Radiation Therapy In a Nutshell (Through the Eyes of Nicole)
This post was going to be called Radiation Therapy 101, but I decided I do not know enough about it to offer even a rudimentary discourse. Instead I will shed a bit of insight as I know it today.
The goal of radiation therapy as used for a cancer patient is to direct the beams in areas in order to damage the DNA of cells rendering them useless. Radiation is the third step in the hopeful eradication of the cancerous tumor that once inhabited my body. (Step 1 as you may recall was surgery (mastectomy) and Step 2 was four chemotherapy medicines (AC followed by Taxol and targeted therapy Herceptin)).
Normal/healthy cells have an ability to repair the DNA sequences due to a biological mechanism that they normally possess (miracle of life!), whereas cancer cells do not have the ability to repair these mixed up base pairs (remember genetics/biology way back when?) After all, if the cancer cells did contain these repair mechanisms, they would have fixed the DNA before they went rogue, hence, would never have become what we refer to as cancerous.
Radiation planning is quite intensive. I have seen the films of my torso in which the planning was based. A CT scan provided the planning “scape” as I will call it. The location and size of tumor (including the region where surgeon Dr. Leah Kelly was not able to get a clean margin during tumor removal due to the closeness of the skin layer) dictate where the radiation beams will need to penetrate. During the planning the team of doctors and physicists determine a custom treatment protocol that takes into account the vital organs (yeah, team! thank you for considering my heart and lungs important).
As mentioned in a previous post, I lay on the table with my head and arm cradled in the Nicole Nada mold and I am lined up with green laser beams and tattoos in order to be in the exact position every time. My plan includes 3 different fields (angles direct from above and “tangentials”) and one sliver bordering my right lung gets a special treatment referred to as electrons which act on a level a bit more superficial (as to not get down as deep as my lung). Every other day a bolus is placed on my chest for all fields except the electron field. The bolus is made of a material that has properties equivalent to tissue when irradiated and the purpose is to modify the dose at skin surface and at depth. In other words, the bolus acts as “pretend tissue” and using it every other day allows the beams to penetrate differently and to a different depth. It is all part of the planning and each and every little “trick” used during my sessions makes me feel like I am in excellent hands. The handful of technicians that I see daily are very friendly, interesting, and fortunately have good music taste. They always offer a warmed blanket which, coupled with my hospital robe, makes me feel like I am at a spa. (ha ha)
I completed radiation number 12 (out of thirty something) this morning and am heading north to Arcata in moments to be home with my family for the weekend.
Enjoy your weekend, I will certainly enjoy mine!