Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Radiation Simulation

Today was the day I'd been putting off for two weeks.

Yes, I knew it was inevitable. At some point, I'd have to let them do the radiation simulation, but I just didn't want to accept the fact that the treatments were actually going to happen. If I put off the simulation, they can't do the radiation, right?


The treatments are going to happen. And they're going to happen soon.

Ok, in all honesty, the first time I canceled the sim was because they scheduled it only a week after surgery. I was sore and swollen and in no condition to have my body molded. It was rescheduled for last Monday, and while I really didn't want to go, the truth is, I was actually in a lot of pain from whatever crazy infection landed me in the hospital a few days later.

But today, there was no excuse.

Today was the day. I had no choice but to go and get it over with.

We arrived at Sloan-Kettering in NJ at 10:15 am for a 10:30 appointment. I was called almost immediately by a technician with long, curly, reddish hair and a face full of freckles named Mary Ellen. She led me to a small room with an oversized chair and asked me the questions I know I'll hear out of each nurse or tech at Sloan each time they see me. "Spell your first and last name. What's your date of birth?" Sometimes I even rattle off the answers before they have a chance to ask. It keeps them on their toes.

Mary Ellen gave me a cup of the all too familiar, red contrast dye to drink. I didn't worry since only the IV dye seems to want to kill me. "Ok, drink this as while I explain what we're going to do. First, we're going to have you lie down on the CT scan table as straight as you can. Then we'll take a picture with the scan to make sure you're exactly straight. When we confirm that you are, we'll put a plastic mold on your body and let it harden. We'll mark the mold and your body with marker so we know the right position. Then, Dr. Sidebotham will come in and either inject dye into your vagina or insert a tampon soaked in dye. Then we'll take more pictures. After Dr. Sidebotham checks to make sure the position is correct, we'll cut holes in the mold and tattoo you in a few places to make sure you're in the exact same position each time you come in for a treatment. Any questions?"

Oh, so many.

But I shook my head instead of asking her anything. "Here is your schedule for when your treatments start. Each week, you'll get a new schedule, but your typical treatment time will be 12:05 each day. I'm going to step out for a minute. Finish your drink and I'll be back to get you in shortly."

I took a sip of the fruity mixture, then looked down at my schedule card and saw the beginning of Hell written in black and white.

7/18/11 - 1:30 PM - Radiation Oncology for Setup with Radiation Therapy
7/19/11 - 9:10 AM - Radiation Oncology for Treatment with Radiation Therapy
7/20/11 - 12:05 PM - Radiation Oncology for Treatment with Radiation Therapy

Ok, so I don't actually start treatments on the 18th because that's just a setup day. The treatments really begin on the 19th. I'm assuming it's an early start time because I'll need to go upstairs right after radiation for my five hour chemo treatment. I'm able to start later on the 20th because the chemo treatment is shorter.

Why do I have to do this again? Let me rephrase that. Why do I have to do this NOW? My wedding dress came in today. Shouldn't I be worrying about that? Shouldn't I be jumping up and down with excitement and rushing to the store to try it on? Shouldn't I be picking out accessories for my hair and jewelry to match? Shouldn't I be picking out my cake and shopping for my honeymoon?

Yes, I should be.

But I'm not.

Mary Ellen came back to get me, as promised, and I followed her to a changing room. "Take everything off," she instructed. "But bring your underwear with you. If she has to inject the dye directly into your vagina instead of using the tampon, it gets pretty messy and I'll need to give you a pad." Sounds fun. "Here's a gown and a robe for you. There are lockers for all of your stuff."

I got undressed and put on the gown and robe. I brought my belongings to the bay of lockers and looked around. They were all available. Which one should I choose? Hmmmm...Ah! I'll take number 3. Maybe it'll be good luck for September 3rd. Hey, who isn't a little superstitious?

Mary Ellen showed me to the CT scan room where another technician was waiting. "This is Jean," Mary Ellen said. "She'll be working with me on your sim." I smiled and greeted her politely. My stomach was starting to gurgle and I was wondering if it was from the stool softeners or my nerves. "Ok, have a seat on the table and lay your head back on the pillow. Be careful you don't sit on the pegs on the side. We use those to lock in the mold."

I did as I was told, and immediately noticed how hard and uncomfortable the table felt under my back. I didn't know it then, but it was definitely a smart move canceling last week. With the pain I had in my lower back, I never would've gotten through this.

Mary Ellen and Jean shifted me around a bit until they thought I was completely straight on the table. They asked me to relax my muscles so my weight was distributed evenly. When they got me where they wanted me they said, "Try not to move at all," and left the scan area so they could start the machine. I felt the table move, and I closed my eyes. Five seconds later, the techs came back into the room. "Ok, looks good. We're going to do the mold now. The plastic will feel wet and hot, but it will cool down quickly. Try not to move."

I watched as they walked over to a large machine that looked like a paraffin heater at a nail salon, only ten times bigger. They each reached into the top and grabbed a long, flat piece of hot, white, moldable plastic. On either end of the sheet were wooden handles they could grip so the plastic didn't burn their hands. As they walked quickly toward me, each one holding a side, they looked like two little children running with a giant bubble wand.

They held the hot plastic above me and Mary Ellen said, "It's going to burn a little bit, but it'll cool off quickly. Don't move." With that, they lowered the sheet onto my body from my thighs to right under my breasts. "Ouch!" I winced. But it only hurt for a second. You know that feeling when you're at a restaurant and the candle on the table has a pool of melted wax under the flame and you just can't resist sticking your finger in it? You know how it burns at fist, then immediately cools into a waxy covering? That's exactly how this felt, only on a larger scale.

As the mold was drying, Mary Ellen and Jean were locking it into place and adjusting positioning. They also took some weights and made sure the plastic went down to the parts between my legs. They waited a few minutes, made some marks on the plastic and on my skin with marker, then took another scan. "Ok, we're just waiting for Dr. Sidebotham to come in and check everything out."

I hung out for a few minutes with the mold over my body, thinking how strange this was. Mary Ellen asked me about Jimmi because she had seen him in the waiting room. She mentioned his tattoos to Jean, who started to talk about her husband and his tattoos. Then they asked me how many I had. "Five," I told them. "Oh, then the tattooing part today should be a piece of cake for you!" Mary Ellen quipped. "Is it a real tattoo gun? Does it feel the same?"I questioned. Mary Ellen smiled, "You're asking the wrong person. I've never seen a real tattoo gun before."

Soon, Dr. Sidebotham entered the room with a sympathetic hello. "I hear you weren't feeling too well last week," she said. "Yeah, it was rough. I ended up in the hospital twice. There was no way I would've been able to do this with the amount of pain I was in," I explained. "Well," she said, "we were trying to rush you along because of your wedding. But if you weren't healed, I wouldn't have done anything anyway. You should definitely be ok by now."

She explained that she needed to do an internal exam to check and make sure the vaginal cuff (the newly formed top end of my vagina) was in tact and healed. I was terrified. Nothing had been in there since the surgery, and I really didn't want anything in there now. I didn't want to feel my new, shortened vagina. I didn't want her in there! I can't make her stop! I have no choice!

"Nothing's been in there since the surgery. I'm kinda nervous." Dr. Sidebotham turned to look at me, "Didn't Dr. Leitao check you during your follow-up?" "He was supposed to," I explained, "but because I was in the hospital on Friday, I had to reschedule the appointment." She continued to put on her latex examination gloves. "Oh, that's right. Ok, well, I would've preferred that he check you first, but since you're three weeks post-surgery, everything should be ok, I need to do it anyway."

She walked over to the table with a handful of lubrication and asked me to "frog-leg" a bit. Then she gently started the exam. My heart was racing and my muscles tightened up. "Just relax. I'll go very slowly and I'm using lots of gel." I closed my eyes and tried not to think about it. Honestly, it really wasn't too bad. The anticipation was much worse than the exam itself. "Everything is in tact and healed nicely," Dr. Sidebotham confirmed. Then she asked the tech to get her a dye-soaked tampon.

Oh, I hope it's a "slender", I thought to myself.

Suddenly, I saw the tech walk over with a cotton cylinder the size of a "super plus" tampon. Oh, that's not good. I braced myself for insertion and held my breath until it was completed. But then, I heard Dr. Sidebotham ask for something that made my eyes pop open and sent chills of fear down my spine.

Rectal catheter.

What did she say? I thought I heard her say "rectal catheter".

"I'm sorry about this. Just like I'm using the tampon to see the exact location of the vaginal cuff, I need to insert a small catheter into your rectum so I can really see the bowel." Hmmm...wonder why no one warned me about this one.

Dr. Sidebotham moved into the imaging room and left Mary Ellen to do the dirty work. She walked over to the table with a long, red rubber tube. It wasn't very thick, and I was sure it wouldn't hurt. But I just wasn't in the mood to have that thing shoved up my ass. Call me crazy.

Mary Ellen tried a few times to insert the red rocket while I was lying on my back. She spread my cheeks and tried to find a good angle, but it just wasn't going her way. "Can you just turn onto your side a tiny bit?" she asked. I obliged, and very quickly, I felt the skinny tube making it's way up the hole that is only meant for things to come down.

I've been violated!

So, there I was. Picture it. I'm on my back wearing only a hospital gown pulled up to my boobs. The plastic mold was now locked into place from my thighs to my chest. I have a tampon hanging out of my front hole and a long, red tube hanging out of my back hole. Oh, if my friends could see me now! What a pretty picture this would make! But I wasn't really laughing.

All dignity was lost.

The table moved back and another scan was done. Dr. Sidebotham approved my position then left the room. Mary Ellen and Jean came back in and went to town marking the mold and my body with Sharpies. Holes were cut into the mold in a few spots in order to allow the radiation beams to get through during treatments. A large Sharpie "X" to mark the spots were drawn on my skin in each of the holes. Then Mary Ellen removed the tampon and rectal catheter and announced, "It's tattoo time!"

"How many will I need?" I asked. "Six. One on each thigh, one on each hip, one about four inches below your belly button, and one about four inches above it." Ha! I started the day with five tattoos and I'm gonna end it with 11!

Mary Ellen got everything ready and started on my left thigh. She stuck the needle into my skin and, "OUCH!" I jumped. "Yeah, it hurts more than a real tattoo!" I assured her. "I'm sorry," she said sympathetically. "Only five more." Yes, I realize she was only putting one small dot in each location, but they were all very sensitive spots! The skin was broken and I was really bleeding. Not surface bleeding like when you get a tattoo; real bleeding like when you get attacked by a shark!

Ok, I'm being dramatic. It wasn't THAT bad. I think just the reason behind today's quick, tiny tattoos made them worse than the hours I've sat for a permanent masterpiece at a tattoo shop.

When it was all over, I jumped down from the table and put on my robe. Mary Ellen brought be back to the changing room and wished me luck before she vanished into the hall. I opened locker number 3, retrieved my clothes and got dressed. I walked out to the waiting room where Jimmi and my mom were chatting away, and sunk into a chair. "That sucked," I pouted. "Lemme see your tattoos!" Jimmi joked with a sexy smile. I frowned and shook my head, "I'll show you later."

We walked down the stairs into the foyer and out the front door. We each had our own car because we were all going in separate directions after the appointment. I kissed them both goodbye, got into my car, put the top down and drove out of the parking lot. My mind was blank. What did I just do? I still can't believe I'm really going through this. That this is really happening to me. It still feels like a nightmare and I keep trying to wake myself up. Someone, please wake me up!

Help me wake up!

No comments:

Post a Comment