25. Radiation – getting my geek on

Last time round, radiation was the last stage of my treatment. I had 21 low doses on consecutive days, zapping my breast (where the first lump was). The thinking in using low doses was that it’s a bit like sunbathing – one long bask and you’ll burn, whereas shorter, more gradual exposure is safer (although they never offered me any SFP…?)

This time, they’re taking a different approach, as old Dastardly was growing quite aggressively up there. We’re using ‘Stereotactic’ radiation to deliver more targeted treatment through fewer high-dose treatments, to try and help preserve healthy tissue in my brain. So I’m having three sessions – one yesterday, one tomorrow and one on Friday.

Bring out the gimp

To help target where they zap me, and protect my face, the first thing they do is make me a mask. Ooooh exciting! So how does this work?! Boxy goes into geek mode…

The mask is made of two parts moulded to fit tight to my face; one sits behind my head and the other across the front of my face, with spacers on each side to clip the two pieces together. I lie on the bed in radiation position, the two pieces of plastic are heated to 70 degrees to soften them, then they’re laid behind and in front of my face for 20 minutes while they cool. Next they attach a few markers and draw on guidelines to help align everything during radiation and ensure they zap the same place each time. (With my breast radiation, we did this by drawing lines on my boobs with marker pen, and I still have dots tattooed on my torso from where the lines crossed!)

Finally, they run a CT scan with me wearing my new mask, to make sure they’re all lined-up to target the area they need to – and we’re good.

In my usual geeky fashion, I got totally into all this and out came the camera…

The flat plastic
Heated up and moulding to my face
The finished mask

And then the machine broke

So, with my mask all ready and my delightful Radiologist, Dr Bertels (who looks like a young blonde Christopher Walken, and gives me the detail in language I understand – totally my new BFF!) keen to crack on asap, I’m booked in for my first dose on Friday. Last Friday.

I arrive at the VU at 11:55 as planned, only to be told “I’m afraid the machine is broken, we’re waiting for an Engineer to come and fix it, it could take around 45 minutes,  but there are people scheduled in front of you. So if you want to go and grab a coffee, we’ll call you when the person before you goes on, ok?” I then spend the next three hours sitting in the café watching Suits on Netflix, before I get the call you just know is coming…”Yeah, so we’re not going to fit you in today after all – can you come back on Monday?” Fugger. So a false start and still no radiation.

Finally we go

Come Monday morning, I’m pumped and ready to go again. Surely there can’t be any more hold-ups? I just wanna do this! So Sunday night, we make a plan: to avoid rush hour traffic, the olds will pick me up at 07:00, to get to the VU for 07:30, grab breakfast and a coffee, and be ready in good time for my 08:20 zap. Slight snag on arrival? The café kitchen doesn’t actually open until 08:00. Balls. But we can get coffee and a grab & go from Albert Heijn – fine, that’ll do.

At 08:15 we make our way down into the depths of level -2 to the Radiation department, where I’m met by Hank and Linda, and finally, it’s all systems go!


Out comes the camera, obvs, and these guys are pros! Not only do they take photos for me while I’m masked-up, but they take my phone round to their control booth during treatment and shoot a video of what they’re doing during the zappage – how awesome is that?!



Because they’re giving me a higher dosage, they’d typically do three sessions over seven days. But because of Friday’s delay and the lack of a slot next Monday, I’m now having all three doses this week – yesterday, tomorrow and Friday. After yesterday’s, I felt fine – no side effects to write home about – but by Friday I may find I’m shattered… no parties for me this weekend then! But I’m just happy that treatment feels like it’s moving forward at last, and that I understand it, can process it, deal with it, and kick it’s arse as hard as I can. There’s still a long, long way to go, but this is another forward step and I’m feeling mentally stronger again, and that really does make such a difference 🙂

Thanks for bearing with me during the cave days/weeks – can’t guarantee I won’t sneak back in there from time-to-time, but for now…










4 thoughts on “25. Radiation – getting my geek on

Add yours

  1. Wow a long way on from when I had radiation (37 daily sessions) for my PC. That was exactly as you described in your post ..lying on a bed, area marked and then zapped. I did ask them about the towels and over enthusiastic holiday makers wanting to reserve the space..which they laughed at! But that was in 2012 and much has developed since then in treatment as is happening with you. However my issues are minor in comparison with yours. Your phlegmatic no nonsense approach is a valuable learning experience for us all! Keep on trucking and we are thinkingbof you!
    Love from all in Warwick x


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