The Cancer Diaries, Part 17


RVH in BarrieWell, it has begun.

Today I drove to RVH for my first radiation treatment session, the third stage of my treatment. One hundred forty-one days since my prostate surgery, and roughly 290 since I was first advised of my dangerously elevated PSA level. This is the first of approximately seven weeks of sessions, one every weekday.

I have to admit I was somewhat anxious about it when I left home. Going through something for the first time can do that, and, of course, having cancer is already enough to make someone anxious. I had been told by hospital staff that it would be easy and quick, but until I had the opportunity to actually experience the session, I was unsure what to expect.

The drive today didn’t do much to alleviate my anxiety. It was a rainy, dismally grey November day here, but barely 10km out of town it began to get foggy. Visibility fell to under 500m and even in several places down to about 200m. Yet the roads and the two-lane highway were busy with cars and trucks. Hwy 26 has long been neglected by the province despite a desperate and obvious need for upgrading with at least passing lanes if not a full four lanes. And because of winter conditions or today’s fog, the road can be quite treacherous.

However, I arrived safely, and a little ahead of my scheduled treatment time. And because I was there sooner, I was able to get in for my first session about 15 or 20 minutes earlier than scheduled.

As always, the staff at RVH were friendly. Their pleasant demeanour does a lot to calm their patients and helps make everything less stressful. But even simply walking into the cancer care centre can be an emotional moment. There’s such a finality about it: everyone knows you have cancer, every other patient in the section is there for cancer treatment. And cancer is a scary thing to have, especially when, like mine, it is diagnosed as “malignant.”

Shortly after registering, I was handed my schedule for the upcoming week, given some additional paperwork with phone numbers on it for various purposes, and my patient information data. Winter weather in this area can be tough for driving, so I have phone numbers I can call if I need to cancel an appointment.

Future schedules would be provided every Monday, and on that same day, right after treatment, I would have a brief review of my condition and treatment with an oncologist.

The nurse came into the waiting area and introduced herself. She took me back to the treatment room and introduced her technician, then they guided me through the process of getting ready, and explained what would be done.

I had to remove my shoes and belt, lie down on the bed of the machine with my pants and underwear partly pulled down, while they adjusted my position so my previously-made tattoo marks aligned with their sensors. I will have to go through this every session to be sure I get properly irradiated in the same place(s) each time. I should try to wear something more easily moved around, but it’s a bit cold these late November days for the track pants they recommend.

I had to have an initial X-Ray. I’m not sure if they do it each time, but I had one today. I also had to arrive with a full bladder and empty bowel, both of which I had. Full bladder is easy to accomplish; empty bowels depend on the internal machinery staying regular and on time, which is not always the case. Anxiety and stress can affect their schedule as much as food. I can only hope to maintain my regularity for future visits. Fibre, as your parents told you, is your friend in these situations.

Like so many of the scanners I’ve encountered there, this machine uses rotating arms that move the active parts around (over) your body, 360 degrees. Quietly they orbit, back and forth while the patient stares at the ceiling, unmoving. The hospital has mounted a pretty painted glass picture directly above, so the view is more pleasant than mere ceiling tiles. But even so, staring ahead at the same thing for seven to ten minutes does get boring.

And that’s about all it took. I was in and done in 15 minutes once they took me from the waiting room. Even the waiting period before the treatment was so short that I had barely enough time to read a couple of pages of the books I brought with me. Unlike previous visits, waiting was not a significant portion of the time spent there. I was almost disappointed by not having had time to read more, and had brought along three books, just in case. 

There was no pain, of course; in fact no real sensation of anything at all. In future, they told me, I might have issues with my bowels or bladder, but many men went through the treatment with no side effects at all. I’ll have to deal with them if they arise.

I sat down in the atrium and drank a cup of coffee before leaving, using the time to read some more. The drive home was uneventful, albeit even foggier in some areas than earlier. But I was back home, just over three hours after I left. 

And so I hope it goes for the rest of the time I have to do this. I’ll write more later, after I’ve had more treatments.

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