I’ve been zapped. Today was my first radiation treatment — one down and about 32 more to go. It was a pretty uneventful treatment, really. I was in my reclined position with no shirt or bra and just a pillow case resting on my chest. The pillow case was positioned so that my left breast was exposed. My head rested on my very own personal mold, and I had to breathe using an assisted breathing device (a plastic tube). Clips were placed on my nose so that I could only breathe out of my mouth and into the tube. Two therapists got me set up and then left the room. Then a voice came over a speaker and said, “When you are ready, take a deep breath and hold it.” I have to hold my breath for about 15 seconds while the treatment machine delivers the radiation. Then the voice says, “You may breathe.” The reason I have to hold my breath is because my heart is located behind my left breast. To minimize the exposure to my heart, I hold my breath which moves my heart out of the way while the radiation occurs. After about four different zaps (I hold my breath for each one), I was done. Besides a machine moving around me, I could not tell anything was happening. I didn’t hear anything or see anything or feel anything. It was less invasive than a tanning bed. I may see some effects with time — apparently most people experience burning or blistering skin and some people report fatigue as a side effect.

I do have a few more markings on my skin — blue ones this time. Eventually, I will not have marker all over my skin. But during the first few treatments this is necessary for lining me up correctly with the machine.

Blue must be the color of the day. I got a blue card at my appointment which I will use to automatically check in for radiation each day. I slide the bar code of my blue card under a machine and then wait. Then I hear my name announced over a speaker. Then I walk to waiting area “C” until my designated therapists come for me. I will see the same four therapists until my treatment is complete.

Until my treatment is complete, I also see my radiation oncologist once per week so she can check on me — mainly to see how my skin fares through the ordeal. I saw her today and all is well so far. And I learned from her that about 90% of breast cancer recurrences happen in the same general area as the first cancer — so the purpose of radiation is to attack the local area, while the chemo attacks cells that may have gotten away from the breast and landed somewhere else.

I go back again tomorrow — and the next day and the next day and the next day, until the end of May rolls around. I hear that I have to look at this phase of treatment as a job in order to not burn out completely. Fortunately, this job only lasts for 6 1/2 weeks. And then I can get back to my other job — full-time mom — without this distraction.

Jacki Donaldson