The unknown can be scary. And for me, so far the first day of radiation was the scariest. But by the second week, the fear resides.
“I have spent my whole life scared – frightened of things that could happen, might happen, might not happen. Fifty years I spent like that. Finding myself awake at three in the morning. But you know what? Ever since my diagnosis, I sleep just fine. What I came to realize is that fear, that’s the worst of it. That’s the real enemy. So, get up, get out in the real world and you kick that bastard as hard as you can right in the teeth.” – Walter White – Breaking Bad
The problem with the unknown is the lack of a reference point. I was not sure what to expect when we walked into the room for the first time. The first thing they asked me was what kind of music I liked. I mouthed “rock” and the radiation therapist asked if I liked The Foo Fighters. My favorite band! It really is amazing how listening to some of your favorite music can put you at ease. It made the room feel not as foreign or metallic. At first glance, the machine looks very much like a CT machine. The mask does make you feel a bit claustrophobic though. I just focused on breathing and the music which helped the pass the time and kept my mind on something besides what was happening. The machine took me in and out three times before it was all said and done. Overall, I would have to say that other than the slight discomfort from the mask pressing on my nose, it was a piece of cake.
We meet with Dr. Farach, my radiation oncologist, once a week. The first appointment went really well. Symptoms do not tend to show up until week 2 or 3. He mentioned that the one that I will notice first is fatigue. It is apparent to me that the doctor really enjoys what he does. We talked about the radiation and how my radiation treatment is targeted. He even took us to his office to see the scans of my CT to show all the work they do in the background to get me ready for my treatment. He was even kind enough to give me a copy of the scans (see below).
In a nutshell, the scans look like a CT scan showing slices of my body with different colors throughout. In the above diagram, the yellow area is where the radiation is being targeting. He pointed out how he was taking extra precaution to avoid my carotid arteries, the area in pink, as much as possible. These are the two arteries that that run parallel through your neck to your brain. Radiation is effective at killing cancer cells but also normal cells, which can cause some damage to the carotid arteries. Radiation can cause stenosis, or narrowing in the arteries. The doctor said that in the future, 10 plus years, I will need to make sure that I get ultrasounds of my neck to determine if the radiation caused any narrowing in my arteries.
We also me with the dietitian. She asked me a few questions pertaining to my weight and my appetite. Since my surgery I have had a much bigger appetite and feel like eating more.
My wife, Caitlin, took the pictures below of my first radiation treatment:
I arrived to my appointment just like I had done previously. When I arrived I could hear one of the Radiation Therapist talking to another patient about how the machine was having a few issues. She then addressed me saying that it would affect me as well. I was delayed about 45 minutes before I was able to get treated. Other than that the treatment went well. Normally, I am in an out in under 30 minutes.
I officially got through my first week of radiation! The first time they sent me in to the machine I was not afraid, just unsure. Now, this is not something I want to “get used to” but I can almost fall asleep when they put me in.
We met with the doctor again today for my one week check up. He is very impressed with my progress thus far. The only symptoms I am having is fatigue and some redness on my neck. I do not really feel any pain, it is just started to feel like a very light sunburn. The doctor said that I can start to put hydrocortisone on my skin to help with the irritation and inflammation. My treatments are at 9am and by mid-day I am very tired.
We met with the dietitian again. Apparently if you wear shorts to an appointment it gets mentioned a lot. I had been wearing jeans to all my other appointments but now able to wear shorts to work. We did not understand why everyone was mentioning it until the dietitian said that I could be a reason why the scale said I lost 2 pounds. She asked again about my diet and how I was eating. Overall, I would have to say that my appetite is very good. The one thing she recommenced is to start drinking some Ensure drinks in between meals.
And to leave you with another video (less emotional), here is a video about the machine and the type of radiation I am receiving: