that have Single Payer or Socialized medicine.
We must not enable those with radical political agendas to destroy it.
Next, Chemotherapy and how to approach medical professionals in order to insure the best possible outcome.
Categories: From the Front Line