Chapter 9: On Being Apprehensive
By this time tomorrow I will have completed my radiation session and I want to answer a few questions that I’ve recently been asked. Before I do, though, I have to admit something.
I am planning to walk into the Radiation Medicine wing at OHSU tomorrow; to have my Stereotactic Radiosurgery session; and to walk back out, head home feeling fine, and go on about my business of baking breads for Thanksgiving. I am planning to spend Thanksgiving with my friends Nancy and Alvin and to have a perfectly normal day.
But, what I want to admit to all of you who think I’m handling this so well is that I have finally gotten apprehensive. I have read enough about possible side effects like brain swelling and headaches, the limited number of trigeminal schwannomas that actually shrink after radiosurgery, and the complexity of the physics that I am a little scared now.
I’m telling you this so that you know that up until now my humor and lightheartedness has been sincere. You know that because I’m telling you honestly that it’s waning just a tad right now. I know that all of you have shown some amazing benevolence up until now so I hope you’ll all join together with me in saying “Screw it, Bilow. It’s just another learning experience. Get ‘er done and stay positive!” That’s what i keep telling myself, anyway.
Chapter 10: The Big-Ass Zap
I mentioned last time that I will not be treated with a Gamma Knife because OHSU uses a LINAC for the same purpose. I neglected to mention what that means. I’m not the nuclear physicist in the family but I’ll tell you a couple things.
Many of you have heard of this thing called a Gamma Knife. It is a machine intended specifically for treating intracranial tumors. It uses 192 simultaneous beams of Gamma Radiation to deliver a high does of radiation to a tumor in a single exposure.
Gamma Knife is only one way of delivering localized radiation. Another is to use a more generalized linear accelerator (or LINAC). The value of a LINAC to a place like OHSU is that it can be used for more than just brain tumors. To me, as a patient, it is no different. Instead of using Gamma Radiation it uses X-Rays. Instead of delivering 192 simultaneous beams it delivers a single beam sequentially to many locations. Both machines have similar accuracy of 1mm – 3mm and both yield similar results.I just get locked in, lay there, and let the people in the control room give me my big-ass zap.
Chapter 11: The Team
I’ve been joking about how I hope the dude with the ray gun has good aim. Fortunately, I’m the only guy who laughs at that. In reality, there are a bunch of people who make sure this all goes well.
First is my neurosurgeon. One of his main tasks is to make sure that my head is properly positioned and to consult on other important structures (I think that just means all the shit in my brain that ain’t tumor).
Then there is my Radiation Oncologist. She is cool. She and my neurosurgeon developed my treatment plan and she is the main person responsible for making this all go well. In fact the Nuclear Regulatory Commission requires an “authorized user” for any device like this and that is the role of my Radiation Oncologist.
The other 2 people are the ones who do all the math and design work.
There is a Dosimitrist who manages radiation levels around the contour of the normal structures, double checks the proper orientation of my volumetric image data in the planning software – It would suck to swap left and right(!), computes the dosages for each radiation beam, and does the documentation.
And then there is a medical physicist. He sets up and calibrates the machine, aligns the beam, and, from what I understand, is the guy who actually computes the radiation dose per unit time based on physical measurements of the tumor (which – because he get’s to sit in the other room while I’m bolted into the machine – he get’s to call a “treatment field” around the “target”). I suppose my friends would not be so concerned about me if I had just said I had a “treatment field” instead of a tumor, huh!. But anyway…
The bottom line is that there are enough “checks and balances” that there is no worry about aiming the ol’ ray gun! (so they say).
Chapter 12: But Why’s it Called “Surgery”
The other question I’ve been asked a lot is this: “If they aren’t cutting into your brain then why do they call it surgery?” Here is my interpretation of the answer. When someone has cancer and they give that person many days of low- to mid- level doses of radiation then they call it “therapy”. When it is a very high dose of radiation, done once, targeted at a very small area then they call it “surgery”. Honestly, that’s all I know.
And… Into the the breach we go!
Following the procedure I will do my best to post another bit of writing on this topic. After that, you won’t have to hear from me for a while (at least not about Schwannomas and Radiosurgery!) So, I’ll end with this:
I have evangelical Christians, Mormons, Jews, Unitarians, Muslims, Objectivists, Buddhists, Hindus, Catholics, Eastern Orthodox Christians, Self Realization Fellowship monks, humanists, and all manner of other faiths or non-faiths praying for me, thinking of me, and wishing me well. No matter who is right, I appreciate every prayer, every word of hope, every expression of concern, every bottle of Chateau Lynch Bages (thanks Cope!), and every other good wish I have recieved from my friends and followers. You are all a wonderful community of supporters and I love you all. For now, all I have left to say is:
“Screw it, Bilow. It’s just another learning experience. Get ‘er done and stay positive!”