Monday, October 28, 2013

Meeting With My Radiation Oncologist

This morning I met with my Radiation Oncologist for the first time.  His name is Dr. Dugan and he's very nice!

I'm planning on a more detailed post on what radiation is, how it's given, why it's used, what it feels like, etc.  So stay tuned for that in the next few days!

I have an appointment on Wednesday morning for what they call planning.  At my planning appointment, I'll have another CT scan (with contrast dye) of my neck.  The radiation will be focused on the part of my neck where the tumors used to be.  So the doctor will overlay the new CT scan with the CT scan done before treatment to see where those tumors used to be and therefore where the radiation needs to be positioned.

I'll also be fitted with a mask similar to this (but will only cover my face - not the neck):
It'll be custom fitted to my face.  The purpose is so that my head is in the same position for each treatment and stays there during treatment.  Honestly, I'm having a teeny bit of anxiety about this mask. I don't like things covering face and I'm nervous it'll make me feel like I can't breathe.

After this appointment (which should last a couple of hours), the doctor works with a dosimetrist (radiation planner) to create a 3-D computer model of the treatment area and plan out the treatments.  This typically takes 3-7 days.  Once complete, they'll call me to schedule my treatments.  The hope is that my first treatment will be at some point next week, likely mid-week.

My first treatment should last 45 minutes or so.  The doctor will make sure everything is fitted and lined up correctly.  They'll give me "treatment markings" at this time as well, which will help them line me up so the radiation is done in the same exact spot every time.  Many of these markings will be done on the mask, some will be done on my skin.  I'm not sure yet if I'll have to have permanent tattoo markings, or just with a sharpie.  More on that later this week.

The first treatment will be the longest, each treatment afterwards should only take about 20 minutes.  The radiation itself is only given for about a minute - most of the appointment time is spent preparing me for treatment.  I should learn a little more about this on Wednesday and I'll be able to share more once I actually have a treatment!

Side effects should be fairly mild and include skin irritation similar to a sunburn and fatigue.  Radiation (like chemotherapy) kills all cells - both good and bad - so my body will be working overtime to rebuild these cells.  So fatigue will stick around for awhile.  There's a chance I'll have some soreness in the throat on the left side (where radiation will be).  Otherwise, the doc says I shouldn't experience many other side effects.

Secondary cancer is a risk of both chemo and radiation.  Doc says it's not common, but still a risk.  Thankfully I only had four chemo treatments and will have a fairly low dose of radiation, so the risk for me will be small.

That's it for today.  I'll update again after my planning appointment on Wednesday!



  1. Good luck with this next step, Melissa! I thought the mask was weird and uncomfortable b/c of how far back it forced my head, but I got used to it. I hope it doesn't bother you too much. I resisted the tattoo markings pretty fiercely, but eventually I caved, so now I still have 2 tiny dots on my neck & chest. They blend in with the freckles. :) Feel free to email me if you want more insight.

  2. Hi Melissa!
    I am so glad you found my blog and was able to get some helpful info from it! We sound a lot alike in our journeys/lives! I am originally from Indianapolis as well, so definitely a small world! I will be keeping up with your blog as you go into radiation treatment. I am sooo glad you are done with chemo and that you got to keep your hair! Being bald is not fun, but definitely leaves a lasting impression on anyone you meet!