Well, actually, I'm not really radioactive. Apparently, by the time I leave the treatment room, all of the radiation has left me. Or so the internet says. I probably believe more of what the internet tells me than I should, but since it speaks better English than many of the people at the hospital, I turn to it regularly.
I have now had one radiation treatment and have 32 left to go. Everyday for the next 6 weeks I'll head to the hospital to be zapped. I also have three new tattoos. I know some women find them very emotional but so far, I couldn't care less about them. They are about the size of a pin head and I'm positive no one will ever notice them unless I point them out. Also, I'd have to be wearing a bikini which isn't something I do a lot.
What is radiation like, you wonder? Well, so far (and this may be premature) it is way better than chemo. I'll give you the rundown of my first treatment.
After getting changed into one of those hospital gown tops, you enter a dark-ish room. I'm sure the walls to this room are extra thick, but I only assume that is the case since the machine inside has one job and that is to be radioactive. Two techs come in and get you into a position they approve of on the bed. In my case that means my arm is in a brace above my head. Then they line up my tattoos according to some lasers lines that are projected from the machine to make sure that I am getting zapped in all the right places. Once that is done, they depart and leave me alone with my thoughts.
Yesterday, those thoughts weren't all that pleasant. In fact, my heart started racing. While I prefer radiation, the upside of chemo was that at least people are in the room with you and can hold your hand. With radiation, you go it alone. So I did what I always do - I took very deep breaths and I started counting. The lady tech said 5 minutes in the machine so I figured I would just count to 300 if I had to. I didn't have to. Eventually I calmed down with an inner monologue that went like this:
"Laura, calm down. They are zapping you right now and you can't even feel it. Wait, is that heat I feel? No, no, it isn't. Or is it? Take a deep breath...good....now another. What is that sound? Is the machine on now? Was it on before? How long has this been? Probably 60 seconds. Maybe more. Okay, now is that heat? No, no that isn't heat, that is just in my head. Breathe. Oh, the machine is moving. Okay, so maybe I'm half way? I'm probably half way. I really should have kept counting. Why can't I focus on anything..... Well, this isn't that bad. And this bed is kind of comfortable. I wonder if I could fall asleep here. The whirring sound is kind of soothing. Okay, the zapping sound is back. So maybe that is the radiation part? Oh who cares."
As you can tell, I am a bit of a panic button. Luckily, I have always been able to talk myself through these fits of panic. After about 3 minutes the techs came back in. They tried to tell me not to shower, again, but I put my foot down. This nonsense had got to stop. Koreans of the world, LET ME SHOWER! Do you know after birth here, Korean women are not allowed to shower for three weeks. THREE WEEKS!!!!!! AFTER GIVING BIRTH (you know what happens during birth right!?!?!). I was not having it! So she got the permanent ink to draw on me instead. They must wonder about this crazy foreign woman who asks all these questions and makes all these demands but in the end I got my way (and a shower last night).
After the drawing, it was done. I got dressed, came home and put on some special cream that is supposed to help my skin tolerate the treatments. Many people get what they call a "mild to moderate sunburn" with radiation. I'm hopeful that this will only be a minor problem for me. I don't really get sunburns. I think I've had about 3 in my entire life.
I feel a bit nauseous today which according to radio-oncologists is not a possible side effect of radiation (or at least not in my case, for breast cancer it is not considered a realistic side effect because the stomach is outside the field). However, the message boards for some of the sites I go to are filled with many women who have experienced nausea during radiation for breast cancer. Whether it's in my head or is a real side effect I can't say. However, it isn't that bad and it certainly can't hold a candle to the way I felt after chemo.
So there you have it 1 down, 32 to go.