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Monday, March 19, 2012

Radiation 1

Today Al and I go into South Brisbane for the start of my radiation treatment.

My appointment is at 12:40 pm so I opt to pass the morning as fruitfully as possible. I tell Al as it's a good 80-90 minute round trip into South Brisbane, if this business of driving back and forth is to be my/our lifestyle for the next five weeks, I need to work out a routine.

I'm not exactly nervous. I've been told the chief side effects of radiation are fatigue (the effects of which are mitigated for those who have already been through chemo) and very bad sunburn. I'm not particularly perturbed by the likelihood of either. I am managing my fatigue through regular exercise, and I have skin that doesn't easily burn. However, time will tell.

I do some ironing, I pay some bills. Before I know it it's time to drive in. I guess this is the thing about early afternoon appointments: they interrupt the flow of a day.

In the car, Al says he is happy to sit with me but I've been told it's relatively quick and easy, these treatments. The plan is that he'll go and distribute some flyers today after dropping me off.

It's a smooth ride in and, once I've hopped out of the car, I know I have to go downstairs and present to the desk there. While I'm there, I help myself to a free scarf, made by the Mater's volunteers. Who knew a mere triangle of material could be so useful!

Next, a lady called Ruth comes round the desk and gives me a quick run down of what to expect as she leads me to the waiting room. I have a dedicated nurse whose name is Trish I think, but she's away today. All of my treatments are to happen in Room 3. I am to moisturise the radiated area regularly, but not two hours before my treatment. Side effects will set in around two and a half weeks after I begin, so there's no need to panic that I seem to have come completely unprepared.

In the waiting room I make myself a cup of tea. I am distracted by an elderly gentleman who is putting the finishing pieces into a jigsaw puzzle that's laid out on a small table.

"You didn't do that all yourself did you?" I ask him.

"No," he says, "Some of these pieces have been placed in the wrong place."

"That's a relief," I say. "It would mean you've had to wait kind of a long time if you've managed to finish a jigsaw."

I am quietly amused when another older gentleman joins the fellow and, over the next 10 minutes or so, the two begin an earnest discussion about the tricks and traps of jigsaws and those pesky pieces you put in the wrong place. Actually, it's kind of cute. They really take this jigsaw business seriously!

I open my Kindle but before I can read a single word, I am called in. Jeez, that really was quick!

A nice looking boy called Adam leads me into a room where the light is muted. He tells me he's a radiologist and there are about eight of them so I shouldn't bother trying to remember his name.

Inside the room are three other young people and all of them are involved in the process that is my first radiation.

There's also the same kind of machine I was originally measured up in. Here's a picture of it:

As I am dressed in shorts and a top, I am allowed to forego the whole business of changing into a gown, and instead am given a towel. I basically whip my top off in front of these strangers while trying to protect Paris from peering eyes. Dear me. She would make a very sorry sight indeed if she were to flap loose.

I edge up to the machine and lie down while I'm covered with a white sheet. I am face up staring up at the machine with my arms behind me.

At every stage of the process, Adam carefully explains what's going on as I can't see a thing from this rather vulnerable position.

A mark is made on the tattoos on my scar, the scar is covered up, the team circles me like a bunch of crazed mathematicians, announcing a series of numbers: 18.2 from the right side, 19.2 from the left and so on.

My scar is covered with the gel strip, the making of which I described in an earlier blog.

I am told that they will leave the room and they'll be watching me so if I need them, I'm to wave an arm.

I will hear a buzzing noise. I can close my eyes if I like but I won't be able to see any light so it doesn't really matter.

"How long will this take?" I ask and am told it will take 5-10 minutes.

The team leave the room and so there I am, lying still on this machine. I hear a sort of loud clicking noise followed by a low hum, and watch as this large round formation of metal and glass first focusses on my right side.

It seems to take ages while all the time, I'm aware that it's bloody freezing because of the air conditioning.

The room is still - just me with this machine clicking and humming - but in the background somewhere, very softly, a radio is playing a tune I can't recognise.

Then the machine moves across me to the left hand side. It moves quietly but I can't help thinking that there's something deadly about it. The radiation it exudes is powerful enough to kill cancer cells, powerful enough to damage vital organs if incorrectly used. I try to project positive thoughts about being cancer free.

I close my eyes and breathe.

And then, suddenly, the team is back in the room. It's done in a snap it seems. All over red rover and barely five minutes I reckon.

Wow! That really was quick and I didn't feel a thing!

After signing my Medicare form, I go outside and telephone Al. I arrange to see him in half an hour while I go across the road to the Coffee Club to enjoy a bit of my book and a Flat White Extra Hot.

All the way home, I read my book.

After we get home, I go for a 6 km run. This will be a good way to see how well I travel through the next phase of this treatment.

I'll keep you posted on my progress.

Tally ho!

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