MarySmith’sPlace ~ Cancer Diary#17 What happens in the radiotherapy room

Monday, December 28: I’m about to pack my case for the next trip to the Edinburgh Cancer Centre tomorrow (actually, that’s rubbish I’ll be throwing things in the case at the last minute tomorrow morning!). Now I’ve had four treatments and know what to expect I’m less nervous than I was last week. Although, after five days of stuffing my face with Christmas fare. I’m a bit concerned my mask won’t fit me anymore.  

I seem to be the only person worried about the amount of weight I’ve gained – and am still gaining – since my diagnosis. Everyone else tells me it’s good because my body needs the calories to repair itself from the radiotherapy – plus, I may yet become unable to eat because of a very sore throat. My walk from hotel to hospital and back isn’t really going to do much for weight loss, nor is the food in the hotel. It is pub grub: burgers (which don’t come singly but in a ‘stack’ of two, chicken wings, wraps, fries – thin fries, lattice fries, sweet potato fries (are they less fattening?) and all in large portions. I chose a ‘super salad’ one night and it was enormous packed with quinoa, peas, broccoli, avocado and goodness knows what else.

I’ve only two nights there this week but after New Year I’ll be staying for five nights a week for two weeks. I have to do something or I’ll be the size of a bus. The receptionist did say the kitchen staff would be very accommodating if I wanted to request something different. A bowl of homemade soup would be welcome.

I know some of you already know about radiotherapy, having experienced it, but for those who aren’t sure what happens there’s an explanation on the Macmillan website here. I asked if I could take a photo of the machine. I have to stop myself from using expressions like sci-fi because, of course, this isn’t science fiction but science fact.

My mask waiting for on the table under the radiotherapy machine. The black objects on the mask are the screws.

Once I lie down, with my little bit of kitchen towel to protect my modesty, the radiographers fit my mask and fasten me into place – this sometimes takes a bit of faffing around to get it right but it doesn’t feel so bad now. The table I’m lying on is then raised. By then I have my eyes shut. And my mouth, though they assure me I can open my mouth. I haven’t tried it yet though on the last treatment my lips did twitch slightly in a smile. This was because, although I know there isn’t one, the machine makes a noise, which in my imagination sounds like a little robot on tiny metal feet scurrying from one side of the table, behind me to the other side to direct the next beam of radiation before scurrying back again. In fact the machine rotates.

They put the light out so I could capture the infrared beams which criss cross me – but I failed. Did get a close up of those screws!

Two YouTube videos show exactly how it works. The first one is short; the second one is longer and shows how different kinds of cancer are treated. Both give you the idea of how the machine works – though the second one is my favourite with its dramatic soundtrack. You only need to see the first couple of minutes to get the idea.

I also took a photo of my tumour – or, at least, the area which is being treated – reflected from inside the head of the machine on the floor.

The area they treat reflected on the floor. And you can see one of the infrared beams.

Then, I took one directly up into the head of the machine and got this image. The radiographer explained lead leaves fit round the treatment area and can move when the machine moves around me, shaping the beam of radiation to the tumour. It means the cancer cells in the tumour receive a high dose and normal healthy cells nearby receive a much lower dose. I think that was the explanation. I was so excited at the image I’d captured I’m not sure if I took in all she was telling me. The wonderful thing about the radiographers is they will explain it to me again and answer any other questions even though they must have answered them all countless times.

Isn’t that incredible? How can something so beautiful be trying to kill me?

It’s strange to think it will be 2021 when I write my next update. A few months ago, I wasn’t sure I’d see Christmas this year and now I’m looking forward to spring (hope I’m not tempting fate) and seeing the bulbs I planted in bloom and meeting Sue in April and Barb and welcoming a great niece into the world.

Wishing everyone all the best for 2021 – we all so much deserve a better year.

99 thoughts on “MarySmith’sPlace ~ Cancer Diary#17 What happens in the radiotherapy room

  1. Thank you for the update, Mary, and the sci fi information about radiography. What they’re able to do with the beams is really quite remarkable. I had no idea it was so precise. I hope your treatment continues to go well and that you’re able to keep your spirits up. Sending good thoughts your way!

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  2. A meteor coming through the sky probably looks beautiful, too. And twinkling stars are beautiful from a distance. Why is it that most of what’s in the universe is trying to kill us? 🙂

    I do have a strange sense of humor, but I’m serious about prayers for your recovery.

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  3. That’s very interesting Mary, and I’m pleased to hear the Radiographers have lots of time for their patients and can answer questions. As you say, quite beautiful images related to this ghastly thing. Makes you wonder crazy things like maybe if we admire its image enough, it’ll be satisfied and take itself off altogether. Unless it’s a Trump tumour of course, in which case it’ll stay around endlessly. No, I’m imagining it’s the kind that will respond to attention, by taking itself away to some far flung place and staying there. In the meantime, shrinking by the day and hour thanks to these treatments. Fingers crossed for a smooth treatment this round. x

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    • I think it needs to be blasted out of existence, Janette, no matter how beautiful it looks. The shrinking doesn’t start immediately but goes on for a wee while after the treatments finish so I won’t know until about six weeks after the treatment ends.

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  4. What I liked best about your explanation is that as technology advances further and further into ‘science fiction’, they’re able to hone in on just those bastard cancer cells and give ’em what for without causing too much damage, (relatively speaking) elsewhere … good luck 😀 … see you in 2021.

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  5. Ah, just found this, Mary. Seems as if everyone is keeping you well informed, thank goodness. Things have come along way since I had my radiotherapy ( I just bear the tiny blue crosses that indicted where the ‘beams’ were directed – well it is twenty years ago!). Forget worrying about weight – by the time you meet up with Sue and Barb you will be sylph-like! Will be thinking of you and am wishing you an good start to 2021 in the meantime. x

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  6. Mary, I’ll be thinking about you during this period, hoping that those little beams are hitting all the right spots, missing the others. I had radio therapy 37 year ago as well as recently am I too was amazed at the progress they have made. The dosages are much less, the targets more exact and the overall results better. I can say with me, that two weeks after treatment the pain stopped; however, your target is to remove the tumor itself.

    Best wishes

    John Sullivan

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    • Not at all weird, Barb. I’m pretty much a technophobe but seeing what these machines can do – and the people who operate them – is fascinating. April isn’t so far away now – scarves at the ready 🙂

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  7. Your photos are fascinating, Mary. I wonder how many of the other patients ask to take photos to put on a blog? 🙂
    Anyway, you have to still be around in March 2022, as I will be 70 years old! I will be expecting you to be there wishing me a happy birthday from Scotland.
    Take care, and have a wonderful NYE celebration. If only to celebrate that you got to see 2021.
    Pete. x

    Liked by 1 person

    • To use one of Pete’s favourite words, the technology is awesome 🙂 It really is. I never thought I’d spend so much time on YouTube watching machines (apart from forest harvesters, which fascinate me). Yeah, I hope we all have a better 2021 – we all deserve it.

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    • I thought I’d replied to your comment, Fraggle, but it seems to have disappeared. I did, because I used Pete’s ‘favourite’ word – awesome – to describe the technology, because it really is. The staff must receive a different kind of training in people skills because they are calm, matter of fact, open to questions – actually seem to welcome the chance to explain things – and don’t do the fake sympathy bit. I didn’t say all that in my first comment.

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  8. Double wow from me!
    First because of the photos and explanation – so good. Those clever things to get the radiation shaped just so – and the area looks huge!
    But second, and major wow is because you are looking forward. I am sooooo glad for you. This is such a change from September. Really pleased for you and hugging you like mad – as if you could stand that. And of course, Roscoe just looks smugly at me. He’s sending kisses, as usual. ❤
    Good luck with next week's food 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, Jemima, thank you. I hadn’t realised I was more positive and looking forward – but, yes, from assuming I wouldn’t make the end of this year to hoping (believing, even) to reach April 2021 is quite a change. Maybe, one day, we’ll get to share a real hug 🙂 In the meantime virtual ones have to be enough – along with kisses from Roscoe.

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  9. Thanks for all the explanation. I’m a doctor, but things have moved on since I studied, and having worked in psychiatry most of the time I don’t get much direct exposure to this. Fascinating as it is, the good news is that you are looking forward to the future now. Take lots of care and enjoy the start of 2021. Take care, Mary. ♥♥

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    • I think some of the developments are fairly recent, Olga – and no doubt are changing all the time. But, my goodness, the cost. I saw somewhere online that one machine like the one which delivers my radiotherapy costs around $5.5 million!
      Thanks for your good wishes and I hope 2021 will be a good year for you xx

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  10. “Enjoying” is the wrong word, but I do like your posts about the cancer and treatments. A view into a world I hope never to have to experience, but it makes it real rather than sci-fi or trips into the wild flights & frights of imagination we can have when we are uninformed.
    Your writing makes us feel we are there along side you. And although you obviously can’t feel it, I’m in no doubt every reader is mentally trying to reach out and hold your hand through each experience.
    See you next year!
    ((hugs))

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m glad you like the posts, Kim. I hope you never have to experience these things but at least you will have more of an inkling than I had. And, actually, I can feel people reaching out – and it keeps me going to have such support. If we could just get rid of Covid I’d feel able to say we will see each other in real life – for a hot chocolate and a hug :)-

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  11. I’m finding your cancer blogs have an awful fascination Mary – I am impressed by the precision of the technology and have fingers and toes crossed that it kicks ass for you.

    Hope you manage to side step the burgers in the hotel! (to answer your question – sadly no the sweet potato fries are not less calorific than potato ones! They are similar and even slightly more calorific (according to WW)).
    Hoping all went well for this round – see you at the next zoom pilates!
    Sending countless good luck wishes
    Sue x

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    • Thank you, Sue. I am also impressed with the technology and precision – and I think the radiographers should have their praises sung much more for the fabulous work they do. I had a feeling that would be answer regarding sweet potato fries! Never mind. Everyone in the radiography department tells me not to worry about the weight gain as my body needs the calories to help repair the healthy cells which will be damaged. I believe we start Plates again on 4th. I’ll be in Edinburgh with my mat!

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    • I really hadn’t expected that three dimensional one of the tumour, Robbie. So far, the treatment has been OK and I’ve been lucky to have had a good break from it over Christmas and again for New Year. After that it might be tougher as I only get one day off. We’ll see. It does feel a bit worrying when the mask is clipped on but fortunately it’s not for long – three or four minutes.

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  12. I can just picture the little robot running from side to side Mary. It’s great to know how the radiology works. I think it always helps to know exactly what’s happening. I would see it as a challenge to see how much weight you can put on in the first few weeks!
    Juliet xx

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    • I’m glad you can picture it, Juliet. Although my eyes are firmly shut and I can see nothing, I can ‘hear’ it on its little metal feet! I don’t have music playing because I like to focus on the sounds the machine makes. The radiographers humour me by saying ti does sound like a little robot 🙂 I’m sure my mask is getting tighter because my face is fatter!

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    • Mary, I have never seen anything like that–nor would I have ever expected a tumor to look like “a rare piece of coral.” Intriguing as it is, I hope the radiation lasers it away. May the new year bring you all the good news and blessings you deserve! As Toni said: You are awesome.

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      • If you cut me open, Linda, (please don’t) I think the tumour would look like a dark lumpy thing but the photo from the head of the machine really makes it look quite spectacular. Yes, however it looks, I don’t want to keep it and hope the radiation is starting to shrink it, though apparently it takes quite a while to affect it as the radiation works on after the treatment sessions finish. I don’t feel awesome, though I think the technology and those wonderful radiographers are. All the best for next year and thanks for your support.

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  13. Mary, only you can capture a sense of the sci-fi and ethereal through all this. The photo looking up is mesmerising… as if I want to look further, beyond and all will be revealed! Wishing you a so much better year and not long until those bulbs are out for you, beckoning to Spring! Hugs xx

    Liked by 1 person

    • I was astonished when I saw the photo, Annika. I expected to see the dark blobby shape which is what I see with my eyes – it’s really weird – but fascinating. Yes, spring is on its way although I’ve seen more snow on the journey to and from Edinburgh than I’ve seen in years! Hugs back.

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