I’m calling this the KFC phase. Kentucky Fried Chicken. Or Kindle (not the e-reader) Fry, Char.
Ok, it’s really not that bad for most people but you will get crispy, and not in that teenager-sunburned-at-the-beach-wearing-coconut-oil kind of way. More in the your-mother-told-you-to-wear-sunscreen-but-you-forgot-and-spent-the-day-on-a-boat-in-the-lake kind of way.
There is actually a little preparation the doctors put you through before they start radiation, and nobody told me exactly what it would entail. Or maybe they did; but I was so hopped up on steroids and chemo drugs that it didn’t sink in. Here’s a summary, in case you too have chemo-induced brain fog:
PLANNING AND PLOTTING
First come the planning sessions, where they basically plot a graph on you and tattoo you - ouch! The tattoos are marks that, later on, will help the technicians align the radiation machine. The idea is to identify exactly where to aim the beam so that it destroys all the cancer cells, and as few healthy cells as possible. To figure it out, they put you into a CT scanner, which lets them map your body. That first day you start out feeling like a drawing pad, because they really mark you up with ink and sharpie pens. Then they take the key points and use a needle to tattoo them. For those of us who are uncool enough to still be ink-free at this point, here’s a heads up: getting a tattoo stings - it’s a needle stick through an ink spot, and some hurt more than others. The tattoos themselves are just tiny bluish dots. They’re barely visible, but they are permanent. Nobody told me that. It’s as though they think you won’t care because of all the other stuff you’re going through. I’m sorry, but I care about any permanent mark that’s being made on my body. Especially the ones I didn’t choose. Scar or tiny black dot. They really are teeny tiny dots, but hey, I didn’t put them there! I was hoping for a little heart or something. Maybe a unicorn, but you only get dots. Thereafter, every time you go for treatment, they use those tattoos as guides to focus their lasers and pinpoint the radiation.
The tattooing session can also be painful because they have to put you in whatever position they need to repeat during the radiation, so make sure you stretch before and after. The tattooing techs may not be the same as those who will actually perform the radiation; these are just people who make the blueprints - on you.
I’m not going to lie: I whined a lot during this session. I’m not sure why. Was it because I’d already been through so much and I’d just about had it? Was it because I was still in pain and recovering from surgery and chemo? I don’t know, but I’ve talked to lots of people and everyone seems to be have been surprised by this process. I wasn’t the only whiner. I’m guessing it has something to do with the lack of a decent warning. I think most radiation oncologists bypass an information session on the prep portion of radiation. Personally, I hate surprises unless they come in a velvet box, so I’m giving you a heads-up. This is not horrible, but the tattoos do hurt and the session can be uncomfortable.
1. Wash off the marker ink as soon as you can, because otherwise you can get a shadow where they drew on you and it takes forever to wear off.
2. Stretch before you go – especially the area around your surgery – and take pain medication about an hour beforehand if you’re post-surgical, because you may have to hold an awkward position during the initial setting-up process and it can hurt. Even something as basic as Tylenol helps.
3. Be prepared for multiple tiny but ouchy pinpricks. The number of spots you’ll get depends on how many sites they have to radiate.
4. Wear loose clothing and try to leave your modesty at the door because you’re going to have to bare your chest.
5. Do not make tattoo jokes to the technician - they don’t think it’s funny.