Radiation was my main modality of treatment. My chemo drug, cisplatin, was used to support the radiation. Before they could start radiation, I had to get a “map” done so they would know where to radiate. This meant I went to a certain hospital with a cancer center in it. After I gave blood (I felt like I was always giving blood) I got undressed from the waist down (sadly this becomes a normal routine…told you throw modesty out the window with cervical cancer) and laid on a table. They 1st took a CT Scan, then administered contrast (made me feel really warm and like I was peeing…I kid you not…for only about 2mins) in through an IV that was in my arm and sent me through a machine that would produce an image. Once they received the image, they went to work creating a map. They started with little stickers on my hips and my “lady parts” (told you TMI) then once they guaranteed a good line they removed the stickers actually tattooed 3 little dots (one on either side of my hips (not my lady parts) and one on just above my “lady parts” close to my pubic bone) for them to line up me up for radiation treatment. They also took a mold of my body so when I laid down for treatment it was the same each time. Everything had to be exact. This process lasted a few hours. I had this mapping process done twice. Once at the beginning and then again mid way through treatment.
My 1st round of radiation was external. Every day I would go to a facility in Austin for treatment. The facility you go to is based off your location. Since I live south, I went to the south location which is good because rumor has it they are the best and I would agree. (side note: everyone that worked at this facility was top notch. They were very helpful with answering questions I would have. They knew what was going on in my life and asked about it. There were even interns in from Texas State and they were wonderful. I’m not sure how their system works but I got to see many of the staff when I would do mapping and even in my BrachyTherapy; a familiar face never hurts). You also have to schedule a time you would come every day. They like for it to be the same time every day, however they will work around your chemo treatments and if a random meeting should pop up. I chose 3pm for the weekdays and 7am for Fridays when I would be getting chemotherapy.
Radiation was pretty much the same each time. I would sign in, wait until they called me back to the treatment room. Once in the treatment room (the treatment room is where they administer the radiation. The room has 6ft thick concrete walls to protect those administering the radiation), I would remove my shoes and pull down my pants around my hips exposing my “lady parts” (mainly my tattooed dots) and lay on my mold which was on a table. They lined me up with the lasers that were on the wall They covered me with a blanket to preserve some modesty and then covered me with along blanket (my request) because it was cold in there. Treatment takes about 15-20mins. They did a CT Scan EVERY time before they administered radiation. I laid on a table and a MASSIVE machine rotated around me delivering the external radiation to my tumor. Once it was done with its 2 rotations, I gathered my things and left. Best part….there was a candy jar with jolly ranchers and chocolate on the way out. While the jolly ranchers started to be less appealing (thanks to chemo) the chocolate still tasted good. I had 23-ish treatments like this and then 3 treatments where the laser focused on the side of my tumor that was attached to “the wall”.
There were a few times (brace yourself for massive TMI…but like I said, I have no modesty left when it comes to this stuff) when I was unable to get treatment (they would do a CT Scan then make the call) due to gas bubbles in my rectum (talk about “bubble butt”). Since the rectum wall and vaginal wall are REALLY close the gas bubbles can cause the tumor to move which means the CT Scan doesn’t match the mapping and if they were to administer radiation, then it could “miss” and hit other areas causing damage to other parts of my body. How do you get gas bubbles…honestly I’m not really sure, but my doctor thinks that it is caused by all the fiber in my diet…aka fruits and veggies, you know HEALTHY food! WTF? Fueling your body with good nutrition (not processed stuff) when it is going through epic stuff sounds logical to me! What am I suppose to eat? It was hard not to eat my normal way. Put it this way, my doctor applauded me for eating a gluten free pizza. I was open to trying things until chemo would ruin the taste (I don’t care to ever have oatmeal again). I was to stay away from salads…one of my favorite meals is a good protein and veggie packed salad (Cobber from Central Market is my all time favorite…the steak salad is a close 2nd). PLUS since I was doing chemo, my taste (and smell) of a variety of foods was ruined, so finding something that made it past the smell and actually tasted good was hard. There were many nights when I just ate a small piece of protein for fear of not getting treated the next day due to the chances of possible gas bubbles. In addition to not being able to eat like I was on a variety of OTC (over the counter) meds to help regulate my bowel movements. In addition to my anti-naseau meds that I took every 6 hours, I also took stool softners and gas X. I have had many discussions about my bowel movements and all the gross details that go with it. Heck I have had to expose my lady parts to a variety of people whats a discussion about BMs going to hurt (little did I know it could only get worse….I’ll talk more about that in my post about BrachyTherapy).
Side effects of radiation accumulate over time meaning things are not bad in the beginning but they add up and start to suck towards the end. The Texas Oncology Website describes it perfectly, “Although patients do not feel anything while receiving radiation treatment, the effects of radiation gradually build up over time. Many patients become tired as treatment continues. It is also common for patients to experience loose stools or diarrhea. Urination may become more frequent or uncomfortable. Some patients may experience loss of pubic hair or irritation of the skin. After the radiation therapy is completed, the vagina can become narrower and less flexible. This can make sexual relations painful and make future pelvic examinations difficult. Patients are often taught how to use a dilator to maintain the pliability of the vagina. Finally, radiation therapy to the pelvis can stop the ovaries from functioning, thereby causing younger women to enter menopause early.” I experienced EVERY single one of these.
However it could be worse….I could of had to wear this during radiation:
Last but not least, I did go through what they call “radiation induced menopause”. I had (still have) the hot flashes and all. These are weird. You are REALLY hot one min and then fine the next. Its just as your mom jokes about. For me, the heat would start in my shoulders and rise up to my neck. Jackets off, Jackets on, covers off, covers on…back and forth. Since I am young I will have to have hormones to help with this balance. What does that look like? I’m not sure yet. I just had my follow up with my oncologist today at 1:30pm. He did put me on a hormone but honestly I’m drawing a blank on the name, but as soon as I pick it up from Walgreens I’ll let you know.
I was informed today that I would do multiple follow ups for the first year after I will have follow ups every 3 months, year 2 every 4 months and the the last 3 years every 6 months.
Things I Was Glad I Did & Things I Wish I Would Have Done (no particular order):
- MODESTY. Leave it at the door, especially if you have cervical cancer. They are going to radiate your “lady parts” there is lots that come with this. For starters you have to drop trow for a variety of people, get over it.
- EMBARRASSMENT. You are going to have awkward conversations about stools, diarrhea, pubic areas, sex, irritations, etc. If you want to feel better and get better…GET OVER IT and have those conversations.
- BURNING. Your skin and inside of the rectum is going to get burned. Talk to your doctor early on about this. There are certain creams you can put on the burns (external and internal) that will help sooth them because they will hurt and itch.
- PELVIC PROTECTION. There is something “extra” your doc can do that will protect the bones in your hips. Since I got radiated in my hip area my bones are weaker in that area and can be subject to breaking. I’m kicking myself for what it is called but talk to your radiologist about it. My radiologist went to battle with my insurance to get it covered for me.