I Got Nuked

Yesterday I had the first of five radiation treatments for my cancer.

A bit over a week ago, I lay down in what I gathered was basically a CAT scanner.  I was lying on a couple of bags that they filled with, I guess, some kind of fluid that hardened, forming a kind of half cocoon which would keep me immobile during the treatments.  They then did a scan to generate data that would be used to program the machine that would actually administer the radiation (something like an industrial robot capable of precise movements).  Thursday was a “dry run” to make sure that the machine would perform as expected; then yesterday was the first actual treatment.

You don’t feel the radiation.  The radiologist explained to me that the beam would have about the same power as a dental X-ray, but would take longer to administer the required dose.  You just lie there relaxed and unmoving, except for normal breathing, for the fifteen or so minutes that it takes.

To mitigate the boredom, I mentally recited the lyrics to Gordon Lightfoot’s “Canadian Railroad Trilogy” and “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”; and just as I was starting on “The Balad of the Yarmouth Castle”, they were done.  I made it home in plenty of time to catch DW News on the PBS World Channel. 😎

I’ll have four more treatments, Monday through Thursday; then I’ll start chemo on the 6th.

The radiation machine (I should probably ask what the correct term for it is) was interesting.  The radiation is generated by a roughly disk shaped thing with about an eighteen inch diameter, maybe a bit more, that looked something like this [from Wikipedia] although the rest of the machine was quite different.  Opposite that is a flat thing that, I guess, notes where the other side of the beam is to provide feedback for proper aiming.  The whole thing rotates around you, presumably to zap the cancer from different angles so that they don’t kill the tissues that you want to still be hanging around. 😎

Inside the disk were pairs of pointy things that were about 1mm or so apart.  I had guessed, probably incorrectly, that the “antenna” is actually the space between the points.  There were maybe ten or fifteen pairs, all in slightly different positions so that they would be slightly out of phase with each other, giving more precise control over the directionality of the beam.  This whole paragraph could be way off the mark, though, if the radiation’s wavelength is in the millimicron range, which is what I get from the Wikipedia article.  I’ll have to ask for a more detailed explanation of what’s going on next Monday, not because I have any desire to practice medicine without a license 😎 , but because I’m a geek who’d find it interesting.

Possible January Trip

I just found out that the ISO C committee will be meeting in Strasbourg, France in January.  I haven’t used good old C in ages, but I’m a member of the committee (actually INCITS PL22, an ANSI committee), and so I could attend; and it would give me an excuse to travel.

I could take Amtrak to Boston, fly Icelandair to Heathrow, then the Piccadilly Line to King’s Cross St. Pancras, Eurostar to Paris Gare du Nord, and a TGV from Gare de l’Est to Strasbourg.  I could mostly handle the 800m walk between the two Paris stations; but I see that there’s a stairway on the route that might be a bit of a challenge with two bags and a walker.  Does anybody know of a good way around that?

Motion on the Cancer Front

I had a bronchoscopy on Friday* looking for any movement of the cancer to my lymph nodes.  Everything looked normal, and although I haven’t seen the detailed results of the biopsy yet, I got a phone call from the radiologist’s nurse a while ago saying that there’s no evidence of additional cancer.  That’s good news because it means that the radiation treatment can concentrate on the one lump that we already know about.

I have an appointment with the radiologist tomorrow a bit after noon when we’ll work out the treatment schedule.  I’ll also have another CAT scan, I guess to make sure that the lump hasn’t moved; and I’ll get fitted for the cocoon that will keep me immobile during the radiation.  I’ll update this post tomorrow if there’s actually any more to say.

I’m glad to get moving on this.  I’ll have several radiation treatments (three IIRC); and the chemo, which will have to wait for the radiation to be done, will require four sets of three treatments on consecutive days, the four sets separated from each other by three (IIRC) weeks.  This already bumps into a trip that I’ll be taking in November by a couple of days; but the oncologist, who’ll be doing the chemo, said that he can work around that.  We’ll see…

Update 2023-08-16:  I now have a schedule for my radiation treatments starting a week from tomorrow:  six weekdays from Thursday the 24th through Thursday the 31st.  I’ll have about an hour and a half of driving (round trip) for fifteen-minute appointments. 8-(

I’m told that the first visit will be a dry run just to make sure that everything is working correctly; then I’ll have five actual treatments on Friday, then Monday through Thursday.

I also have some chemo appointments scheduled for later this month, but I think I remember the oncologist saying that we have to wait until after I’m done with the radiation before starting the chemo.  I’ve sent the oncologist a message asking whether we need to reschedule.

Today’s visit went pretty quickly.  They had me lie down in a CAT scanner on top of a couple of bags that, I guess, they filled with some kind of stuff that hardened around my torso.  They then did a CAT scan, I guess to make sure that they know where everything inside me is, and made some marks on my chest, I guess to make sure that they get me correctly positioned in my half-cocoon for the treatments.

Pierce R. Butler commented on a previous post suggesting that I might want to take the half-cocoon, which he called a “mesh”, home with me after the treatments are done.  It doesn’t look like what they made is something I’d ever need for anything.

*The bronchoscopy required general anesthesia, so this extreme introvert, because he has nobody he can rely on to take care of him afterwards, had to spend Friday night in the hospital for “observation”.  I’ve never had any problem with general anesthesia, so as expected, nothing was observed. 😎

I didn’t really mind, aside from the boredom; but I thought that I was taking up a hospital bed for no good reason.  When I mentioned that to one of the doctors, he laughed and said that he’d had patients admitted for less reason than that, so I guess I’m not a bad guy after all.

My Story

I just watched a really interesting video that Abe Drayton posted on his blog, a lecture by Tim Wise that was mostly about white supremacy.  Two of his points jumped out at me:

– We have a systemic problem.  It’s not that ordinary folks like you and me are bad people (although there’s some of that), but that the system itself has been designed in a way to allow the majority of folks to avoid even noticing all the inequities in society because they’ve had the advantage of never having it affect their own lives in any serious way (and as a cis, het, white, male boomer, I’m one of ’em).

– Later in the talk, maybe during the Q&A, he reminded us that debunking goofy ideas with facts isn’t particularly effective because the people with the strange ideas just double down.  He suggested that what’s more effective is something that connects with individuals, basically storytelling.

So let me begin with a story from when I was about seven years old; and now that I’m seventy-seven (or will be tomorrow), I still remember it.

We were living in Delray Beach, Florida which, in the early 1950s, was still racially segregated.  I remember us driving home one night after visiting some of my parents’ friends; and at one point, we passed a pedestrian about whom my dad remarked, “He’s going to be in trouble.”  I asked why, and it wasn’t because the guy was obviously inebriated, but because he was Black; and there was a law back then that Black folks had to be in “colored town” after dark.  Even at age seven, I recognized the asymmetry (to put it mildly), although I wouldn’t have had the vocabulary back then to express that.

Tying that in to the first point I mentioned, I guess I’ve long been aware of the evils of racism because I learned something about it at an early age (even though I was in no danger myself); but I didn’t become aware of other systemic inequities until much later.  Just two examples:  I didn’t recognize the unfairness of sexism, and didn’t become a feminist, until I was in my thirties; and I had no clue about LGBTQIA+ issues until about a decade ago; in both cases because I simply had no need to notice.

There are some signs these days that maybe we’re starting to notice, and that gives me a little hope.  At least I hope I never stop learning.