Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Radiation therapy preparation redux

Today's radiation therapy preparation went well, I think. You might remember that the oncologist hadn't been able to figure out a way to give me the treatments without affecting my heart and she wanted to try a different position for the radiation. Because the position is different, they need to repeat the CT scan and i went in at 7:45am this morning to do that.

While the basic procedure was the same as before - get me into the right position and lying still and then taking CT scans - the details differed. This time, they didn't use the bean bag mold thingy to hold me in position. Instead, I had to put my arms over my head, with my hand resting against poles situated above my head. I wasn't supposed to grip the poles because they wanted my arms relaxed (especially since I was in that position for a half-hour or so) so I ended up kind of resting the webbing between my thumb and forefinger against the poles with my thumbs straight and my fingers loosely curled around the poles. 

I have a hard time raising my left arm (the side where my primary cancer was) over my head both because they took out lymph nodes in my armpit, leaving scar tissue and reducing mobility, and because I have lymphedema on that side, reducing mobility further. Therefore, the position wasn't what I'd call comfortable but it also wasn't unbearable. 

Once they got me into the basic position they started finding all the alignment tattoos and pushing and pulling me into the exact position. Because I have the original alignment tattoos and they added new tattoos during the last preparation, they had to figure out which to use. The nurses ended up circling the ones to use and crossing out the other ones, and then taking photos of my tattoos for my chart.

After I was fully aligned in position, they put a small weight on my diaphragm so that they could see where my diaphragm was on the scan. Then we got started.

I spent the rest of the time lying in the CT scanner. The scanner itself is donut-shaped; the thing that scans goes around and around and around in the donut while the patient lies on a table in the middle of the donut. During an actual scan the scanner picks up speed but during all the waiting, it kept a slower pace and to me that pace sounded like whoosh-whoosh-whoosh-whoosh-whoosh. I found this noise oddly calming, almost like water or fluid whooshing back and forth around me. Between that soothing noise and the fact that it was 8am, I dozed off a bit.

They did two CT scans, one with me just breathing normally and one with me holding my breath. They also had me practice holding my breath so that I was comfortable doing it in that position. I'd been practicing holding my breath since I got the call from the radiation oncologist but I hadn't been practicing with my arms above my head and a small weight on my diaphragm - and those do make holding my breath feel different.

When the nurse came to get me and we talked about what we were going to do, I told her that I'd been practicing holding my breath but feeling nervous about whether I was doing it right. She said to be sure to fill my lungs, not my belly, and to keep my back flat on the table. I kept these points in mind when I was holding my breath.

Basically, what I did was take a breath in, blow it alllllll out, and then breathe in slowly and completely, trying to fill my lungs from the bottom up. When I'd been practicing, I kept a count to see how long I was holding my breath so I did that during the radiation prep too. I didn't have to hold my breath for nearly as long as I can so I was pleased about that.

The nurses said that I'd done a good job holding my breath because I didn't move and because I'd got my diaphragm up really high. Hopefully this approach will work. They did say that there were still more approaches the radiation oncologist can take, so I'm not out of options here. That's a load off of my mind. 

So now I just wait for someone to call me to either set up my first radiation appointment or to tell me that this approach won't work either and I need to go back for a third prep session.

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