THE NEXT CORNER

  • Rich

Radiotherapy


It’s been over a month since I last wrote, during which time I’m sorry to tell you that not much has happened aside from a minor referendum, national and governmental meltdown, a wedding anniversary, and Glastonbury and Wimbledon, both enjoyed via the medium of the Red Button on the BBC, but I’ll take this opportunity to fill in some other blanks for you anyway.

When I last wrote, I had only recently been ejected from The Conquest Hospital, gawd bless ‘er soul, and I was feeling pretty washed out, weak and underweight. I am pleased to inform you that a decent recovery has since been made. When I came out of hospital I weighed just over 65kg, down from 75kg a couple of months before, and 80kg last year. In the ensuing four weeks, I have thus far managed to regain seven of those lost kilos, but there’s still plenty of room for more. This has been achieved by eating decent amounts of moderately healthy food, along with gargantuan quantities of cake, chocolate brownies, Haribo Star Mix, Maltesers, chocolate milkshakes, the occasional secret Big Mac (sshhh, don’t tell the wife), lashings of homemade elderflower cordial, more chocolate brownies and any other fattening substances I can lay my hands on. It’s been brilliant.

After leaving hospital, I was allowed a week to recover, which was entirely necessary, then Bekky and I were off to Brighton for my initial appointment at the “local” Radiotherapy Department, a cool 90 minutes drive away. They put me through a CT scanner (my fourth in almost as many weeks) in order to pin point the exact location of the bowel tumour, and then they tattooed me. No joke. I now have three tattoos. One on my midriff and one on either hip. Admittedly they are but tiny dots – probably not even a millimetre in diameter –but nonetheless, I now have three tattoos, of which I am very proud. These are used to line up the radiotherapy machine, officially known as a linear accelerator, so that I am zapped in exactly the right spot time and again.

A week later, we were hauled back to The Conquest for a review with my surgeon, a faintly terrifying individual who I gather is an ex-army officer – what he lacks in bedside manner, he more than makes up for in gruff straight-talking. He duly proceeded to scare the bejesus out of us both by telling us a number of home truths. We already knew quite a lot of what he had to tell us but he did provide us with more detail on “the complications” with which I am blessed.

The most significant of these is that the tumour is situated very close to my spine which means it really does need to shrink (ARE YOU LISTENING, TUMOUR?!) in order to allow them a sufficient margin between the spine with its inherent nerves and the tumour itself. As I mentioned previously, the single cycle of chemo which I underwent certainly helped but we now need to hope that the tumour responds equally amenably to the radiotherapy. If not...well...that’s a bridge we’ll cross as and when the time comes. There are still one or two further options available if needs be, I gather.

The next excitement came in the form of a PET scan (insert relevant furry animal joke here) also in Brighton. You may be lucky enough to have experienced one of these before but, for the uninitiated, this was quite a genuine excitement as it involved being injected with radioactive dye to add to the manifold X-rays, CT scans and MRI scans I have had of late.

On arrival I was taken into a small, windowless room with a bed and not much else. After taking a blood sample, which turned out to be somehow acceptable, the chap looking after me left the room and returned a few minutes later wearing a kind of overall and carrying a small lead box. He opened it up to reveal a large lead-lined syringe which looked more like an instrument of torture to me.

Anyway, as he was injecting the radioactivity into me, he told me to be sure to avoid pregnant women and small children for up to six hours after the procedure as I may end up unintentionally irradiating them. “How much damage is this actually doing to me?” I asked. “Oh, not much” he replied chirpily. Most encouraging. Following the injection, I was then told to lie motionless in the small windowless room for an hour – no reading, no listening to music, no nothing. I was initially worried about being left only with my thoughts for a whole hour, but within a few minutes I was asleep.

After the hour had passed, I was awoken and taken through to the machine itself which was in effect an MRI scanner with bells on (not literally) and all went smoothly, after which I was booted out with the reminder to avoid small people ringing in my ears.

On the train on the way home, I did indeed manage to avoid those who fell into the “at risk” category but about half an hour from Rye a gaggle of about thirty luridly dressed, backpack-clad French teenagers boarded “my” carriage – you know the sort, noisy, shouty, student types who proceed to conquer the carriage as if trying to make amends for Agincourt. I could have moved to another carriage but I decided to stay put...

The results of the PET scan did however show some potentially good news – while my bowel tumour showed up as “hot” i.e. actively cancerous, the lesion on my liver did not. This means that the specialists are confident the cancer has NOT spread to the liver after all (whoop whoop!) but they will not be 100% certain until they measure the lesion again in a few weeks time. My oncologist called it “good news” so that’s what we are going with for now.

There followed a few days respite and then, about 10 days ago, the radiotherapy began. As I mentioned, this involves a daily return journey to Brighton which is about 90 minutes away by car on a good day. So far, I’ve done the driving myself as I quite enjoy it in my nippy little motor but, as of now, kindly friends and family have been roped into doing most of the driving for me.

The actual radiotherapy procedure only lasts about ten minutes (although the machines tend to run anything up to an hour late every day) and is entirely painless. It’s all very clever and vaguely Star Trek/James Bond in its nature – one lies on a bed while what can only be described as an oversize camera lens looms over you. The lens is attached to a beam which in turn is fixed to a rotating thingummy attached the wall which allows the lens to move all the way around you. Clear? If you are, you’ve done better than me... Here's a picture I took for your education/information.

Basically the lens can fire its radio waves into me from above, below and either side which it does on a daily basis so as not to singe the same area of flesh with repeated zapping.

Slightly alarmingly, on arrival in the treatment room, I have to remove my trousers and, clad in my socks and boxers, I then lie down on the bed while almost without fail a nurse pulls my pants down a little further. Fairly alarming. They then cover my largely exposed privates with a sheet of paper and set to work getting me and my tattoos properly lined up for zapping which is an extremely exacting procedure involving the most minute adjustments to my position on the bed. The nurses then leave the room and I lie stock still while the machine does its trick. It’s all over and done with in less than 10 minutes and I’m free to totter home.

Now, you may remember that I was a touch cocky about the chemotherapy shortly before it hospitalised me for two weeks (I quote: “I guess I am lucky in that my reaction to the chemo has been fairly mild...”.

The radiotherapy continues to “cook” the tumour for a few weeks after the treatment finishes. I understand the plan is to do some more scans at that stage and if the tumour has shrunk sufficiently they will then operate, remove it and all will be well again. That’s the plan at least...

So it turns out there was quite a lot to tell you after all – apologies for blithering on – but that’s the latest and you can now consider yourselves up to date. Thank you for reading this far.

Next update as soon as we have anything to report...

xx

STOP PRESS Since starting to write this a few days ago, our luck has failed to improve. On Friday evening Bekky managed to fracture her ankle while out walking the dog so we spent a happy few hours in A&E (back at The Conquest...!) on Friday evening and she is now on crutches with her left foot in a “boot”. We have giggled quite a lot at our combined misfortune - you can’t not really, can you?! She’s off to see a fracture specialist on Thursday when we’ll find out more.

Between you and me, I reckon she was just jealous of all the attention I have been receiving and fancied a bit for herself. Some people, eh?! (Love you, Bekky May, you clumsy oaf xxx)

#PETscan #Radiotherapy

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