Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Project Stephanie: Protons

Here is the "gantry." Imagine me on that table there.

It's been a while since my last post, and again...I have a very good reason.

About a month ago, I accumulated some fluid (about a liter) around my heart and developed a blood clot in my right (and only!) lung. After a trip to the ER, a couple of procedures and a week in the ICU, I was feeling much better and was back in Houston to follow-up with my Drs.

Although at that time I was still weak and tired and just overwhelmed by the previous week's complications, they said I was doing good. In fact, they ran all sorts of other tests here and I had a chance to see the radiation oncologists to determine if and when I could start treatment on that pesky tumor still left in my chest. Now, I guess I should be doing a better job at learning about my anatomy, but to be honest, my insides are shifted around and my heart and everything is not where everyone else's is, so I don't know exactly where the tumor is located. In any case, the tumor is sharing, according to my surgeon "intimate space" with my aortic arch. It's pressing against it in fact. This needs to be solved and the hope is that with radiation, the tumor will shrink and stop encroaching upon my aortic arch's space.

On September 30th, I began my radiation treatment. I'm actually having Proton Therapy. This type of radiation uses proton beams instead of photons like traditional radiation. It's benefit is that it can target the tumor more instensely and more precisely without doing too much damage to the healthy tissue surrounding it. For me, this was the best option because we're dealing with an area near my heart and my one remaining lung. The Drs want to eradicate the tumor, but of course because I'm only 28 years old, don't want to cause too much long term damage to the other vital organs. I'm all for that!

So far I've done about a week of treatment and I'm doing really well. You actually don't feel a thing, don't see anything or hear anything while you're in the gantry. I sometimes think it's some sort of scam, and nothing's really going on. But in fact, the proton beams are zapping my tumor and hopefully (only time will tell) are working to shrink it. There are expected to be fewer side effects with Proton Therapy than there are with traditional radiation, so I have yet to see or feel anything odd. I have been told to expect a sore throat, sunburn like rash and perhaps a cough or shortness of breath, all of which will go away after treatment.

Alex and I have set up camp at a hotel here in Houston for the next 7 weeks. I go for my treatment Monday through Friday, and we are there about 30 minutes. The treatment itself is really quick...usually just 10 minutes. They have a radio on and it usually only takes 2 songs for it to be done. The other day, my treatment song was Whitney Houston's, "I Wanna Dance with Somebody." It's just an odd experience: laying there on the metallic bed as still as possible, hearing all sorts of noises and beeps and then waiting as the protons do their thing. I'm really fortunate to be having this type of treatment and am hopeful that it will work.

I've been feeling so much better lately. I had a really difficult time dealing with the complications. That week in ICU was intense and made me so scared. I felt like things were getting worse and not going to get better. But over the past couple weeks, I've felt more hopeful. Even though all of the complications are not out of the way, (I still get fluid build up that needs to be drained occasionally) starting the Proton Therapy and having a sort of break from scans and tests and procedures makes it a lot easier to just achieve some normalcy.

I'll do my best to keep up on this blog. Posting not only treatment stuff but other random Houston living stuff as well. For now, there's not much I can do but wait and see and try to have a little bit of fun.

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