Radiation 101

Let’s talk about radiation treatments. This is my description of the first visit, just after it happened. I wanted to write about it before I forgot any little details. –

“I was led back to the room where the ct scans are done. I changed into a gown and was then positioned on a table with a metal piece near my crotch area. My doctor had previously explained to me that there was a tube they insert into the vagina that protects the area and helps them guide the radiation up to the top, where they want to radiate. Once the tube is inserted, it attaches to the metal piece, so it won’t move. I was rolled into place for the ct scan, which only took a couple of minutes. The scan helps them to know where my bladder and bowels are in relation to the tube, so they can try to avoid radiating those bits. My doctor made sure to ask me if I had filled up my bladder before coming in. Apparently, a full bladder pushes the bladder and bowels away from the area of the vagina where they want to radiate. It helps prevent any unwanted damage, which I am all for.

After that, they transferred me to a gurney by sliding the whole piece I was laying on. It’s the easiest part of the process and rather ingenious. By doing it that way, you and the tube do not move. I was wheeled into another room and on the way I was asked what kind of music I like to listen to. When we got into the room I was presented with a book of cds and I ended up going with Sheryl Crow’s Greatest Hits. It was explained to me that there would be a short period of time before the actual treatment, so the physicist on staff could look at the ct scan and do the calculations of where to place the radiation. It’s pretty impressive, really.

The cd started playing and I was left alone in the room. “All I Wanna Do is Have Some Fun” started playing and I found myself singing along in order to distract myself from everything else. Suddenly, I was crying. I can’t explain it. I wasn’t sad, or mad, or feeling bad about the treatment process. After going though surgery, chemo, blood transfusions, the white blood cell booster shot, and everything else for five months, the radiation treatment was nothing. I just had to stop singing and refocus my thoughts to get the crying to stop. Maybe I’m relieved to almost be finished. Perhaps I can’t believe everything that’s happened. It also could be all of the experiences I’ve been through since May, including the stories people have shared and the many friends and strangers I’ve had heartfelt conversations with. The answer is I don’t know. I’m carrying some emotional baggage and it’s only natural to experience unpredictable emotional responses sometimes. I’m okay with that.

After approximately 15 minutes the physicist came in and told me the math was done and we were ready to go. It would take approximately 12 minutes from start to finish and I wouldn’t feel anything. My doctor came in and set up the machine that feeds the radiation into the vagina. They then stepped out of the room and I could hear the machine (the radiation assistant) making some minor noises. I just concentrated on listening to “If It Makes You Happy” and “The Difficult Kind” and trying to not think about the radiation that was currently in my body. When the treatment was over, they returned into the room and removed everything. I was given my clothes and was taken to the restroom to both pee and to change. As I walked out it was surreal to think that I’d been through that whole process. I only have to do it three more times and then I’ll be free. That is all of the motivation I need to make it through this.”

The ct scan room.

The ct scan room.

My file.

My file.


The radiation assistant.

The view from my gurney as I wait.

The view from my gurney as I wait.

I have now had my second treatment and will have my third this Friday. I listened to The Shins on my second visit and there were no tears. They told me another patient had asked them for The Shins and they didn’t have it, so I brought in a cd of Wincing the Night Away for their collection. I told them to give the other patient a high-5 from me and to tell her to enjoy listening to it during treatment. My last will be next Wednesday and then I will be free from treatment unless my doctor finds anything new on future scans. I’ve decided to listen to The Indigo Girls and Lucinda Williams during my last two visits. Those ladies have gotten me through a lot of rough patches and it seems appropriate as I finish treatment.

I’ve experienced some side effects from the radiation, mostly fatigue and some cramping, which feels odd since I no longer have cramps associated with a period. In comparison with chemo side effects, it isn’t bad. I just want to feel healthy and in control of my body again, at least as much as I am normally in charge of it and how it functions. I want to go to the gym. I want to eat vegetables again. So many things. I have patiently endured everything that has come my way, but am a bit itchy about getting back on track. It will happen when it’s supposed to and I’m okay with that.


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