Most people from my generation reading that title instantly got a fantastic little jingle by the Beastie Boys in their head. If you're not from my generation, you probably don't get it. Sorry. But I think of that silly tune every day when I go for my radiation and they put that awesome disco-tech looking brass bolus on my chest.
My radiation has begun in earnest. I started Tuesday of last week, and have 6 treatments down already. Only twenty two more to go!!!
I must admit that when I had my last scans two weeks ago to ensure that my simulation and treatment plan were accurate, and they brought that crazy brass bolus out, I panicked. You see, I'm a researcher. When I first met with my radiation oncologist several months ago, I spent days researching radiation treatments, the types of radiation most commonly used, etc. So I knew to ask my doc about the bolus (I don't usually like using Wikipedia, but it's the most concise definition I could find.) I am almost positive that she said I wouldn't need it. Imagine my surprise when the techs (who really couldn't have been nicer) draped this brass mesh fabric over my chest and told me that it was brass bolus. Everything else looked good, and I was ready to start after the holiday weekend.
As soon as I got home, I researched the heck out of brass bolus, and came up virtually empty. I posted a message on my breast cancer board, and while many women replied saying that they had the rubberized bolus, not one said they had brass. I was convinced that this crazy brass stuff was the archaic version of the rubberized bolus and I was getting subpar treatment. I emailed a friend from Seattle Young Survival Coalition who works in the radiation field about it, and even she didn't know. She did, however, convince me that the techs and docs at Seattle Cancer Care are some of the best in the business, and she was confident that I was getting the very best care. That made me feel a little bit better.
I really wanted Brian to come with me to my first appointment so that he could see what it was like and offer me some emotional support. He was able to get the afternoon off in the midst of a very busy work week. As soon as I got on that table, I asked them to tell me exactly what the brass bolus was and why I needed it. Since I have tissue expanders in, they want to avoid radiating the expanders and concentrate the beam over the majority of my expanded breast skin. The brass mesh bolus contours much better to the expanded tissue, eliminating hot spots from the beam and working to distribute it more evenly across the entire breast. In a nutshell, it's absolutely the very best thing to use for my situation. And here I was stressing out about it...HA!
Even though driving down to Seattle every day isn't very fun, I love my radiation team and the treatment is going really well so far. I haven't had any skin reaction yet, and haven't noticed any fatigue. Of course, it's cumulative, so that could (and probably will) change in a week or two. The treatment itself doesn't hurt at all. I can't see anything happening, only hear the soft sound of the machine beaming its cancer-killing rays into me. The whole time, I think to myself...this is my ticket to cure, this is my ticket to cure.
Some of you may wonder why I need radiation if chemo and surgery were so successful at removing all of that nasty cancer from me. As a triple negative survivor, radiation is my insurance policy to make sure that every last cancer cell is killed. My mom found a great article about its effectiveness in recurrence prevention and long-term survival. You can read it here.
Finally, a couple of photos of me on the table, brass bolus and all. The blue cradle I'm laying in is an imprint of my upper body to make sure that I am in the exact same position every time. You can barely see it, but the compression sleeve I'm wearing is to prevent lymphedema, since radiation can exacerbate the symptoms. I'm fine so far...no swelling at all. These were taken by a radiation tech who also happens to be a fantastic photographer...