Today was day one of radiotherapy. For those of you who don’t know, radiotherapy uses radiation, such as x-rays, gamma rays, electron beams or protons, to kill or damage cancer cells and stop them from growing/multiplying. It’s a localized treatment, so it only affects the area where they direct the radiation. Unfortunately for me, the leukemia is so widespread and near so many of my vital organs that directing the rays can get difficult. You definitely don’t want the rays to hit your kidneys or liver or other important organs.
I had a conversation about the process with a dear friend of mine who is considering going into the radiotherapy profession in Australia, and she asked me to provide feedback so that if she ends up in the field, she has a patient’s perspective and can hopefully improve on that experience. So, here’s my experience and pretty much the things that I whined about to her via text messages.
- Uncomfortable conditions
When you go in for radiation, you are asked to lie on a very cold, very hard slab of metal. It reminds me of those things that you see dead bodies on in crime TV shows. They don’t give you radiation in long sessions, so the actual radiation part lasts about 10-15 minutes at most, but believe me, when you aren’t able to move and have to lie there with your hands above your head being absolutely still so they don’t accidentally zap your important organs, 10-15 minutes can feel like a lifetime. Also, most of us experience pretty severe pain from the cancer, so lying in any position for any length of time can be pretty uncomfortable, notwithstanding all these other factors.To top it off, the room is always freezing, and you’re mostly naked (at least in my case I am, but I’m assuming that its similar for most patients). So if you were self-conscious about being naked before, now as a female you get to deal with having your nipples at constant attention due to the cold, or for men, I’m assuming you might shrink because of the cold, which can’t boost your self-confidence either.
- Pruritus (aka itching)
I don’t think that I’m alone in this, but for some reason when someone tells me “Okay sweetheart, be sure to lie very still,” my body automatically gets itchy EVERYWHERE. It’s not a subtle itch either; it feels more akin to having been attacked by killer mosquitos and being tortured by having the ability to scratch all the bites withheld.It reminds me of when my mom used to dye my hair at home. She would put all the dye in, then we had the 20-30 minute waiting period where the dye is doing its job, and all of a sudden my scalp itches. Or even now, when I work on my garden, my hands get all dirty from the soil, and its at that moment that my nose gets itchy. Maybe I’m alone in feeling like this, or perhaps its Lyle making a mockery of me by controlling my nerve cells to drive me mad. Either way, a solution would be nice.
- Music selection
They try to comfort you during radiation by playing music over the PA system in the room, probably in an attempt to distract you from the loud mechanical noises and the fact that no one else is in the room with you (the techs operate the machinery from a safe room, since its not conducive to their health to be in the room surrounded by radiating beams — funny how it’s okay for the patients though…).Anyway, one of the appropriately selected songs today was “Toxic” by Britney Spears. I know that the song is about love, but seriously people, try to think from our perspective as cancer patients. We do not need to be reminded that we have had massive amounts of toxicity pumped through our veins, especially when are in the middle of receiving said toxic treatments. Don’t get me wrong – I love a good Britney song, but a little sensitivity can go a long way. You may think its innocent enough, but from our perspective, you might as well play Tears in Heaven or Wind Beneath My Wings.
Those are pretty much my major quips for now. It’s only been a few hours since my first session, and I’m already dealing with the lovely side effects. I had the two pelvic tumors radiated, as well as Lyle, because that bugger is relentless. I’m just hoping that I don’t experience some of the harsher side effects, like loose bowels and vomiting (anyone who knows me is aware of the fact that I loathe vomiting).
For now, I will be sure to keep everyone updated on the progress of my radiotherapy and inform you if anything of interest takes place.