For Christmas 2015, I got my first ink! Traditional stick-and-poke rib and sternum pieces. Nope, not some filigree mandala- these were my radiotherapy positioning markers. Three dots: one on either side of my chest and one in the middle.
Radiotherapy uses a targeted, high-energy x-ray beam to kill of any residual cancer cells. In my case, this was used to further reduce the risk of recurrence. I was put forward to undergo “Deep Inspiration Breath Hold” Radiotherapy- DIBH. By taking a deep breath in, the lungs are inflated, moving the breast tissue away from the heart and reducing any unnecessary exposure to other organs. This was especially pertinent to me, given that my cancer was on the left side, where the heart sits. Previous radiotherapy techniques had involved the clunky use of lead plates; this is a much slicker method.
I was fascinated by DIBH. My curiosity in the tech involved completely distracted me from the fact that I was the patient. I felt like I was just having a go on the kit!
In order to ensure my lungs were sufficiently inflated, my lung capacity was measured. This where I was made to look completely ridiculous! My nose was pegged, and a scuba mask fitted, so that all of my breathing occurred through my mouth. I then had to breathe out as far as I could. Here, I learnt that I have remarkably large lungs! Meanwhile, I was fitted with a pair of goggles that displayed a graph of my breathing in my vision, peaking and falling with each inhalation and exhalation. During the moment of x-ray exposure, I would need to hold my breath in the region of a coloured band on my graph. This region highlighted a sweet-spot, where my lungs were sufficiently inflated to hold my breast clear of my heart, but not so over-inflated that I couldn’t hold my breath comfortably- up to 20 seconds at a time (try it now! It’s longer than it sounds!) If I failed to hold my breath and fell out of the sweet-spot, the radiation would automatically be cut off. Incredible tech!
My Christmas appointment was to measure me up and ensure that I could cope with the DIBH method. I would need to be able to tolerate the goggles, the mask, the breathing instructions and the laying position, with my arms above my head. This would be my routine, for twenty minutes every day, Monday to Friday, for four weeks. And, of course, I gained my first tattoos. The best radiotherapy positioning is planned out using a CT scanner. This also uses x-rays to gain the images. If I were to receive a CT scan of my chest every day for four weeks, I’d be exposed to a not-insignificant amount of unnecessary radiation. Instead, one CT scan is performed, and the required information is transposed permanently onto the skin. I was inked, and ready to go!
CHRISTMAS B(©)(©)B UPDATE: Obscure compliments of the day… I have the biggest lungs and the tidiest scars ever seen!! I am all tattooed, marked up ready for radiotherapy in the new year. 7th Jan- 3rd Feb, Mon-Fri. Book your dates for a lunch in Havant with me now!