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Sunday, June 7, 2015

Cancer: Preparing for Radiation (the simulation)

They TATTOO you!  Yes, tattoos.  And it hurts!  I asked for a kitty, but they only do dots.
Then they put stickers on your tummy.  It’s a three-year-old’s dream.  

You lie back on the CAT scanner gurney, hands secured in brackets overhead a la Fifty Shades of Gray.  When you are positioned just so, they draw arcane lines and dots on you with black and red magic markers. Who knew the preparations for radiation involved so much body art?    

After the radiologist approves the signs and symbols, the technician tattoos all-but-invisible guideline dots, one under each arm, one on the sternum.  How do people bear those beautiful tattoo sleeves?  Yikes! 

Next comes the black box which is positioned on the tummy stickers.  Of all the strange things that diagnosis and treatment entail, having a black plastic box taped to my belly is right up there.  Will I disappear inside the machine so they have to use the black box to find me?

The gurney slides into the CAT scan.  This time a nurse, rather than a robot, tells me when to breathe. She takes x-rays while I hold my breath, and some while I don’t.  The radiologist will analyze these to determine if holding my breath also pulls my heart out of the radiation beam.  That is worth knowing!  I breathe -- or not -- on command.  I do not move no matter how itchy the corner of my eye gets.  For once in my life, I am more than willing to be perfectly obedient. 

This appointment is called a radiation simulation. It’s not a simulation as far as I can tell, since the radiation does not take place in the CAT scan or even in the same room.  The process is rather a graphing and mechanical preparation.  The red rectangle they drew around my breast shows exactly where the x-rays will redden and burn.  There is no guessing, and there will be no stray radiation.

Once I’m up and dressed, I’m shown to an ordinary exam room where the nurse gives me “the talk.”  No, not that talk.  It is a talk about rules.  There are always rules once you are plugged into the medical world.  In this case, there are creams and powders and when to use each.  Vitamin C and Co-Q10 and high C multivitamins are prohibited during and for six weeks after treatment (antioxidants feed cancer cells).  I’m not permitted an underwire bra.  She says to wear a cami or a sports bra.  A cami?  She's kidding, right?  I’d expire from bouncing!  But, see, this is why god created catalogues.  

I discovered a soft, cotton bra which has both darts and front gatherings (lots of support) with a front clasp of four hooks and eyes.  I also learned that sports bras have come a long way since I last tried one. 

Stretched out, tested, prepped, and shopped.  I’ve cleared my calendar for the month.  I will back out of activities if I suffer the vaguely warned-about fatigue (which will also, you know, be a good excuse if I just don’t want to do something.)  I will show up five days a week for 19 treatments.  

I’m more than ready; I’m eager.  Nuke the damn cells; nuke 'em all! 

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