Relaxing into Radiation Therapy

Going for radiation therapy, or as I’ve come to name it, ‘the spa’
Going for radiation therapy, or as I’ve come to name it, ‘the spa’
Going for radiation therapy, or as I’ve come to name it, ‘the spa’
Going for radiation therapy, or as I’ve come to name it, ‘the spa’

THUNDER BAY – HEALTHBEAT – I have walked over 100km in the month since chemo ended. My head closely resembles that of a baby bird, and I am still painting on my eyebrows in the morning, but my hair is slowly growing back, the ugly ridged part of my nails is growing out, and my ‘chemo weight’ is half gone. I am starting to feel like myself again. And, as with every other phase of this cancer treatment, it would seem that as soon as you begin to feel good again, the new part of treatment begins. 

I did some reading about radiation before having my planning appointment. It promised to be, from all accounts, a ‘walk in the park’ compared to chemo. I think that because this is what I had heard, I kind of assumed I would sail through it without any side effects at all. I really like the fact that there is a ‘dry run’; it’s kind of a warm-up for the next portion of the marathon.

During the dry run, you are lined up on the table, measurements are taken, x-rays are done and you get the chance to experience almost exactly what you will during each treatment. It’s all very ‘sci-fi’ – you are belted onto a narrow table in a very specific position, the table is raised up high enough so that the machine can rotate around you and radiate from different angles, all carefully calculated, and then the machines do their thing. The radio is playing (I always ask to have it turned up) on a very catchy 80’s station, and the machines groan and clunk and I’m sure there are laser beams flashing across my body at various angles, but I don’t look.

What I realized right away on treatment day one was my need to visualize, to find a way to get out of my head and into almost a meditative state during the treatment. If I focused on what was going on I felt an instant wave of anxiety bordering on panic and I had to force my brain in a different direction. Not necessarily a happy place, but a safe place where I concentrated on inhaling and exhaling and nothing else. Finding this place got me through the first real treatment. Regardless of the fact that you don’t feel anything during radiation, you are still keenly aware that again, your body is at the mercy of Science, and that, like with chemotherapy, control of the situation is out of your hands.

Second treatment. Went right back to my safe place, breathing in and out, and was able to crack a few jokes and laugh with the lovely radiation ladies down in what I now refer to as the ‘spa’.

Third treatment found me in a bit of a different place, one in which I hope to remain for the rest of treatment. I realized halfway through treatment that those beams I refused to look at are doing something useful. Finishing any work that chemo may not have taken care of. And I had myself a bit of a Khal Drogo moment (pardon the Game of Thrones reference; I have had a lot of time on my hands!) where I saw the beam as a knife and I wanted to lean into it and feel its effects completely. I guess my brain needed to have a bit of a warrior moment; a flash of ‘BRING IT ON’. We do whatever works to get ourselves through our solitary fears. This one works for me, today.

There is some fatigue already, surprisingly. I’m not chemo-tired. I feel like my body wants a nap when I get home from radiation – not unlike the tired you feel after a day at the beach. I have timed my treatments so that I have the opportunity to close my eyes and nap in the afternoons before my kids arrive and it’s back to home-reading-lunch-bag-emptying-snack-making-kid-corralling and dinner-making. So far, so good. 

Tanya Gouthro

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