I have found time at last to update our blog! I have settled in to a routine with my radiation treatments, but it leaves very little free time to sit at the computer and type. I don’t see the kids as much with this new routine, so I feel guilty sitting at the computer when I am finally at home with them! The holidays flew by and any spare minutes there were spent with family and friends. We had a great Christmas break and brought in the new year in the usual Zacharias fashion–with friends, family, fishing, and Busch Light :-)
We also celebrated Mia’s birthday a little early while our family was here for Christmas. She was thrilled to have the presence (and presents) of all her little cousins at her Tinker bell party.
Overall, radiation has been going pretty well. About two weeks ago, I started to have some discomfort with swallowing. Part of the radiation treatment focuses on the lymph nodes in my lower neck and along my left collar-bone, so this was an expected side effect. It kind of feels like I’m swallowing around a big lump at the base of my throat. It’s a weird sensation, but certainly not one that has affected my ability to eat! :-) It just means smaller bites and slower eating.
Last week, I really started to notice the skin changes. The lower part of my neck and collar-bone are turning pink and the whole left side of my chest is turning ruddy & brown. So far, the only painful area is under my arm–the rest just itches. I have been following the radiation staff’s advice and have been using all of their recommended products. My corner of the bathroom countertop is packed with moisturizers, creams, and ointments!
In my last post I added a link to an article about radiation treatment. (Here it is again, if you missed it the first time.) I thought I’d also share a few pictures and try to describe it a little more, if you’re interested. If not–just skip to the end!
Each day when I arrive, I change into a gown and place my stuff in a small locker. At 1:00 pm (give or take 5-10 minutes) I am escorted to the radiation treatment room which holds the linear accelerator. This is the machine that delivers the radiation treatment. Ordinary x-ray machines cannot provide the focused and specialized delivery of the radiation required to kill cancer cells. This bad boy can.
This is the door to the room where the magic happens. It’s at least 6 inches thick. Probably more. Once I’m situated on the table, everyone hightails it out of the room and closes this door behind them. Remember when I was talking about getting chemotherapy for the first time? The pharmacists and nurses all wore double gloves, gowns and masks to protect themselves from the chemo drugs that were going into my body. This door kind of brings back those same feelings…
This is the linear accelerator. I lay on my back, with my hands above my head–hanging on to those two little white cylinders. The technicians position my upper body precisely using the four tattoos and lasers. My feet are held together loosely with a large rubber band. I think this is to prevent any mindless wiggling or fidgeting during treatments. My chest is exposed and a large 11 x 14 inch gel pack is placed over my left chest wall and wrapped around my side. This, they tell me, is to “trick the machine into giving a higher dose.” The table is raised about 4 feet into the air and slides to my right about 8 inches. They cover me back up with the gown and treatment begins–after they all bail out of the room and are safely behind that massive door, of course.
Once the table is raised, I am about 12-18 inches away from that black square on the top of the machine. The whole machine rotates around me during the treatment time. It starts out tilted to my right side at about the 2 o’clock position and moves to the left, stopping seven more times during the 15 minute treatment until it is directly underneath me (radiating the back side of the lymph nodes along my collar-bone.)
Inside the black square, there are hundreds of metal sheets stacked next to each other. Those metal sheets slide side to side about every 45 seconds, making tons of different shapes, allowing only certain areas to be radiated. Sometimes the open space looks like California. Sometimes it looks like a T-Rex. Occasionally, it’s only the size of a pea. It is never a regular old square or rectangle–yet the burn on my chest has clearly defined edges–at a perfect right angle.
As I said, the whole thing takes about 15 minutes, sometimes more if they take any extra images or x-rays. Some days I catch a quick cat nap while I lay there. Most days I just pray–thanking God for my healthy family, praying that this is all working, and praying for others who need comfort or healing. I thank God for letting it be me laying on that table and not one of my children.
I have learned a lot of lessons along this journey–and no doubt there will be more. But perhaps one of the most important, is that no matter how bad I think it is–it could be so much worse. It only takes a few hours at work or mere minutes with another cancer patient to realize how much I have to be thankful for.
One more thing to add along those lines–in keeping with the new year tradition, I would like to challenge you to add a ‘new’ New Year’s resolution to the trusty “lose weight, exercise more” promises that we all make.
I challenge you to give.
Make a meal for someone in need. Donate to a cause that is close to your heart. Send a card to that person who needs extra help or encouragement. Donate your time or money to community fundraisers. Donate or go to those silent auctions and benefits in your community.
Be intensely grateful for what you have and be generous to those in need.
Easier than facing the treadmill and foregoing the fries—don’t you think?