My Consultation with radiation oncology occurred in a secured portion of the basement of the James Cancer Hospital. Jon drove so Jeff could work and so that I could have company. This was my first appointment with this department and I was there to discuss the full body irradiation that will occur as part of my preparation for the bone marrow transplant. I was examined by both a resident and attending for general health status and they provided information on the procedure and side effects. They went over all the same questions that I answer every time I go to the hospital including current medications and symptoms that I am experiencing currently. I also needed to talk about my previous breast cancer diagnosis and treatment. The resident had just finished her breast cancer rotation and had some questions about my treatment since it was aggressive considering the early stage. There is currently a debate in the medical profession on the topic of over-treatment of young women with breast cancer but I’m still happy with our choice as guided by the physicians.
The radiation oncologist talked about the various side effects. The biggest one is fatigue. I asked if it would be as bad as when I was in ICU and could not get out of bed for 6 days. She said it would not be nearly that bad since I was in septic shock in ICU due to the pancreatitis. The other risks are a 6% increased rate of secondary cancer occurrences, thyroid failure and a chance that I will develop cataracts at an earlier age. The doctor said that I may lose some hair but will not experience significant hair loss from the radiation. I told her that the hair is already gone and she looked closely at me in shock and asked if I was wearing a wig. She said she couldn’t tell at all and commented on this a couple times during our consultation. She told me I look really good for a person with ALL.
These side effects do not occur immediately but it’s something I need to be aware of and discuss with my general practitioner in the future. I really can’t imagine at this point being able to go to a regular doctor for things like cholesterol checks or a sinus infection. Getting cataracts at age 50 instead of 80 is not something that I’m concerned about and even the 6% risk of secondary cancers isn’t as bad as I thought it would be. Actually, none of the things that they talked about with me were especially concerning. My imagination of irradiation was way worse than the reality.
They will be using a relatively low dose of radiation compared to breast or prostate cancer but since it is full body some of the effects are stronger. I am not supposed to have the skin effects that are seen with the higher dosed localized treatments. This is a relief as I was picturing myself laying in a high dose tanning bed twice a day for 3 days and coming out like a sunburned, leathery old lady. My skin will not tan and hopefully won’t be irritated although I may be sensitive to lotion and products. I am a cosmetics junkie and I’m not allowed to use my products from home after treatment because of the risk of contamination from bacteria. I am bringing in a sealed container of hypoallergenic facial moisturizer but other than that it will be neutrogenia soap and prescription Eucerin cream provided by the hospital.
I was taken into the radiation room to be measured for the machine calibration. I had to strip down from the waist up and undo the waist of my jeans. I had a sheet to somewhat cover up with while I was positioned on my side on a table surrounded by lights. I was instructed to bend my lower arm and rest my head on my hand. My other arm was placed along my side. Top 40 dance music was playing in the background. I was topless with my black lace thong peeking above my jeans posing on this table when 4 people came in to take pictures and measurements. I asked if they would please use photoshop airbrush before posting the pics to the internet. They explained that while the radiation treatments don’t take long there is a lot of work that goes into telling the machine how to deliver appropriate dosages to each part of my body. X-rays are taken to have exact images of my body so it can be customized for my treatments.
My full body irradiation will start on Wednesday morning. I’m allowed to wear shorts and a hospital gown for treatments. I will be treated twice a day for 3 days. Radiation oncology is a busy department of the hospital but everyone is friendly and supportive. A women’s group (not sure from where) delivered hand made lap blankets for patients. A nurse found a soft eggplant purple afghan that almost matches my Kate Spade purse. It definitely matches the sequin and floral pillow I am taking to help decorate my hospital room tomorrow.
So far, I continue to feel more and more confident in my ability to do this. I think I may have already been through worse. On the elevator on the way up to the 11th floor from the basement a lady got on and asked for the 3rd floor. I looked at her and said “transplant?” She answered “yes”. I told her that I would be checking in tomorrow. She gave me an encouraging smile and said that her husband has been recovering from his transplant and all the terrible horrible things that they were warned about did not happen and he is doing just fine. She told me that she knows I will do just fine too. She said that I’m young and look healthy and it will all go well. Jon thinks that she was an angel put in front of me at just the right time to give me hope in the future. I think she was just a person with nice things to say but her confidence and encouragement gave me peace.
Jeffrey and I on date night: