Month: March 2014

Last two radiotherapy sessions

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On Monday I was due to have a CT scan as well as a radiotherapy session. I warned the radiotherapy department last week, to make sure the appointments didn’t clash. The radiotherapist said she’d give me an appointment close to the one for the scan, so that I didn’t have to wait around too long, but also not to worry if I was late for the radiotherapy appointment. My scan was at 12:05, so I was a bit surprised to discover that my radiotherapy appointment was due at 15:25. I decided I’d just have to find somewhere to have lunch and read the paper in the meantime.

I arrived at the imaging department and went to reception. ‘Hello, I’m here for an appointment in the name of Blunt.’

‘Ah yes, Sarah Blunt, is the patient with you?’

‘I am the patient: Eamon Blunt.’

‘I don’t have an appointment for you.’

I pulled out my trump card: ‘I have the letter for the appointment.’

The receptionist looked at the letter. ‘You’re at the wrong hospital!’

All of my appointments so far had been at this hospital that I was standing in. But the letter said I was due to attend another hospital about two miles away, which is part of the same NHS trust. The receptionist phoned through to the local hospital’s CT scanner department to see if they could fit me in.

‘We can see you here if you’re willing to wait.’ I had to wait anyway. He also phoned the other hospital to let them know what had happened. I wonder how much I had cost the NHS there? After the scan I was still ten minutes late for my radiotherapy.

My final radiotherapy appointment was at 18:55 on Tuesday. That evening there was a big football match on Satellite TV, the Manchester derby. So I arranged to meet Mike in a pub at 8pm to watch it. Inevitably, the radiotherapy department was running late. There are three or four machines in the department. The one I usually use was running two hours late. Luckily, I was booked for another machine, which was only running 45 minutes late. The radiotherapist asked me how I was. I told her I had been having some pain when swallowing. She suggested gargling with a soluble pain killer to reduce the pain. She also said that it might get worse over the next week or two before getting better. But I think it was at its worst over the weekend, so I hope she’ll be proved wrong. I finally arrived at the pub in time for the second half of the match and made my apologies to Mike.

Radiotherapy

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Before starting radiotherapy, I was told that the machine was like a big shower head that rotates around you. Also I was informed about possible side effects. These include tiredness and a skin rash, something like sunburn. The radiotherapist said that if I wash my chest and back using aqueous cream, it might help.

To me, the machine looks more like a giant food mixer, without the blades, of course. I have to remove my shirt and lie on the bed of the machine, with my head cradled in the same position every time, using a fitting that’s attached to the table by the radiotherapist. The therapists then use laser cross-hairs to move the table into the correct position, with mm accuracy. There are always at least two therapists. The second one double-checks the first one’s measurements. They then leave the room and the therapy starts. I can see some shielding moving within the machine, to make sure the radiation is targeted on the right area. Then I’m blasted with high energy x-rays for about 15 seconds. I see the shielding moving to another position. Then the ‘shower head’ moves underneath me, and I’m blasted for another 15 seconds, and that’s it. The whole process takes about 5 minutes. I don’t feel anything; it’s just like having a normal x-ray.

As for the side effects, I do get very tired after the treatment. I’m used to that now, having had several months of chemotherapy. I haven’t experienced any skin rash. I took the therapist’s advice and washed with aqueous cream. That seems to have done the trick.

It can be frustrating when my appointment is in the afternoon. Both times that’s happened so far, I’ve had to wait an hour for a five minute treatment. The first time, I used the wait constructively, and worked out a new four person passing pattern, which has since been added to my passing book. My final two appointments next week are both after midday.

I went juggling on Wednesday. I had a really good passing session with Mark, a juggler who’s just returned to London, having spent 18 months working in the USA. It’s the best passing session I’ve had for some time.

At my appointment on Thursday, when the therapists left the room, the shielding didn’t move into position. I had been told that if I was unhappy about anything I could wave and the therapists would see, as they are constantly watching. I thought: ‘I could get an unfocused dose of high energy x-rays, which could be very harmful, potentially affecting my heart and lungs.’ So I waved to get their attention. One of the therapists came in and said: ‘keep still during the treatment.’ I explained my concerns. She reassured me that they were taking an image to make sure I was in the right position. Sure enough, after they had taken the image, the shielding moved into place. If they had told me that before they started, I wouldn’t have made a fuss. I guess they thought I wouldn’t notice the difference.

Apart from the tiredness, I’m feeling really good following the radiotherapy treatment.

My first tattoo.

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I had my last chemotherapy session two weeks ago and I’m feeling pretty good. So I decided to treat myself and get my first tattoo. First I had to go for a CT scan to plan for my next treatment, which is radiotherapy on my chest. The treatment starts next Wednesday and lasts for two weeks.

When I arrived at the radiotherapy department, everyone was stood outside because there was a fire alarm. Apparently there are builders working in this part of the hospital and they had tripped the alarm. Every five minutes or so the hospital maintenance staff turned the alarm off, but before we had a chance to enter the building, the alarm started off again. After about twenty minutes we were allowed to go in, despite the alarm still sounding. It’s amazing how trusting you can be in these situations. I thought: ‘I want to get in and get my scan done, so I can go and get my tattoo and go home.’ Maybe I should have been thinking: ‘what if there’s a fire in some cupboard and everyone’s ignoring the fire alarm?’

The alarm wasn’t too annoying in the reception area, but pretty quickly I was called down to the treatment area, where it was much worse. Thankfully it stopped after ten minutes or so. Before my scan the nurse drew some marks on my chest with a felt pen. Once the scan was finished, she made one of those marks permanent and gave me my first tattoo. It’s a blue freckle. It’s to ensure that I’m in exactly the same position every time I come for radiotherapy.