During one’s journey to rid the body of cancer cells, radiation may be a proposed form of treatment. Like chemotherapy, I did not know what this was, neither how it would be done nor what effect it would have on me.
Medical science has developed in leaps and bounds over the last decades.
I was about 6 years old and in standard one, when one weekday morning, I remember my father getting dressed in “church clothes” and not his usual work attire. I later learnt that he was to attend my grandmother’s funeral. Ma ‘Lizbeth, whom I had visited occasionally by bus in Central, Port Elizabeth, had passed on as a result of cancer. She had a double mastectomy and I guess, due to late diagnosis and/or a lack of appropriate treatment at the time, had passed on.
I doubt the advances in cancer treatment had reached the developed stage it has today. Nonetheless, I’m grateful it has. And more grateful to be alive.
Radiation is rather interesting.
Radiation therapy uses high-energy particles or waves, such as x-rays, gamma rays, electron beams, or protons, to destroy or damage cancer cells. The treatment itself is painless. Body cells normally grow and divide to form new cells. But cancer cells grow and divide faster than most normal cells. Radiation works by making small breaks in the DNA inside cells. These breaks keep cancer cells from growing and dividing and cause them to die. The body then rids itself of these damaged cells.
Radiation in my case was used on my former-breast area and in my armpit – the areas where the cancer originated and first spread. Doctors are of the view that radiation is necessary in these areas as it kills the possible cells, which cannot be detected by scans.
The obvious consequence of radiation is that normal, healthy cells in the treated area are killed in the process too. Most nearby, normal cells however recover over time and go back to working the way they should.
Radiation has multiple functions. It may also be used to cure or shrink early-stage cancer, stop cancer from coming back somewhere else in the body and to treat symptoms caused by advanced cancer.
The other methods are internal radiation (during which a radioactive source is put inside the body into or near the tumor) and systematic radiation (i.e. the use of radioactive drugs taken orally or put into a vein to treat certain types of cancer.
In order to commence external radiation, a planning session is conducted at the radiology department. This session involves a scan to determine the exact area for treatment and the placing of permanent markers (tattoos) on my body. I later learnt these tattoos where critical for my placement and alignment during treatment.
Treatment in my case happened every weekday morning for five weeks and about 10 minutes each day. We had planned it this way as I would drop my boys at school, have treatment, then jet off to work.
Every day’s routine was the same: come in, greet the staff, take off my top and any other distracting jewellery, lay on the hard bed facing the ceiling, get aligned with the use of laser lights lining up with my tattoos. The staff would confirm my position as correct and off they would go into the neighbouring room to commence treatment, which was controlled by computers. There I would lie – dead still – for my daily 10-minute treatment.
As a gadgets person, watching this huge device do its thing was most interesting: This telescopic device would reach out its ‘tentacles’ toward me, rotating my body – here in my (personal) space! Some days, the x-ray tentacle would reach out first. It would take its snaps and retreat to where it came from. Then the ‘Meneer’ tentacle would come close. I could see into it, but not too far. It first stops on my right side, under my armpit, where I can’t see it because my head is turned left so that the treatment reaches the lymph nodes in my neck area.
OMW! how intimidating this was for the first few days! This same huge, round, ‘Meneer’ tentacle then makes a soft sound indicating its inner parts are sizing up and moving into place, focusing in on the area to be treated. Thereafter, for 30 seconds or so, it delivers a sound similar to the drilling during a root canal. This is the actual treatment taking place. I still feel nothing but continue to lie still for my own good and incase this machine decides to attack me (that’s just me overthinking it).
The ‘Meneer’ tentacle then moves across my chest to my left. Now it’s in my view. It repeats the process. It then moves above my chest. The re-sizing and drilling sound repeats. When this is done, I know the session is completed. I hear the sound of shoes hitting the room floor and I can tell by the sound which one of the staff is approaching and will advise me: “That’s it for today Mr. Venturini. You may relax your arms.” All this time, my arms had been above my head nestled in arm-catchers. My treatment card then gets signed, or if signed already, is given to me. I get dressed and off I go.
Radiation, like chemotherapy, had a start date and an end date. Trouble and troublesome times generally do. It comes, and goes.
We however must believe that every challenge comes with a blessing embedded in it.
Both those experiences are now memories from ‘yesterday’. Whilst both these treatment plans were not pleasant and an inconvenience, it certainly came with the blessing of a longer life, essentially granting me more time to live abundantly, love lavishly and learn expeditiously.