The process is relatively easy. I check in and walk down the hall to turn into a second waiting area. There is a dressing room there. I go inside, disrobe from the waist up and put on a robe. The biggest hassle thus far is making sure the robe I choose isn't defective - meaning some crazy person hasn't tied the ties into extremely passive aggressive slip knots that went through the hospital's laundry room without being detected. Once I am changed, I put my things in a locker and make my way to the waiting area. There are magazines every where, a place to get some water, and a large table set up in the middle with two gigantic puzzles that the radiated community and their support people can work on. I have no idea what the puzzles are. I sit in the corner with my kindle and play Sudoku or check Facebook waiting to hear, "Ms. Acton." Occasionally I will look around the room to see who else is unlucky enough to be there. I have not seen anyone thus far who is younger than me. This can be hard. Sometimes the older patients will give me those sad puppy dog eyes which used to irritate me tremendously, until the day when I sat across from a twenty year old kid in the chemo infusion room, and realized that I was giving him the same look. My third day in the waiting room, an elderly gentleman who had accompanied his wife caught me looking around. We gave each other sad eyes and both looked away.
Once they call my name, I am taken into the radiation room. I exchange pleasantries with all of the very nice radiation technicians, they untie my gown and I lay on what feels like an extremely narrow table. Luckily those who have been through this before gave me the tip to always wear jeans with belt loops. The arm on the affected side is bent at the elbow and placed above my head. It is cradled by that special form fitting pillow that was made for me during my simulation. I place my other arm at my side, with my finger through my belt loop. This helps me from feeling like I am going to fall off the table and it gives me something to fidget with during the periods of radiation. The technicians then go through a process of saying numbers out loud and moving the blankets underneath me so that I am in the exact perfect position. A series of dotted lines are drawn down the middle of my chest and across the top of my chest with marker, usually purple. Once the first position is ready, they place something on my stomach to monitor my breathing, and they leave the room. A red light goes on in the corner and then a short beep followed by a longer beep. The technicians re-enter the room and begin to move the machine into position for my next shot of radiation. They leave and there are more beeps. This happens a couple more times. And then comes the final position, which is the most difficult. The machine is fitted with a strange lens that points at my left breast coming from the right side. The challenging thing is that the position is rather awkward, and often my right breast gets in the way. Unlike a normal boob, these "foobs" as we call them affectionately, don't just move out of your way. So it takes a lot of maneuvering on the part of the technicians in order to get the angle just right. Once they do, the last radiation blast takes only seconds and I am done. When the technicians return, I am able to move my arm down from above my head. My arm is usually frozen as I am still recovering from surgery. They help me to sit up and get dressed and I am able to go back to the dressing room. Once in the dressing room, I use organic Morroccan Arjan oil to remove the marker from my body. I then cover the radiated area with Miaderm and Aloe Vera gel - and sometimes I add some lanolin. The entire visit takes less than half an hour from check in to check out.
On Thursdays, I meet with my radiation oncologist and her nurse practitioner. There wasn't much to report on this first Thursday, since I just started, but this will be the place where they will watch for radiation burns and any other nasty side effects that might occur. This Thursday, the doctor told me that after looking over my plan and my scans, she has decided to increase the number of radiation sessions. She added three. The overall amount of radiation will be the same, just the doses will be smaller. She hopes that by doing this, she can protect my skin. I cried. I calmed down, thanked her for looking out for me, and then I cried some more. The funny thing is that everyone kept assuming that I knew exactly when the last day of my radiation would be - but to be honest, I had never mapped it out on a calendar. I think I am learning not to become attached to dates or outcomes... and even though I cried knowing that I would have to come three extra times, I know I can do it. It is just a hassle and I am tired of cancer.
My doctor promised that she would not be adding any more days, so I decided that I want to make a piece of art to count down the end of radiation. I collect pieces of cardboard from boxes for myself and my children to paint on. They are a cheap surface that is light weight and pretty forgiving. One of the first signs that the radiation is impacting the skin is that you begin to turn pink. As the radiation continues, the pink can become red and angry. So, I decided to paint myself a nice cool blue. I used hot glue to attach the small clothespin on the bottom of the board, the ribbon on the top, and the envelope on the back. I am happy with the outcome. I definitely noticed how hungry I was for making art. I looked up from my piece and noticed it was 3:30 am!
You are able to choose the music that they play while you are being radiated, but I do not want any of my favorite music forever connected to radiation. (I still have a hard time eating stir frys since chemotherapy.) So, instead, I opt to listen to the oldies radio station that the radiation room always has playing. I decided that I would share one song per day that I hear as I am laying on the table. I am calling this section my "Radiation Mixed Tape."