The Words of the Collins Family
Well it's been a while since my last cancer treatment communication, long enough to create worry among some on this recipient list. The long delay is because the good doctors admitted what I tried so hard to deny -- my physical body took a major beating from the chemotherapy. A time gap of three weeks was needed to give my body, mostly the good red and white blood cells, time to recover from chemo poisons mistaking them for cancer cells.
Since some cancer remains, it created a tiny bit of anxiety. Having a little cancer is like being a little pregnant, it'll only get bigger as the cancer cells fulfill their purpose by endlessly multiplying without dying during the waiting period. On the other hand, another theory is that some chemo remained in my blood system during the three weeks destroying the cancer cells. This theory has some empirical support in that I'm still very bald!
The first step of my cancer radiation treatment consisted of getting a mask, sort of looks like Spiderman, fitted to my face to hold my head perfectly still during a treatment session. Next, another CT-Scan of the area was taken to pinpoint exactly where the remaining cancer cells are located (they are hanging out about one inch south of my Adam's apple) and how much cancer remains to determine the amount of radiation I need to destroy them. An "x" marks the spot was then tattooed on the area to specify exactly where to shoot the radiation at their gathering.
Today was my first radiation treatment in the basement of UW Hospital. I will be radiated 15 times over the next 3 weeks (Monday through Friday sessions). I took off my shirt and laid down on a table directly below the huge Linac high energy x-ray machine. A nurse buckled my mask to a head rest to prevent any head movement. Laser beams came out of the ceiling and walls to align the tumor with the center of a circular plate on the Linac machine hovering over my head/neck/upper chest. This is where the radiation comes out. Then the table is raised so that the radiation treatment machine is a mere six inches above the tumor (a ball of pesky cancer cells). At that point the three technicians/nurses leave the room to not absorb any of the radiation they want my body to absorb. And then zap, the radiation comes out of the Linac machine, penetrates the skin and bones, and blasts the tumor area.
The treatment takes only a few minutes, though the technician said it's best to think of the treatment in terms of amount of radiation absorbed rather than time. Once the determined amount of radiation waves is absorbed by the targeted area the treatment session ends. I couldn't see, feel, or hear the radiation, so it is all very surreal and metaphysical.
I'm lucky in that the anticipated negative side effects will be minimal compared to chemo. This is not always the case with radiation as it all depends on the amount of radiation released and its location. Since mine is at the base of my neck it'll cause the inner walls of my esophagus to swell and make swallowing painful, some skin irritation, and fatigue, all of which accumulates over time and remains about one month after the last treatment. I should swallow only soft food, which will make my Italian lineage (my mother is Gloria Rosina Theresa Filippelli) happy with daily helpings of soft pasta and mashed potatoes.
After 15 treatments to the targeted area, any cells in that area, be they cancer cells or good cells, should be destroyed. Their remains are filtrated out of the body like any other dead cells. If any cancer cells remain after 15 radiation treatments it's back to the drawing board.
So that is what cancer radiation is like, at least for me. Given my rather mundane radiation treatment, compared to the unpredictable daily outcomes of chemotherapy, I will not send another email until after the final radiation treatment in mid-November.