I went for my radiotherapy planning session the other day at the Berkshire Cancer Centre in Reading. They sent me a bit of info and a special diet sheet, but I was still left wondering what to expect. So, if you’re someone who’s scratching around for a better idea of what happens, this might help, although different places do slightly different things and, of course, it depends on which type of cancer you’re being treated for.
Leaving aside the journey there, I had a good start. The staff were really nice. Anyone who’s been involved with having any sort of cancer treatment will know you kiss goodbye to your dignity right from the start. With prostate cancer it starts from the very first insertion of the finger and never stops after that. In the end you just whip your clothes off at the first sight of a doctor. It can be very embarrassing when you see one in the High Street and you automatically start disrobing.
On the dignity front the other day was no different. They waited for me to do the necessary before they could start the planning session. The necessary consisted of me emptying my bowels and bladder (not the terminology I’d usually use but I’m behaving myself). They then gave me more water to drink to fill me up again. It’s all perfectly respectable and not some weird fetish they have (at least, I don’t think it is), as your bowel has to be empty and the bladder full for both the planning session and then every time you go for radiotherapy. In my case, that’s 32 sessions Monday to Friday over almost 7 weeks. I get the weekends off if I’m good. I’ll try to be.
While they watched me drink three glasses of water they went through the planning process and explained what the radiotherapy would entail. They checked I’d been following the recommended low fibre, low residue diet, the same one that I’ll have to follow for around two months starting from the week before the radiotherapy starts. It looks like all I need to do is cut out everything I like and everything we’re usually told is good for us.
If there’s one complaint I’ve got about the radiotherapy side, it’s that the special dietary info I’ve been given leaves far too many questions unanswered. I’ve found much better on the Web from other UK centres and a helpful support worker from a Brighton hospital sent me theirs, which had a helpful sample 1 day diet.
After they’d finished explaining, it was a half hour wait to let the water work through, then it was off with the jeans and on to the slab (why can’t it be cushions?) in the CT Scanner, where I was gently moved around until four radiographers got me where they wanted me with my finely honed torso from my privates to my rib cage open for all the world to see. OK, so it’s not finely honed, but it could be worse. I don’t get embarrassed anymore when I’m lying exposed. It feels like half of Europe has seen my bits by now, and that’s excluding the ones who had the privilege before the cancer made its presence felt.
Before the scanner starts they make some pen marks on your skin using a ruler to help. I found it boyishly amusing to have someone with a 6 inch ruler fiddling around in my nether regions. It’s been 30 years since any woman has been in that area let alone one with a ruler. I almost told her she’d need a 12 inch one but told myself to grow up, just in time. They also told me they attached a ball bearing, although I didn’t feel it. It’s strange what you think of because when they said ball bearing the first thought that came to my mind was the make-do wheels we would use to put on our handmade go-karts when we were kids. We lived opposite a garage where all the local kids went to ask for “any old ball-bearings, please mate?”. The wooden bit of our DIY go-karts was put together with old bits of wood we could lay our hands on, usually from the nearby street market in the days when fruit and vegetables came in big wooden boxes. As well as going towards making our go-karts the fruit boxes were especially good for tinder for getting the single coal fire going at home. (No central heating in those days – we weren’t soft. Just bloody freezing most of the time from October to June). I don’t think the ball bearing the radiologists used came from out of the bin at the local garage but I couldn’t say for sure.
The scanner was painless and quite relaxing. You just lay there, not moving. It’s enforced meditation in a way and very therapeutic. It wasn’t that noisy either. I was told it’d sound a bit like a washing machine and it did. Nothing like an MRI, which is deafening. When it had finished I got my very first tattoos in the places they’d made pen marks – one on each of my hips and one concealed in the forest area just north of my dangly bits.
One of my regular Macmillan cancer nurses had promised me I’d get three anchors for my tattoos, but all the spoilsport radiographer would give me was three dots. They weren’t even rainbow coloured dots. I thought that it would have been nice to be asked what colours I wanted. Something to blend in nicely with my complexion perhaps, or something that made a statement. I wonder what colour would state “mutton dressed as lamb”?.
After it was all done I got shown round. I didn’t actually get to see the radiotherapy machines but I saw where they were and was told what I should do when I turned up for my first treatment. I was also told there’d be someone around to remind me on the day. Just as well because I doubt I’ll remember.
It’s reassuring to go somewhere welcoming and pleasant where you’re not treated badly and you are treated well. I hope my first visit was typical and that I can expect more of the same, particularly as I’m going to be spending a lot of the summer there and at their other centre in Bracknell. Wonder if they’ve got a pool?
I’ll keep you posted.