On Monday I went to the Cancer Center for a "sim", or simulation, to get set up for radiation treatments. The procedure is simple, at least from the patient perspective, but lengthy: first, I had get photographed. The tech, Kristin, told me they take head shots so that the Cancer Center staff can be familiar with the patients when they come in. Next, I was taken to a dressing room to change from my shirt into a hospital gown, (I was able to keep my jeans and shoes on), then I was off to a large room with a CT scanner. Kristin had me remove my gown and lay on a table with a bumper under my knees. She wrapped a band around my feet to keep me from crossing my ankles during the procedure. Then, she fitted a pillow sized bean bag under my head and shoulders while I lay with my arms over my head. Kristin used a vacuum to suck all the air out of the bean bag, which formed the pillow to my body position. The radiologists will use this pillow to ensure I'm in the same position each time I have a treatment.
Next, Kristin made some marks on my chest with a Crayola marker. She added some funky stickers and wire thingies, then the radiologist came in and doodled a bit more. As they moved around I closed my eyes, focusing on my breathing and trying to stay calm. When I opened my eyes Kristin was gone and a young guy was standing there. He introduced himself as Charlie, and then Kristin came back and they sent me into the CT scanner.
The scans themselves were very brief, maybe five minutes all together. Charlie told me they took two quick scans and one long one. I only noticed the machine moving twice. I wasn't supposed to move at all, but I could see out the back of the scanner while I was in there - much better than an MRI. After the first set of scans Kristin and Charlie and another woman put a band around my ribs with a small light board attached. The lights hung over my head and measured my breathing as I was scanned again. There were two red lights in the middle and a strip of green lights going out from the top and bottom of the red lights. The goal is to take a deep breath, making the red lights come on, then, while holding the deep breath, take shallow breaths while the scanner took another set of pictures. You want to keep the breaths shallow enough that the green lights don't turn on. I've been practicing, and I had a couple breaths that never went to the green, but I had a hard time maintaining that as the scan progressed. They said I did well, and that it would get easier as I progressed through the treatment.
After the CT scans, Charlie pulled off all the stickers and gave me a set of four tiny blue tattoos. The radiologist will use the tattoos to line up my body for each treatment. Each tattoo was just one needle stick, and except for the top one, right between the girls, I probably won't notice them. The one between the girls is high enough to be clearly visible above my shirt. If it bothers me, meh, I have some great concealer. It's a small price to pay to (hopefully) cure me of cancer.
After Charlie finished his graffiti, I got dressed and took a tour of the radiation treatment area. Charlie and I sat down and went over the side effects while Kristin scheduled my entire course of thirty three treatments. All told, my appointment was just under two hours. The treatments will start in a couple days. Each treatment will be ten to fifteen minutes, and I'll have to come into the Cancer Center each weekday. If all goes well, I'll take my last treatment just before Christmas.
I have very sensitive skin, which could cause some trouble down the line. When Charlie removed the boob stickers, I warned him that I would probably have welts. Still, when he saw the bright red, raised marks, he commented on them. I think his exact words were, "Wow, that is not good!" Radiation can cause the skin to burn, peel, and blister. Charlie gave me some cream to get started with, in hopes of preventing or at least minimizing the skin damage. I've added aloe vera and hydro cortisone cream to my shopping list. I've also been advised to give up deodorant on the left side for the duration of the treatment, and to use Ivory or Dove soap in the shower. I guess I'm lucky that I'm taking treatment during cold weather. My co workers are even luckier, LOL. I Haven't told them about the no deodorant policy. I will miss my Philosophy shower gel, but I have a bottle of their Bubbly lined up for when this is all over - it smells like champagne.
I'm glad the simulation is behind me. Now all I have to do is wait.