Pictured above is the Linear Accelerator I’m in Monday – Friday, along with two of the fabulous techs who do all the work. Here, they are placing my cradle on the slab and getting it ready for me to insert myself. Once on the slab and in the correct position, it’s elevated quite a bit so that it slots in between the four arms of the accelerator. The slab stays still, it’s the arms of the accelerator which move around you. It’s all very interesting, and you can watch a green laser light pulse across one section of the ceiling. I don’t watch anymore, because I’ve found that the revolving arms set off nausea, which I most seriously do not need these days. The treatment itself goes extremely fast, it’s maybe around 10 minutes. You almost spend more time getting positioned into your cradle.
Okay, well I have to go back a bit here. Radiation started on June 27th. The day before, we had secured an apartment which is barely a two minute walk from the Bismarck Cancer Center. Sanford has blocks of apartments all clustered close to the area of downtown they have eaten alive; an apartment costs $400.00 a month, which is by far the cheapest option for most people, a great many of whom live well outside Bismarck. If you’re there for more than month, the cost is prorated for whatever length of time you spend. I was mostly moved in by the 27th, and the first scan is the one which takes the longest, everything has to be checked over several times, adjustments made and all that. You’ll be on the slab for around 30 minutes. After that, the treatments go very fast. You’ll spend more time in the waiting room than anything else. One thing which makes it all go quicker: clothing. Yep. If you wear something which has no buttons or zippers, and can be easily pushed down (or up, whichever direction you’re being zapped), you can just go straight in, kick off your shoes and get into your cradle. I find having to change into gowns annoying, so this works well for me. Hell, if you’re like me and you find yourself with a two minute walk to your scans, wear your pyjamas! I’ll be seeing my radiation oncologist every Tuesday, along with my regular oncologist over at the main hospital. You still have to have labs every week, and you’re given a lot of latitude as to when you want to do that. Radiation is great about giving you a set time of your choosing. As you can see, we prefer late afternoon. You also have meetings arranged with a nutritionist and a massage therapist. Free massage!
A couple of days after I was ensconced in my apartment, I heard Brandon moving some people in next door. We later met on the stairs: “Hi. Radiation? Yeah, me too, I’m five weeks.” “I’m nine weeks.” This is what your conversation comes down to with other cancer patients. In the waiting room: “How are you doing?” “Still here, not dead yet.” “Me too. Feels like dead some days.” “Yeah, a lot of days.” Cancerland has it’s own codes and lingo; doesn’t take long to become fluent, or to put the cancer first, either: “Hi. Colorectal cancer.” “Hi, pancreatic.”
Onto the purely miserable fucking stuff, and scary stuff (for me). I started taking the oral chemo (5FU, same as what was in the pump; the pills convert to 5FU), and the Veliparib (trial drug). The 5FuckYou is an agent well known to me, and I know which side effects can be laid at its door. As you can see on the chemo paperwork, there’s a ‘skipped’ on the Veliparib for Friday evening, and I have to record a skip for this weekend, too, as I’m supposed to take it 7 days a week, not 5 like the other. I was having a great deal of trouble the first week this all started. A profound nausea set in on Wednesday, and I wasn’t sure what was causing it. Until I see my oncologist on July 3rd, I’ve stuck with taking dramamine for nausea, as it’s worked well enough and I can’t take the Zofran. It stopped working well. I’ve had to take a great deal of it just to keep from puking my guts out constantly. Day by day, the nausea was getting worse. I did not have a single moment where I felt well. I’m supposed to take my chemo with food, and I could barely choke down 3 tablespoons of cereal before I took the meds. There was also an intense bitter taste in my mouth and throat, and it’s all I could taste. It got to a point on Friday that I could not even drink the required water, as trying to do so had me puking. (For my particular cancer, a full bladder is wanted for the scan, as it helps to push the intestines out of the way of the bits being targeted.) I still wanted to go grocery shopping for the apartment, and holy fuck is it ever hard to shop for food when the only thing on your mind is “can’t puke, can’t puke, can’t puke”. I decided to skip the Friday evening Veliparib, just to see. As anticipated, the 5FU didn’t cause me any problems at all, and by the time 11pm rolled around, I was able to eat a little bit. Woke up this morning, and ate a pastry right away, no nausea, no problems.
Unfortunately, this means I’ll have to drop out of the trial, I simply cannot deal with such profound nausea. I’ve dropped to 92 pounds, and look every bit the starvation victim. My ribs and spine stand out in sharp relief, I don’t have an ounce of fat anywhere, and I’m simply too concerned about that to try and come to terms with the trial drug. I feel bad about dropping out at this point, but my overall health has to have priority. I’ll see my research person on Tuesday, along with everyone else. There’s a slim possibility that another anti-nausea drug might help me to cope, but I don’t know that I’ll want to try. The Velaparib was also causing a fair amount of swelling in my face, ankles and feet. We definitely don’t get along.
That’s about it for now. As usual, if I think of more, I’ll edit to add. ETA: There are a couple of videos linked in the comments which show how a linac works.