What’s Treatment Like: Radiation

Dude, radiation oncology has got to be the weirdest experience of my life. And that includes any crazy shit I did in college. Now, again with stage IV, radiation isn’t always part of your treatment plan, because when you’re stage IV, that means cancer cells are floating around your body and latching onto other body parts than where they started, and making tumors all sorts of random places. Like, mine wound up on my sternum and the top of my femur, by my hip, so, really far from my breast. So, typically, you use chemo to treat stage IV because it’s a systemic disease and you need systemic solutions.

That said, if your tumors are causing you pain, or are likely to weaken a weight-bearing bone, then yeah, they’ll do radiation on there for you. But only as pain management, not as as part of a systemic treatment of your cancer, because radiation only zaps the spot where the tumor is, not your whole body. In my case, my femur is a weight bearing bone, and both it and my sternum hurt, so, zap zap!

Now, the first step in preparing for radiation is what the nice radiation techs called the Arts and Crafts portion of my care. First, I put on a gown and lay on the table of a CT machine, and they exposed the areas to be zapped, in my case, my sternum and my hip. The two techs stood there and stared at me thoughtfully, then they made little marks on me with sharpies. Then they thought and stared some more, and then more sharpie. Then they ran me in and out if the CT machine a few times, and then, more staring and more sharpie. Eventually when they had figured out exactly where they wanted to line up the radiation fields, they gave me the saddest tattoos ever. Just a blue dot. I have like 8 or 10 of them. The good news is, they didn’t really hurt much. I’ve had IV’s worse.

Oh, I almost forgot: at the start of arts and crafts time, they stuck a blue plastic bag under my legs, and they filled it with this weird warm goo, which rose up around my legs and then hardened to form a mold. They used that mold to hold me still for the zapping, so my legs and hips were all aligned just right. Precision is definitely the key here–you want to zap the tumor, not, say, your large intestine.

After all that, I came back the next day to start the treatments. And I shit you not, when I walked into the radiation room, the Bee Gees were playing on their CD player. Apparently when they built the room, they didn’t pipe in any kind of pandora or anything, so all they have is a CD player, and I happened to be there on a day that the 70’s CD was playing. Like the whole experience with the sharpies and the tattoos and the blue bag of goo wasn’t surreal enough, let’s add How Deep Is Your Love, shall we? It was all I could do not to giggle through the whole thing.

Oh, and if I felt like I hadn’t had enough sharpie during Arts and Crafts time, no worries, there was plenty more sharpie during the actual treatment days. The techs and I had nice chats about our plans for the weekend while they drew all over me. Once they had me marked up and lined up and shifted 7 millimeters this way or that, then everyone left the room and I listened as Earth Wind and Fire came on the CD player and the machine did its thing.

So, I had 10 zaps each on my sternum and my hip, for a total of 10 days of treatment, and I’ll be darned if the pain didn’t go away! Those weirdos in radiation oncology sure know what they’re doing. My hip is still a little sore, but more like when you need to stretch, not when I walk and put pressure on it like it did before. And the sternum doesn’t hurt at all.

And, they sure are nice, because at the end of my treatments, they gave me a very nice radiation graduation certificate that they all signed.


See? Weird, but nice.