Posts Tagged ‘radiation treatment’

Saturday.  No treatment for two days – thank goodness.

I’ve been wanting to post a quick update for a few days, but it’s definitely getting harder and harder to do anything now.  I spend much of the time either lying half-conscious in bed or struggling through another episode in the bathroom.  I’ve managed to eat at more-or-less regular intervals (but only with the help of my new “anti-nausea” drug).  In the past couple of days it has become a challenge to be in an upright position for more than fifteen minutes or so.

Transferring Gases

Transferring Gases

After being so sick following last week’s chemo, Dr. Fekrazad and I discussed the option of reducing my dosage, both of the Oxaliplatin infusion and the Xeloda pills. While he was willing to reduce the dosage for the final two weeks, he also reminded me that we’re hoping for a “complete response” to treatment (i.e., no evidence of cancer following chemo and radiation), and a lower dosage raises the chance of having only a “partial response” to treatment (i.e., cancer cells still exist even after chemo and radiation).  So, while my body was shouting, “lower dosage! lower dosage!” – my brain went ahead and told Dr. Fekrazad I’d stick with the original dose.

Somehow, I made it through Wednesday’s chemo infusion with no incidents, no vomiting, etc.  My dear friend Shawn brought a picnic lunch to the Cancer Center for me once again. It’s quite a treat to have her show up with her basket of homemade food, cloth napkins, ceramic dishes, and real silverware! This time she had fixed miso soup, a bowl of rice, and some berries for dessert – all things I could manage to eat that day.  Although Wednesday went pretty well for me, by Thursday I could feel myself beginning to slide downhill.  Today, I’m still really shaky and weak, but hopefully by tomorrow I’ll have recovered a bit – so I can have the strength to start again on Monday.

But I am in the home stretch now.  Next week is my last full week of treatment (I’ll finish up in three days the following week).  My final chemo infusion is on Wednesday the 23rd.  My final radiation treatment is on Wednesday the 30th.

I may not have it in me to write much between now and the end of the month.  In the meantime, my gratitude to everyone who is keeping me in their thoughts and prayers.  Thanks for helping me hang on until I can get to the other side of this – which will be soon, I hope.

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I’ve had six radiation treatments so far, out of a total of thirty.  The daily process is really very quick and painless (it’s those side effects that won’t be so painless over time).  Driving to the Cancer Center, changing into a gown, and get positioned perfectly on the table takes much more time than the actual treatment.  Most days I’m in and out of there in about ten minutes – fifteen if I stop to have a conversation with Lucille whose radiation appointment is right after mine.

When I walk into the radiation room, there are two monitors on one wall that have my name and some data on them.  One also has a photograph of my naked pelvis on the screen (with a big box drawn with a Sharpie on my abdomen, reminding me of a meat cut diagram). I was a little taken aback the first time I saw it and warned them that “I better not see that photo ending up on Facebook…”

Meat Cut Diagram

Meat Cut Diagram

The radiation techs have the table set up for me with a headrest, sheet, and my personal leg mold ready for me to climb onto.  Once I’m lying down with my arms folded up on my chest (out of range of the radiation) and my legs in the mold (causing my hips and pelvis to be in the same position each time), they begin to make small adjustments to my torso so that the laser beams line up exactly with my three tattoos.  There’s one on my abdomen, just below the bikini line, and one on each hip.  The machine is programmed to send radiation to a very specific place and they want to be certain the exact same area gets treated each time, so getting me into position is critical to the overall process.

The tattoos are just small green dots, so they’re not really noticeable. Since they are permanent (and I’ve managed to avoid tattoos for 48 years), I’m glad they’re not obvious. They actually tend to get lost among all the moles I have – to the point that the radiation folks like to pull out that Sharpie and draw various circles and boxes on me to indicate where a tattoo is! At any given time I’ve got a whole bunch of designs drawn on me.

Once they’re satisfied that I’m set up properly, they leave the room.  A large avocado green machine with a big square window directed at me starts out just above my abdomen and makes a buzzing sound for about six seconds as it sends the radiation. Then it rotates around below the table to send a blast from underneath me. Next it rotates to my right side and does its six second buzz before rotating over to my left to get the final side.

The techs come back in and help me out of mold and off the table. I get dressed and I’m done. As simple as it all sounds, it’s still a little eerie to experience. I can’t actually feel anything as it’s happening, but there is a psychological component to wrestle with each time I hear the machine do its buzz. A few hours later I usually have a bout of fatigue for a while.  I’m also beginning to have increasingly more diarrhea, which they’ve predicted will only worsen over time, so I’ll have to start carrying Imodium around with me when I’m not at home!

That’s the process every day at 1:15, except for Wednesdays when I’m in the Chemo Infusion room most of the day and the radiation folks simple come get me whenever they have an opening to squeeze me into.  I wheel my pole with the chemo drip on it down the hall to the radiation room and get on the table while I’m hooked up to the chemo.  Since I can be in my street clothes for chemo treatments, the radiation techs generally just let me take my jeans and panties off and I get on the table without a gown on those days.  They’ve seen me enough times by now that it’s no big deal anymore.

After today’s treatment, I’m being whisked off to have tea with one of my dear yoga instructors.  Every small treat takes on more meaning these days.  And I so appreciate all the ways my friends and family are offering their support.  Thank you all.

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My actual treatment begins in earnest today.  Here’s the regimen (for now at least – there’s always the possibility of having it change it as we go along):

  • I’ll go to the St. Vincent’s Cancer Center five days a week (it’s only about 15 minutes from my house so that’s handy). 
  • I’ll have radiation therapy every time I go.
  • On the days I go in for radiation, I’ll also take chemotherapy in the form of a pill (Capecitabine, a/k/a Xeloda:  two in the morning and three in the evening).
  • Once a week, I’ll also have a chemotherapy infusion (Oxaliplatin, a/k/a Eloxatin) given through the port they just put in on Monday.

The whole regimen lasts for about six weeks. Radiation treatments are quick, taking only about 15 minutes – most of which is simply getting me and the machine set up in exactly the same configuration each time. There are four blasts of radiation, one from above my pelvis, one from each side, and one from below. The machine makes a circle around me as I lie still on the table. It takes less than five minutes to do all four sides.

The chemo infusion takes longer.  Today, which will be my first time, may take up to four hours as they’ll run the drip very slowly.  They’ll speed up the process a little each week, but it will probably take about two hours even at the quickest rate.

As I’ve been sitting here writing this, the time has arrived to take the first two Xeloda pills. Yesterday, when I picked up the pills, the pharmacist spoke to me about some of the side effects I could expect.  He also warned me not to let any pregnant friends touch the pills!  Apparently the chemo can actually be absorbed from the pills right through your skin.  Since chemo works by killing any fast growing cells, you don’t want a pregnant (or nursing) woman to handle them.

So, just now, as I was about to take the first two, I opened the bottle and thought: I don’t even want to touch these things much less put them in my mouth!  But, I did.  I’m sitting here now half expecting to need to run to the toilet to vomit any moment.  I know it’s not likely to happen quite that fast, but my mind is running rampant with all kinds of weird scenarios.  I only took the pills about eight minutes ago and I swear I can already feel something awful coursing through my veins…

So, in a while, I’ll head over to the Cancer Center to have more varieties of poison injected and blasted into me.  I’m also taking some reading material with me on the subject of expecting miracles to happen.

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