Casey’s Story: Starting Treatment
Casey is a testament to surviving breast cancer. She is sharing her experience during her proton therapy treatments at Provision CARES Proton Therapy. Catch up on her story by reading parts one and two of her blog series.
After initial office visits, CT simulation, and treatment planning are finished, it is time to start proton therapy and these folks, the radiation therapists, are right there in the trenches with you. For the next seven weeks, I will see these wonderful people day in and day out to “finish off” this breast cancer.
Working at Provision gave me a sense of calm about the end result, but to be candid, I was still nervous about the process. Would I know what to do and say? Is it weird to just lay on the table and be alone while radiation is being delivered? What does it feel like? Will I be self-conscious being exposed from the waist up?
Trust me when I tell you, these therapists are experts at what they do. They explained everything to me as it was happening, which was particularly helpful to me. A quick example: they explained body positioning, and how important it was to relax while being still. Proton therapy is very individualized, which means no two plans are alike. Your plan is specific to your tumor size and site, your physical body size and contours, and, believe it or not, your breathing! These radiation oncologists and physicists think of everything.
After putting on a gown, you are escorted to the treatment room and use a step stool to get on a slightly raised table. In my case, radiation was going to be delivered with my arms above my head, while I was lying flat with my knees slightly bent and supported. There is a mold in which my arms can rest that was made specifically for me. I remained covered up with a sheet until it was time for the actual treatment, which was important to me. The next, and maybe most appreciated, step for me: MUSIC! It was calming and an immediate source of comfort for me. The therapists will ask you each day what you feel like listening to that day. This was a godsend to me, as the music eased my nerves and passed the time.
I was unprepared for, but very impressed by, the perfection in positioning for which the therapists strive. This is of utmost importance, as the precise delivery (within a millimeter) of the proton beam depends on it. Before your actual treatment, one of our radiation oncologists will check the position of the patient and give the green light for proton delivery. The therapists leave the room and you are alone for about 90 seconds during treatment. You are never truly alone, as you are being watched remotely, and after a few treatments you become very accustomed to the whole process.
Truthfully, it is a very quiet and calm time in the treatment room. There were no smells or sounds to really get used to, and I did not “feel” the radiation delivery. For me, it was a time of reflection. A time to really think and appreciate what these fine folks do day in and day out. I never got the feeling that it was just a job for them. I always felt like I was the only patient there that day, when in reality, there were dozens and dozens of patients being treated in multiple treatment rooms.
Weekly visits with the clinical team are also part of your radiation therapy treatment. This is an important step in monitoring your skin and any other changes you may be going through, such as fatigue. As I proceeded through treatment, my only symptom was a significant “sunburn” to the areas treated. I was prepared for this and used creams and lotions that were suggested by my doctor. It was an easily forgotten side effect for me, though uncomfortable for a short period of time.
Every Friday, I was given a treatment schedule for the next week. Wait, no weekends? A whole two days without radiation treatment? I wondered, “What will I do without the conversations and encouragement from my radiation therapy team?” They were my people. My lifesavers. My friends. I can do this, and I will do this, with the help of these compassionate, kind, and relatable therapists.
To continue following Casey’s journey, read part four of her blog series.