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Radiotherapy

Today I had my second dose of radiotherapy, prescribed to address the back pain I have been experiencing lately. I thought I ought to describe what happened, as it was all new to me. This was meant to be palliative therapy rather than curative therapy, so it may well differ in detail from others’ experiences, but I’m sure the essentials are much the same.

We knew, from CT scans and a bone scan, that there was at least one tumour on my T8 vertebra, and probably another on my L5 vertebra. It was the tumour on T8 that has been causing me problems for the last week or more, so the consultant booked me in for this palliative therapy fairly soon after my fifth cycle of chemotherapy started. On Tuesday I went back to Cheltenham to have the first dose of radiotherapy. But before they could actually give it to me they had to work out where it would go. I was placed in a simulator, flat on my back as that was the only position I could adopt at all comfortably, and some X-rays were taken to identify the relevant locations. Then an eight-centimetre square was projected onto my stomach so that the technician could first draw it in with a permanent marker, and then put in some small tattooed dots at the corners and centre of the square. That process was repeated on my chest, for the T8 vertebra. Then it was back to the waiting room for about 40 minutes, to wait for just one of the doses to be given.

I was taken into another room and asked to lie on another table, just like the previous one. My head was pillowed in a cup to prevent it moving, and then the table was moved around until the projected square lined up with the marks on my chest. Then the whole mechanism rotated around my body so that it pointed at my back instead of at my front. The technicians left the room, and shortly afterwards a buzzing sound started. It went on for about a minute, then stopped, and then started again for about ten seconds. That was it. The technicians came back in and said I was free to go.

I noticed that the skin on my back had grown quite warm, as though it were slightly sunburnt. I was expecting this, but not as immediately as it seemed to come on. When I got home, Gillian slathered the region in aqueous cream that we had put into the fridge to cool down. It was definitely soothing, but I’m not sure how necessary it was for a single dose. I think if I were having a course of radiotherapy I would be keener on treating the burning, as I’m sure it would build up over 20 or 30 sessions.

Today I went back to Cheltenham, driven very kindly by Hugh because Gillian had to be in work today, and the process was repeated. This time I was a little more with it and managed to ask a few technical questions about the system. So now I know that the machine I was using was a linear accelerator with a beam energy of 6 MeV, and was set to deliver a dose of 8 Grays, which I understand is quite a high single dose, but normal for a single, palliative treatment.

{ 2 } Comments

  1. David Bilsby | 4 May 2010 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

    Gillian I think you will need to look out for Chris splitting his shirt open, turning green and stomping around the house in a bad temper.

    Or am I getting this mixed up with something else?

  2. Gillian | 4 May 2010 at 9:24 pm | Permalink

    Good point. You never know with radiation – I’ll keep a close look out for any newly-emerging super-powers!