I leave my house between 7:10 and 7:15. Sarah and I timed it a few weeks ago. The walk from our house to the Cancer Center takes about 12 minutes. We can do it in 10 if we rush it. So far, Sarah has been with me each day. We talk about the rest of the day and what the kids will be up to. We notice the flowers in bloom in the neighborhood. We thank God that radiation is not a hurdle for us in terms of travel or finances. We know this is not the case for other cancer patients.
When I get to the Cancer Center, I kiss Sarah good bye. Because of COVID restrictions at the hospital, she is not allowed to go to my appointments with me. Our AirBNB property is just a block away, so she’s been using the time to tend the garden there.
Before I’m allowed into the building, I must put on my mask. Then, they screen me for COVID. They ask me a few questions and take my temperature. In return, I get a sticker they call a “hall pass.”
At 7:30, the Cancer Center is pretty quiet. I don’t have to check in. I go straight to the women’s waiting room on the “radiation floor.” Once there, I grab a gown from the closet and strip down…sort of. I get to keep everything on from the waist down. I also get to keep my jewelry on unless I wear a necklace.
When I’m ready, I sit down and wait. The waiting room has a camera at the entrance, so the Radiation Therapists can see that I’m there. I have the first appointment of the day, so I usually only see one other patient – the guy who is right after me.
One of the Radiation Therapists comes to get me. I know where we are going, because I am treated in the same room each day. Outside the treatment room, is a computer station. That is where the Radiation Therapists work from. They can see me in the room and communicate with me if need be. There are two identical rooms, next to one another, each with a computer station for the Radiation Therapists. In between the rooms is a big bell. Patients get to ring it on the last day of radiation. For me, that’s 29 treatments from now.
Once inside the treatment room, I lay down on a narrow metal table. The therapists have already prepared the table with my custom form and warmed blankets. The form is meant to ensure that I lay the same way each day. The therapists then adjust the table and line me up under the apparatus that delivers the radiation. They use three freckle-sized black tattoo marks on my chest to get me positioned just right. I lay on my back with my arms above my head. I hold onto handles behind by head and snuggle into the form. Once I am good to go, they tell me we are ready to start and leave the room. They close the door behind them. The door is thick! I bet that thing is a foot deep!
I can’t really tell when it starts. Eventually, the machine starts making some clicking noises and moves around me. I don’t feel anything. I try to focus on being still and keeping my thoughts calm and positive. I am keenly aware that I cannot move my arms or make big adjustments to my body position. So, I just focus on breathing. I’m alone in the room for around five minutes. Then, one or two technicians come back into the room, tell me I can move my arms, and lower the table so I can get off. They start sanitizing the space and prepping for the next patient as I bid them farewell for the day.
As has been the case over my life, I find myself intrigued with the whole process. The technicians are very professional and kind. They always ask how I am feeling and what is going on in my world. They ask with genuine interest, too, and have already learned about my family and my hobbies. Theirs is a specialized career field that takes training and college education. They must be precise in their care to ensure targeted delivery of radiation. For me, how well they do their job determines whether any long term damage is done to my ribs, heart, and lungs. I have put a lot of trust in their hands.
I head back to the waiting room, unescorted. Once there, I slather on some lotion, get dressed, gather my things and leave the Cancer Center. I walk the block to our AirBNB to meet up with Sarah for our walk home. I try to tell her a little bit more about the experience. I so wish she could go with me. I want to show her what this daily routine is about. For now, I just do my best to describe it.
Four days in, my left breast feels tender. And, my wiggly 6-year-old is in the habit of jabbing it. It isn’t a throbbing pain, just sore. Other than that, I feel completely normal. I haven’t noticed the skin changes, yet. Those are expected in the next week or so. I’ve been warned that it will feel like a sunburn. I’ve also been warned against shaving my armpit. I’ve complied so far, but we’ll see.
Once each week, I’ll meet with the Radiation Oncologist for a check in. Meeting with her is required for her to order the next weeks’ worth of treatment. I met with her today for the check in. It was fast! A few vital signs and I was on my way.
That’s radiation so far. I hope to keep you updated as I go along.
I am loving the walk there and back each day. Thanks for joining me on my journey!