As a 36 year-old woman I've known a lot of people much older than myself who have undergone radiation treatments. I know they exist, but I don't know anyone personally my age who has gone through this. I thought you might want to know what goes on and how it feels.
Well, first it's just scary. At least in the beginning. You meet with a doctor who studies the scans and determines the treatment. Everyone is going to be different depending on the type of tumor, location, size. The doctor basically writes a program that a computer executes throughout your treatment determining how much radiation you receive, what angles it's directed at, how long etc.
To get started I went in to the center and a technician laid me down on my back on a table with a CT scanner. My hands were over my head. Then she put what basically amounts to a beanbag under my legs and we squished my legs in till I was pretty comfortable (as comfortable as you can feel on a hard table). Then she used a vacuum to suck all the air out the bag so that the bag holds the shape of my legs. I use this every time I have treatment to make sure I lay in exactly the same position.
Then the technician does some scans. She even puts a small device on my stomach so they can measure my breathing, how much my abdomen moves up and down. She takes pictures of me laying on the table. All of this is given to the doctor planning my treatment and used to make sure I'm exactly the same each time for treatment.
Last but not least I got tattooed. (It’s done with just a needle and ink.) Just four dots that they use for further exactness of placement. It didn't really hurt and honestly, if you're sick enough to need radiation you've already been poked with needles so many times, it stops being an issue. It's kind of fascinating to me now. Then I had 2 weeks while they planned the treatment.
My first day was the scariest, just because there's so much unknown. You show up and a technician comes to take you back. I don't change my clothes, since my tumor is on my abdomen I just wear a loose shirt and comfy trousers and pull up my shirt when I lay down. The technicians are all super nice and friendly. You get to know them well since you see them almost every day.
So I go back, confirm I'm the right person and then go lay on the table. We set me up just the way I was the very first time. First they line my body up with the lasers and tattoos. Then they align the table to the numbers on the computer, including how high the table is. Then they all leave the room and close the door. Two arms swing out of the machine and rotate around me. This is a CT scan. The images help the technicians further confirm that I'm in the right placement so the radiation is reaching the right areas.
After checking the scans, the program begins. My table might move and the machine whirs and hums and moves around depending on what the treatment program is. My treatment has been exactly the same from DAY 1. Some people might change in intensity of any number of factors.
Every Monday they measure how far the machine is from me from different angles. Then I hop off and I'm done. The whole thing takes 10-15 minutes tops. During the whole thing I don't feel anything. It doesn't hurt, burn, feel warm or cold or even tickle.
Every Tuesday I see the doctor. They check to see how I'm doing. They might look at my skin or check inflammation. Usually they just want to know how I feel. The first couple of weeks I felt fine. I even questioned if they were actually doing anything. Then the pain started. Apparently tumors grow vengeful when being cooked alive and like to be stabby in their feelings.
Additionally as a small part of my stomach and bowels are reached by the radiation, my bowels began to spasm and cause no small amount of discomfort. At first I was sure I could handle it. And during the day I could. I slowed way down and managed. But at night I couldn't sleep and that just wasn't working. Me + No Sleep= Stabby Sara. So after a really bad night involving long hours hugging the toilet I finally admitted I needed more help then I was getting. Turns out prescription pain meds do have a place in my life! Ah. Sleep.
So 5 days a week for 28 times.
My skin is a little prickly but aloe and a super thick, oily concoction I found on Pinterest has kept it really healthy.
My only other side effect is the increasing exhaustion. But it makes sense, my body has a lot of damage, so the greater part of my energy is going to repair and healing.
But is it working?!? This is the hard one. We won't know for a while. Radiation causes a lot of inflammation so I'm quite bloated and swollen. Any scans would show the tumor looking bigger just because it's inflamed. About 3 months from now I'll have a MRI that will give us our first look post treatment. We actually don't expect much if any shrinkage, but we do hope that this will kill it off and stop its growth. It's just a matter of time and patience.
That's it. That's what radiation is to me. Hopefully that answers questions you might have, but please feel free to ask me anything else you might want to know.