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Saturday, November 17, 2012

A Daily Date with a Particle Accelerator

The adventure continues.  This week I began radiotherapy (aka "les Rayons") at the cancer center.  As my primary care physician promised it was a whole different kettle of fish from the chemo.  No nausea and no long lazy afternoons on the drip (and that's a huge relief) but also a lot less "amitié solidaire" which I miss.  A lot.

It all started on Tuesday with an interview with a manipulatrice (operator) who explained to me their system for getting one month's sessions done as efficiently and effectively as possible.  There is a schedule and every day I have a date with the accelerator, a Clinac 600.  The exact time of each treatment varies each day so one morning I'm up and out the door early for a 10:30 AM session and on another day I can "faire la grasse matinée" (sleep in) because I don't have to be at the clinic until 3:30 in the afternoon.

The first appointment on Tuesday was the longest - about 30 minutes - because in addition to the tattoos I got last time and the orientation, the technician drew arcane designs on my chest in permanent ink.  These are used in order to properly position the device for each session.  I thought about taking a picture and showing it to you but to tell you the truth the way my scarred, tattooed, inked torso looks these days scares the hell out of me.  Something tells me that you would find this to be TMI (too much information).  So let's just say that the area between my neck and my waist looks something like a cross between this:

And this:

So how does it work now that I've been drawn and quartered?  Every day I walk to Versailles-Chantiers, take the train in to Saint Cloud, go to the radiotherapy reception desk where I flash my membership card and pick up my chart.  Then I take the elevator down into the bowels of the clinic (-3), slip my chart through a slot in a door and find a seat in the waiting room.  When they call my name I enter a small dressing room where I store my things, hang up my coat, undress to the waist, slip on a sweater, and walk into the chamber with the accelerator.  The operator then positions me under the device and leaves the room.  A bell chimes and then the machine takes over and starts moving about (reminds me of every Terminator movie I've ever seen).  When the device stops in what I presume is the correct position, I hear clicking noises that I imagine is the device shooting the photons into me.

 What is my job in all of this?  To stay as still as possible and relax.  Not too hard since the entire session lasts for less than 5 minutes.  As of yesterday that was 4 session downs and about 20 more to go. I will be done just before Christmas.

The whole business is quite efficient.  The process is clear and thus far every appointment has been on time and I am literally in and out in a matter of minutes.  And that turns out to be both a good and a bad thing.  The good part is that I have a schedule and I can plan my day around my appointments.  The part I don't like so much is that there isn't really much human interaction in the process. I present a card and get my file.  I slip my file into the door and wait until my name is called.  After being positioned on the table under the machine I am left alone in the room while I'm being radiated.  It's a little like an assembly line and while almost everyone is very kind there really isn't any time to talk and to get to know anyone.

Not that I'm complaining about the staff mind you.  These people are trying to save my life which means they have my eternal gratitude.  But I am missing the solidarity that I experienced in the chemo service where one really feels like it's a team effort and everyone (staff and patients alike) has the time to get to know each other.

That was my impression after my first week.  Perhaps my feelings about it will change over the next few days.  In fact it is far more likely that I will find unexpected treasures in this new experience if I can learn to let go of the old one and stop judging.  In fact there is something really funny about me feeling nostalgic for chemo. No reason to think that radiation therapy will be better or worse than chemo - just different.  And as Pema Chodron said, "Everything in our lives can wake us up or put us to sleep, and basically it's up to us to let it wake us up."


Rosy said...

An incredible narration, Victoria. I'm sure it's helping a lot of people. Full of optimism, although we all know that in spite of your humor - those drawings are quite satirical - noboddy in the world would want to go through all that. A cousin of mine did, and began calling herself "The Roadmap". (She's fine now - and even misses her roadmapped torso). Thanks for sharing this.

Jacques said...

Good luck with your radiation therapy.

My wife had some prophylactic radiation therapy, following her chemo therapy, following the removal of one small cancerous nodule on her left lung. She lost her hair during the chemo and it started to grow back, and then she had the radiation therapy on both sides of the head and she ended up with a Mohawk. Her is now all back with less gray and a frizzy patch on one side of the head. But her coiffeur does a good job trimming it

I went with her on all her visits and I agree with you that the chemo people are a lot friendlier that the radiation people, probably because you spend hours in the former and minutes in the latter.

Hang in there and you will be just like new, and life will be good again. :-)

Jacques said...

BTW, the Clinac 600 is an electron accelerator where the electrons hit a target and convert to X-rays which are accurately focused on the affected areas in the body to deliver the right dose at the right place and avoid irradiating healthy tissue.

You are in good hands. :-)

Shirl and Rowan said...

Hiya, Victoria. We had suspected that you had become busy with the rays. Your descriptions are worthy of publishing for a broader audience sometime. They will really help people. Personally, we love your translations - especially make the fat morning and manipulatrice! Loved the pix, and so happy that you will be done for Christmas. What a nice present! Love the variety of your blog entries. We must get to work on ours - today. You inspire us!
Shirl and Rowan
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Anonymous said...

Lovely post, capturing the dynamic between human contact and efficiency, and fun graphics on how we get marked up for radiation. Nice that all will be done by Christmas. Best wishes.

P Moore said...

I certainly hope this is the final turn in the road to recovery. I marvel how you are able to keep finding the silver linings in your tough journey.

Anonymous said...

Hello Victoria
You are an exceptional woman. Bon courage and god bless.

Just Me said...


I was taking the train into the Sydney CBD in Sydney today and listening to my podcasts, and heard this one.

I immediately, thought, I bet Victoria would enjoy this one by Radio Lab. Maybe it will bring a smile during this difficult time.

What's up Doc?


Victoria FERAUGE said...

Rosy, I *love* the Roadmap. That is just wonderful.

@Jacques, I would have loved to have seen that mohawk. My hair is just starting to come back and it looks like it's FRIZZY. Please give my best to your wife and if I lived near you I'd be asking for the name of her coiffeur. :-)

@shirl and rowan, still in Boston? Good to hear from you two!

@lymphomajourney, And best wishes to you too. I so enjoy your blog and it's been a great resource for me and I would imagine many other. Thank you.

@just me, Will watch over my morning coffee. Thanks. Hope you are over your jet lag.

Anonymous said...

Hi Victoria!

Good luck with your therapy and God bless.

I enjoy reading your blog and appreciate all the contributions you have made here and on Isaac Brock.

Keep fighting, you're an inspiration for everyone.


Dr Purva Pius said...
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