Thursday, 16 November 2017

Getting radiotherapy

Two weeks after I finished chemo I started my radiotherapy trial (see 'Week 15 of cancer treatment').

When I arrived at the hospital, I was feeling both nervous yet excited.  I'd never had radiotherapy before and despite many people telling me it would be a doddle compared to chemo, I still had my neighbours' comments from six months ago ringing in my ears ('Oh, radiotherapy is awfully hard. So-and-so had a TERRIBLE time with it'.  Cheers, dear neighbours).  It was also going to be another significant milestone on my cancer journey.


After I arrived at the Cancer Centre, I met one of the clinical researchers who took me to get my bloods taken, asked me to fill in a questionnaire and then took me to get my boobs photographed.  I already knew that was going to happen as I had signed up to it as part of the trial.  By taking photographs years apart, the trial team can see how the treatment affects my boobs over the years.

Now, when the researcher said they wanted to take some photographs I expected a nurse with a camera phone in a hall cupboard somewhere. Er, no.  The researcher took me down a series of corridors and when she finally opened the door to the room, I nearly died.  It was a full photographers studio with a backdrop and two massive super trouper studio lights.  It felt like I was going to do some sort of glamour modelling shot (not that I know what that's like, honestly).

'Oh. My. God. I can't do THIS!!' I spluttered.

'Yes you can, Karen,' the female photographer said.  'Just drop your cape, stand there, put your hands on your hips, then above your head and work it!'

Oh well, in for a penny, in for a pound I suppose.  That's all I'm sharing with you.

Once it was done, the photographer said she'd see me in two years and then both her and the researcher shared recipes with me about how to cook special Christmas gammons.  As I may have mentioned before, I've never been bored on this cancer journey.  I've learned a hell of a lot about all sorts of things, not least how to improve my culinary repertoire (sounds posh, dunnit?).

The radiotherapy treatment

The radiotherapy waiting area was packed with people.  There was an in-house guitarist playing gentle, soothing music.  I looked around and watched the faces of the people waiting and wondered what their stories were and how they were feeling right at that moment.  Were they scared?  Were they hopeful?  Were they resigned to their fate?  I realised it wasn't helpful to think about things like that so gave myself a sharp talking to.

The radiotherapy itself was actually pretty uneventful.  I had to lie absolutely still on a bed below the radiotherapy machine whilst they set me up to match the measurements and tattoos that had previously been done at my planning session. 

There were lots of green laser lights (to help with the targeting of the radiotherapy beam), much whirring and buzzing and 'radiation on' signs turning red.  The radiographers kept nipping in and out to check measurements, making adjustments and programming the machine for the next bit of zapping.  They kept me updated and then would disappear into their lead lined room whilst I got zapped.

It was totally painless and is incredibly precise.  The only tricky bit was having to stay absolutely still so that the beam wouldn't go off target.  I kept sensing all these itches on my face (some real and some no doubt a figment of my imagination) which I was desperate to scratch but I knew I couldn't move a muscle. 

The radiographer gave me some special cream to slather on myself twice a day to keep my skin moisturised.  'Put it on the back of your shoulders too as the beam has to come out somewhere,' she said. Gulp.

I went back for four more sessions and then, a week later, I was finished. On my final day, I rang the bell in reception three times which signalled the end of my treatment.  Everyone clapped.  It was a wonderful moment.  I walked out of the hospital with a spring in my step.

Ringing the bell

What next?

I was able to meet the head of the clinical trial who was a lovely, charming man.  He thanked me for taking part and told me that I would be invited to come back in about three months time to see how I was and also to take me off anti-coagulation medication.   Other than that, I would be called for a mammogram around 12 months after surgery but that if I had any concerns in the meantime I could get in touch with the hospital straight away.

It's not the end

This isn't the end of my blog by the way.  

I've just started hormone therapy - a daily drug called Anastrozole - which I will take for the next five years.  There are a number of side effects with this drug which won't be very enjoyable (the worst menopausal side effects you can possibly think of) but you know what? It's better than the alternative.

I still have to go back to work and the thought of cancer recurring will never leave me.  These will be subjects I shall be writing about at some point.

Thank you for reading my blog.  Your company and comments have been truly wonderful.

Onwards and upwards!

Much love.


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