I finally started radiotherapy on 18 April. I surprised myself by being nervous about it. It didn’t really hit me until I was lying there on the table with the machine moving around me.
It is a rather strange experience to be there with Elton John playing in the background and a £3 million (I asked), space-aged looking machine moving around you.
Every person you meet asks you your name, address and DOB even if it’s a third person joining a room in which the are 2 colleagues who can confirm who you are. They took my picture as well. Better safe than sorry I guess.
Everyone is super nice, as you would expect. I can’t remember anyone’s names. There are 2 blond women who seem to be identical twins right down to the hair and glasses and a youngish, short man. I would point out that 2 of them seem to hail from Europe and I hope they won’t be part of the NHS staff aiming to leave after “Brexit.”
It’s all pretty easy. You take off your top layers and put on a gown and get on a table. There is something like a round cup for your head and then a contraption for holding your arms. After that they find the invisible tattoos and mark you up and then there is a great deal of measuring and arranging that goes on to get you in the right position. The machine projects something like a measuring stick onto your chest and some other lines to help them out and they check it against the various angles the x-rays will be shot at you.
The inside of the machine has lots of little metal looking bars that seem to adjust themselves to the shape of your breast. I would love to see the imaging and I guess I’ll have to ask if about that.
From there, the massive machine moves around you. You feel nothing at all. It goes on for a few minutes and then it’s over. I think I was in and out in about 20 minutes both days.
On Day 1, I went in for a 9:20 appointment and I think by around midday my breast felt a bit hot. By late afternoon, it was a little sore too. I did go for a cycle ride in Bushy Park though on paths that weren’t paved. Having said that the left, breast was fine, but my point is that I may not have noticed the soreness had I not done that. It felt tender the rest of the day but fine yesterday morning, day 2.
On Day 2, I went to Kingston hospital to see the oncologist. I wrote about this in the last blog. I was delighted to see my friend Shilpa there who does translation for patients who can’t speak English. That must be frightening. The woman she was helping had lost a breast, had chemo and was generally having a very hard time due to other underlying conditions, including diabetes. I had arrived (by bike) feeling annoyed because my arm and side was so affected still and the bike ride raised hell with both, while I find I am also SO WEAK. I get fatigued so easily – the muscles have nothing in them and whatever power I have deteriorates quickly.
Meeting that woman put things into a perspective, but at the same time, realizing that some people have things worse doesn’t make me feel more grateful for what I have lost so to speak. I’ve got anger issues over how limted my arm is. I don’t want to dwell on that and I am seeing a physio today to see if I can make it better.
The Indian woman was accompanied by her beautiful daughter (she had a nice face, but this beauty was the sort that shines from the inside out) who has had to suddenly grow up. Shilpa thought she as about 17 – doing A levels. I was in fact very grateful that this, at least now, is not my daughters’ story. This young woman is her mother’s advocate and takes a lot of responsibility around her care. It simultaneously warmed and broke my heart.
In the morning, yesterday, I had planned to go to my nearest station and then go 2 stops to go to Kingston Hospital and then carry on into London for the radiotherapy. In the end I was running around and missed the first train and simply cycled to the hospital. I didn’t feel like it but I think it was good for me. I must say that it annoys me that parking there is simply not an option. Normally, I do welcome a focus on public transport, but it is a hospital! By this I mean that often when people go to a hospital they don’t feel good and the public transport links are crap and take a long time. For my part, I was fine, but looking around that place I can see that many people aren’t. I can also see that most of these people have someone with them for emotional support. Even if the emotional support can take a long walk, there simply isn’t much parking to be had near the hospital either.
It takes about 40-44 minutes for me to get from my house to the hospital – according to TfL (I’ve never tried it), with 22 minutes predicted for walking and about 20 minutes for me to cycle there. It’s 2.5 miles on the most direct route, which is not at all the route I take on my bike and then there’s lots of lights and stopping. I would leave at least the same amount of time if going by car due to traffic.
To get to the Marsden in London for the radiotherapy, which on the most direct route is 11 miles by car, I need 75 minutes by bike, train, 2 tubes and a walk.
They say that exercise is helpful during the radiotherapy and I am at least getting that whether I want it or not. I am convinced that the exercise helps and I will try and cycle around 5 miles a day or so. Just gently. I think riding my bike to a further train station is a good idea and now that it is light out later into the evening, more enjoyable.
Back to Day 2. Yesterday, I felt the breast go warm again, and I do think there is some swelling there too already. Why do I think the latter? The misshapen right breast that has been so noticeably smaller than the left is now looking about the same size as the left. Not very scientific, but there you are. Yesterday, I was extremely tired and thirsty, but I could have just been tired and thirsty. We did eat pizza – yay for the health concept! – and I suppose this is emotionally taxing. It doesn’t feel it as I go about my day but it must be. It is certainly not the normal thing to do at lunch time.
The people at the Marsden were once again very pleasant and nice to deal with. Day 2 was exactly like Day 1.
What I did notice was an amazing gelato shop on the way back to South Kensington station. I stood in front of it and decided that I will go there on the last day and get one but not before because I could easily make it a daily stop which is something I really DON’T need right now (i.e. I don’t need to get any fatter).
I am back to square one as concerns the pain in my side and my digestive issues. I think I won’t get any help with any of it until I’m bent over in pain or turning yellow or green, so I might start eliminating things from my diet.
I’m sort of looking forward to being back at the office next week as it will make getting to the Marsden every day seem like less of an ordeal. It takes 30 minutes from my office to get there – door to door. So all in all it will take out 1h20 from my normal day. Yesterday I spent almost 3 hours getting there and back. If I felt better I could cycle there in about 45 minutes. It used to take me about an hour to get to Hyde Park Corner, so I reckon I could be at the Marsden in about that time. I guess the key thing is that I’m not feeling great so it’s pointless to contemplate, but when I look around me I am really not that bad either. In the spirit of not speaking famous last words I’ll hold off on making declarations of what good shape I’m in for a few weeks.