Last Thursday marked my final session of whole brain radiation (WBR). Altogether, I had ten treatments (skipping weekends and holidays). After the first “set up” appointment, where they created a custom molded plastic mask to hold my head in the exact same position each time, the actual radiation process was a breeze.
Before each session they snapped me into the mask, which was affixed to the table. After lining everything up with laser beams, the radiation machine zapped one side of my head, then swung around and zapped the other. It’s nothing you feel at the time, but there is a strange chemical, ozone-type smell that happens (likely from the plastic face mask). From front desk back to waiting room, the whole procedure is finished in about ten minutes each session.
The only real health hiccup happened after the first session when I found myself with a slamming headache and no ability to keep food down. I ended up staying overnight at Yale’s Smilow hospital where they pumped me up with steroids and fluids and got me eating again. I also learned about a great alternative to the emergency room at Smilow – the emergent cancer care center – where your doctor arranges for you to receive immediate treatment on a floor with none of the waiting that the ER usually entails.
Speaking of steroids, you may recall me bitching about them in the past. In fact, I had just weaned off a nine-month course of them this October. Dexamethasone is great for stopping swelling in the brain (what was causing my symptoms after WBR session one), but it has some nasty side effects – insomnia, muscle weakness, puffiness, and an endless appetite. But as I told my radiation oncologist, I’d rather be tired, weak, and fat then dead, so steroids are back in my life for now.
My hair started to fall out on Friday in the shower, the day after my final treatment. The nurses in radiation oncology had danced around whether I’d lose my hair completely, settling on the “it will definitely thin” response. It’s gone now, with the help of a quick shave to take the rest. Now I’m re-evaluating my hat collection (wigs are just too itchy and uncomfortable).
After over a month off, I will go back in for my Herceptin and Perjeta infusions on Monday. It’s also time for Dr. K (my medical oncologist) to put in orders for my regular CT and bone scans to check on my cancer from the neck down. My radiation oncologist is planning on a follow up MRI of my brain in early January. So I will be fully scanned shortly after the new year, and will hopefully receive good news from that.
Thanks again to all my friends and family that have been checking in, sending meals, and keeping us in their thoughts and prayers. I’d like to ask you to also keep my Uncle Ray in those thoughts and prayers if you can, as he was just diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He is a kind man who has given much of his time volunteering to drive cancer patients to treatment and appointments. Now he is starting his own treatment path and we are all hoping it will be a comfortable one that maintains his quality of life.
I’ll leave you with this video of me banging the gong at the end of my WBR treatments. I had mixed feelings about it, as it doesn’t symbolize an end to treatment, just another step in the process complete. But the intent was nice and the staff so supportive I thought, what the hell, I’ll bang that gong!