Jay, who has lived in the Waukesha area for over 20 years, is an active volunteer who has served on numerous local boards and committees. He's married to Colleen with three kids having gone through the Waukesha schools. He is the VP of a local distribution company.
(Note: On September 5th, 2008, I was diagnosed with Squamous Cell Tongue Cancer - Stage 4. Following is the 6'th blog on my journey)
"First thing we will schedule will be the mask-fitting and..."
What's this about a mask-fitting? Well, as I have recently learned, you are positioned "just-so" during radiation treatments to ensure absolute accuracy. To accomplish this, a personalized, whole-head mask is used. You, the patient, are aligned in a treatment position while the plastic is heated and than fitted. They then bring you over to their side by whispering "This is your special mask, and it will only be used by you..." I have an exclusive, personalized mask reserved for only my use - Excellent! Except...I looked in a mirror and now bear a striking resemblance to Hannibal Lecter. And what's with this sudden urge for fava beans?
Treatments were scheduled by Dr.Stuart Wong - the Chemo Oncologist, and Dr. Dian Wang - The Radiation Oncologist. There would be 7 chemo treatments (a great way to start every Monday for 7 weeks), and 35 radiation sessions (daily for 7 weeks). The chemo was started a week prior and it's role in my treatment is to make the cancer cells more susceptible to the radiation.
The chemo is roughly a 2 1/2 hr. IV drip in a quiet, relaxing environment. TV, beverages, great views, and a recliner all combine to make the time pass comfortably. Radiation is a little more intimidating...
The radiation treatment area is comprised of several enclaves with different equipment in many. My specific area, LinAcc 2, has a CAT scanner and a linear accelerator at opposing ends of a rotating bed-bench. My treatment team - Jean, Brian, and Kayla, are as precise as a Swiss watch. The patient lays down carefully positioned to duplicate the identical spot on the bench every time. And than "my" mask is brought to me. The mask is placed over your head and the frame on the back of it is clamped to the bench. The Team takes time to explain the need for exactness - they are aiming the radiation pattern to sub-millimeter dimensions to avoid unnecessary damage to the adjacent tissues. And, if you smile nicely (and bring in scrumptious cookies) they will provide you with a musical background to fit your moods.
My mask and I are inserted into the CAT scanner where images are taken daily for comparison and alignment. When complete - I am rotated 180 degrees directly under/within the LinAcc unit which then delivers the radiation. This process takes about 45-50 minutes and I consider myself fortunate to be under the watchful eye of my team. Brian (a known Cubs fan!), brings a wry irony which belies his age; Jean's humanism is sincere and comforting; and Kayla's quick smile and efficient work help transform an impersonal room into a caring area of healing.
Given the "unknown" of what I was facing, I admit to having had something between trepidation and cold, wet fear starting off. After two weeks, in an error of epic proportions, I felt compelled to boastfully announce to anyone who would listen that "I'm doing better than they expected..."
How absolutely ignorant, self-serving, and premature!
The doctors and staff gently (and I think I detected ...smugly?) suggested "Don't let the first two weeks fool you..."
Trust me - I now know that they know!