So, here we are, 3.5 weeks after chemotherapy finished, and it’s time for the last hospital-based treatment in the plan (still got hormone treatments to come for 10 years), radiotherapy!
What is radiotherapy?
If you like to watch a video, Macmillan gently explain what it is, and the process that is followed, plus the side effects (most manageable by medication, or knowledge that about what is to happen) – short and long term:
Last week I had 2 planning scans for radiotherapy, and was given the first 5 dates of treatment (out of 15), to start today. I was offered a range of times to start today, and had chosen a later time, because I wanted to pop into work again – so just before 5pm I arrive at the hospital (really dehydrated despite quite a lot of water, must check that)… I see Dr Chittalia in the distance and wave… and head off to the radiotherapy department.
I checked in with reception (I’d forgotten the letter with all the dates/times on it – doh!), and was told they were running pretty-much to time, go and take a seat in Suite 4, where of course I checked in on Instagram *rocking the 1990s boy band ‘curtains’ look, you know:
I was called in pretty swiftly to Suite 4 (behind a pass-only door), introduced to Emma who explained what would happen in the process – what they would be doing, what the machine would be doing (with green laser lights lining up with tattoos), what I should be doing (largely lying as still as possible please and let them move me around), did I have any questions, etc.
Checks happened of course – which side was it, name, date of birth, address, ‘are you pregnant’, etc … and yes, do slop Aveeno on 3 x day + ask for Hydrocortisone if the skin starts to crack, etc. but side effects don’t really tend to kick in for a week.
I was then instructed to get changed into the radiotherapy gown (which I’d been lent last week) (easy-zip up front, and velcro shoulders so they can expose the working areas, whilst retaining most of your dignity!):
The next photo, also a strange one to take, but was quite impressed with the proper doors to the changing room, rather than papery curtains!
And there I was – ready to go (and you’re not going to get this made-up face every day … that was a work effort!):
Into the Treatment Room
I was then called by Hannah into the treatment room (and she checked what I wanted to be known as!), and asked to get up onto the bench! I did try without a step, but it was rather like trying to get out of the swimming pool with a dodgy arm so…
Once up, I recognised the layout from the planning scan, although obviously the machine itself is a new one! Backside into the gap, feet onto the footrest, wedge under the knees, arm in the red arm holders, as before.
The radiographers then proceeded to move me around (it’s really hard not to try and help by moving!), calling various numbers – ‘I’ve got 10.9’, ‘8.75 from there’ and so on. I have no idea, and that’s fine – it makes sense to them! Marks were drawn on the skin again, and an extra measure level was placed on the ‘to be scanned’ area to double-check that it was receiving the right amount of radiation. The machine moves around as they line various things up (can see one in action in this video from Addenbrookes Hospital).
The radiographers, when they think they are happy with the placement, disappear out of the room so the radiotherapy beams can begin. I had been warned that I wouldn’t feel anything whilst the machine was in action, and just to lie as still as possible. I have not had to had my arm bent up in that position for that since surgery, so that was uncomfortable, but otherwise – the lights are down in the room, the air conditioner is humming, and feel a bit dozy!
Then What Happened
The radiologists came back into the room and said they hadn’t got it yet, as the placement wasn’t quite right (I’d been warned that this could happen), I then moved my arm – and that meant the lining up had to happen all over again. Another member of staff then came in, and calmly got me to sit up (they are all SUPER CALM), and start the placement again – the machine then whirred around again whilst they re-lined it, and they disappeared out of the room again. I’d been warned the treatment would be about 6-7 minutes (long time to lie verrrrrrrry still), so when they came back in what felt very soon afterwards that didn’t seem to be a good sign!
We then had another staff member come in, and once you’re up to two extra, you know it’s not going well! I can’t even remember if they tried to scan again then, but then they came back in and said that they weren’t able to complete the treatment today as the scan-plan was no longer correct. This apparently is not that unusual, but as they need to be super-precise, and because the Dr would already have gone home, I’ll need to wait until tomorrow to chat to the Dr, probably be re-scanned and then hopefully start tomorrow. Delays the end-date by a day, so hopefully that will all happen. It was explained that quite often when the scan plan is taken people are really tense, and then as you start to relax, everything’s in a different position and no longer works. *They were very quick to emphasise that it was not that anything had been spotted on the scan that was worrying!
So, I then went to visit a lovely new friend (who I’d met through YBCN) for tea, now about to tuck self under the duvet (I’ve been writing steadily for about 5 days + new kitchen is coming on well so I need zzz) – see if I can stay awake to catch up on a bit of Netflix, otherwise I’ll just appreciate the sleep! And here’s hoping that tomorrow it all goes to plan – 1pm – I’ll be back there!
Dr Bex Lewis is passionate about helping people engage with the digital world in a positive way, where she has more than 20 years’ experience. She is Senior Lecturer in Digital Marketing at Manchester Metropolitan University and Visiting Research Fellow at St John’s College, Durham University, with a particular interest in digital culture, persuasion and attitudinal change, especially how this affects the third sector, including faith organisations, and, after her breast cancer diagnosis in 2017, has started to research social media and cancer. Trained as a mass communications historian, she has written the original history of the poster Keep Calm and Carry On: The Truth Behind the Poster (Imperial War Museum, 2017), drawing upon her PhD research. She is Director of social media consultancy Digital Fingerprint, and author of Raising Children in a Digital Age: Enjoying the Best, Avoiding the Worst (Lion Hudson, 2014) as well as a number of book chapters, and regularly judges digital awards. She has a strong media presence, with her expertise featured in a wide range of publications and programmes, including national, international and specialist TV, radio and press, and can be found all over social media, typically as @drbexl.