I went down to the cancer center today for my last positioning or “blocking” appointment before beginning radiation treatment. And after five or ten minutes of assorted movements, measurements, and scans by the overhead machines, I heard a voice say over the speaker: “Everything looks good. Here goes your first treatment.”
But like that, it was done.
The tech asked me if I’d heard the clicks and whirrs everybody says they hear, but I wasn’t paying attention to the sounds. I’d been intrigued by the two opposing rows of “sticks” or rods I saw behind the machine’s glass window above me. Each side had 50 (?) or more rods and there was a gap between the two rows that constantly changed size and shape as different rods moved toward or away from each other.* I surmised and was later told that the moving rods were controlling the amount and exact targeting of the radiation coming through. The entire unit moved in an arc around my chest, stopping in different locations and occasionally rotating in place so that the gap was at a different angle.
That’s a poor attempt to explain what I saw, but it was interesting. I imagine I’ll be less interested in the mechanics after I’ve been there a few more times. And I have a ton of questions for the doctor I’m supposed to see tomorrow in the first of my “weekly checks” where, in addition to my radiation treatment, I’ll talk to a doctor who will check on how I’m doing, answer my questions, etc. Had hoped to see one today, but there were only assorted techs around.
By the time I got dressed, my son was already talking to a scheduler, trying to work out the times for my daily treatments. He and my daughter-in-law are the ones who’ll be driving me to my appointments if I’m unable to drive myself, so the times were more critical to their schedules than mine. Ultimately all the times ended up being between 2 and 3 pm — great for me since I’m not a morning person but also don’t drive at dusk or after dark. But maybe not so good for a father who works or a mom with two kids coming home from school every day.
Looking more closely at the schedule after I got home, I realized the treatments run for 8 weeks, not the 6.5 I was first told to expect. I don’t know what changed or why, but you can bet I’ll be asking tomorrow.
Meanwhile, as things are currently scheduled, I’ll be getting zapped every weekday, with my last treatment the day before Thanksgiving.
And just for kicks, my medical oncologist wants to start my Herceptin treatments — every three weeks beginning next Tuesday.
I think they call this piling on.
UPDATE, Oct. 1: I talked to the doctor this morning about the 8 weeks of treatment on the schedule I was given and she said it was mistaken. For some reason the scheduler had blocked out a bunch of extra days, perhaps in the event I miss one or more treatments. But my treatment should end on November 12, at about 6.5 weeks.
* Oct. 14: This part of the linear accelerator is called the multileaf collimator. I finally found a video that shows what it looks like: