The very first cancer treatment appointment I had was for External Beam Radiation (ERB). As a cancer novice, no amount of internet research will prepare you. Even asking your oncologist/radiation team doesn't help a ton. You don't even know what questions to ask, and they can provide a high-level overview, but unless they've been a cancer patient, there's literally no way to give you all the details.
I didn't really know what to expect. As I talked about in an earlier post, I was given tattoos on my hips and below my navel at my "run-through" appointment, and the techs walked me through everything but the actual radiation. I still wondered what is was going to feel like. Would it be like a tanning bed? Would it be hot? Would there actually be a laser? So many questions.
Well, it really doesn't feel like anything. You lay on a long table, and unlike a CT or PET scan, you don't slide into a machine. It comes to you. Like the picture (borrowed from my Oncology Center's Facebook page) shows, there are 3 "arms" that kind of surround you and spin around you. There's one arm that has an X-Ray, and another that has a magnetic plate that receives the X-Ray images. The third actually delivers the radiation (the large round one). The center looks like kind of a metal vent, and it makes a neat whirring noise...but you feel nothing. You just hold still for 10-12 minutes with a full bladder and your arms above your head, and you mouth along with the awesome 90's playlist your awesome radiation team plays. Maybe that last one is just me.
The first couple weeks of treatment, I had this false sense of security where I actually believed that this wouldn't be as bad as people made it out to be. That was dumb. I've already posted about my side effects throughout, so I won't bore you again, but there's a reason they limit the amount of radiation you can take. In the event my cancer wasn't gone, or if it should ever return, I have maxed out my dosage, so my only options would be chemo or surgery.
The American Cancer Society lists the side effects for pelvic radiation as follows: skin problems, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, rectal bleeding, incontinence, bladder irritation, changes in menstruation, menopause (and all it's side effects), infertility, hemorrhoids, hair loss, and lymphedema.
I got all of them. FUN.
I am working on a separate page on this site to describe the side effect in depth and talk more specifically about how I dealt with each one, so stay tuned.
The other issue you run into with radiation and chemo is your blood count. They both damage all of your cells, not just the cancer cells, so you lose blood. Even though I had stopped bleeding by my second hospital stay, I still had 2 more blood transfusions because my body couldn't keep up with the blood cell production to make up for lost cells. It's a miserable, weak, and feeble existence if you get stuck in that loop.
Thankfully, my radiation team was awesome. They did everything you can reasonably expect a team to do in order to make life easier for their patients, and they are all cheerful and optimistic, which you'd have to be to do their job.