Week 3 of radiation has begun and I feel it. Tomorrow, I’ll be halfway through this second round of treatment.
The first two weeks were not bad. I felt some effects from the chemo that I’m taking orally in conjunction with the radiation. That seems to have settled some, and I have some ways to prevent the nausea from those pills.
But the radiation is taking a toll. Here’s what is happening. Each day – Monday through Friday – I go to the cancer center for a brief treatment – literally 15 minutes. I lay on a gurney and the machine whirls around me, shooting tight beams of x-rays at my pelvis. I receive 4 consecutive beams from different directions. They last about 15 seconds each. Each beam produces roughly 45 Rads of radiation. Understanding radiation dosage is complicated. But basically, I am receiving 180 Rads per day. That’s roughly the equivalent of 25-30 CT scans each day. People absorb about .003 Rads daily just from background radiation in our environment. Radiation is cumulative, so I will have 5040 Rads of radiation when I’m done.
The radiation destroys cellular DNA, effectively preventing cells from reproducing which is effectively killing them. Unfortunately, the beam cannot tell the difference between cancer cells and healthy cells. So some of the healthy tissue around my tumor is getting destroyed. Healthy cells can recover to some extent and repair damage, but there are still side effects.
One is fatigue. Radiation does not stay in one place. It scatters somewhat in the body. This means I’m getting small doses everywhere, and that is leading to a lot of fatigue. I’m tired most of the time now, and find myself needing to sleep midday – often for an hour or two. This will increase as I continue treatment.
The tumor is also reacting to the treatment – somewhat like an angry infant. I feel it more than I did during chemo and almost as much as I did before treatment started all together. Fortunately, what I’m feeling is a reaction to the tumor shrinking – so that’s a positive despite the irritation and pain.
I’m also beginning to feel irritation of the skins around the treatment site. This is expected, but no less aggravating. It feels a little like a bad sunburn. At times I feel nothing, but other times is burns enough to make me what to just lie down until it goes away.
Finally, there is the effect of the combined radiation and chemo which is messing around with my blood chemistry. My counts are down. White cells, red cells, platelets… all dropping out of the normal range. Again, this is expected. But knowing my white cells, the body’s natural immunity warriors, are dropping in number makes me uncomfortable during a pandemic. I really wasn’t worried much before this drop, but things have changed.
I have exactly 15 more treatments to go. The end is getting closer, but I could stand to have it hurry up a bit.