Friday, January 04, 2008

Happy New Year, Radiation Nation


Happy New Year Folks! I managed to survive the holidays without being completely under the weather. In fact, after my discovery of the drug-induced restlessness, my ability to feel like a normal person probably increased tenfold. We had a nice holiday, though it's the first Christmas (and birthday) I've spent in California, despite having lived here for so long. Something's not quite right about Christmas on the west coast - I can't really put my finger on it. Maybe it's the prevalence of non-deciduous trees that refuse to lose their leaves, maybe it's the lack of bone-chilling cold weather (though I admit it gets quite nippy 'round here). In any case, it was nice, but certainly not the same somehow.

It was also the first time my mom and her partner Dennis were in the same place as my dad and his new wife, and fortunately the universe did not implode. Everyone seemed to get along fine, at least in small doses, so no problems there. Of course the new camera was in full effect, although I did manage to reformat the memory card at one point, which lost a bunch of pics (not too many, though). Don't worry, I got plenty of crap for that, so no need for further crappage, okay? I'm only a PhD student in engineering - I'm not a rocket scientist, you know.

This week, I had the added joy of beginning my radiation therapy. They're using 3-D conformal radiation, which according Stanford's website includes "advanced immobilization." I can only assume this refers to the foam leg molds that I put my legs in when I lie down. It's probably some sort of space-aged foam that costs a billion dollars a cubic foot (or maybe $20 down at House of Foam). Well, to be fair, there are also all sorts of lasers being used to align my body in the right direction and place via these lovely cross-shaped tattoos on my hips (I'd show pictures, but they're a little too racy and rebellious to be displayed publicly.) The 3-D conformal part refers to how they are able to use pre-obtained CT scans to map out the location of radiation that conforms to the original tumor.

They're also using intensity modulated radiation therapy, more information about which I will conveniently leave it to the reader to peruse here.

For the patient, radiation entails lying on a bed with a big round gray cheese wheel floating above you. The round wheel is attached to the big rotating arm with its base toward the top of your head. After they line you up with the lasers and such, the cheese wheel is aimed at your pelvis and rotates around you for a designated set of zaps (14 for me, 2 each at 7 angles) while you lie there for about 10-15 minutes. It's really quicker than you'd imagine, except of course that you have to go back and do it 28 times (now only 24! Woohoo!).

The treatment itself can have some side effects - exhaustion, diarrhea (since it's aimed at the pelvis), bladder irritation, etc. Some people also get sunburn on the skin near where they radiate. Hopefully I won't have too much of any of this, but you never can tell. One thing I've noticed about these oncologists is that they will never tell you what will happen. Everything is individualized, and so you could or might not experience any or all side effects. I suppose in the end, like many things, the only way to know is to go through it. Kinda sucks, eh?

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