Proton therapy: day one

It’s not really day one, because that was two weeks earlier, when I had my initial visit and setup.

This is day one of my proton therapy treatment. There are 27 to go.

Where to begin?

The facility is beautiful and the staff are incredibly friendly, personable, helpful.

For the second time, traffic was heavier than expected. We arrived at 8:10 for 8:15 check-in for 8:30 appointment. Because it was the first treatment, I wanted to be on time. I didn’t realize the appointment was supposed to last 45 minutes — that’s because they have to calibrate the equipment.

The receptionist gave me my badge as well as a bag with a thick cotton robe and slipper socks. That’s to go over the hospital gown! I just have to remember to bring it back with me each day.

Mike got to go into the back with me; these pix are from his phone yet. The device is massive but it doesn’t look like the photo in the brochure.

proton therapy treatment
In order to get the “gun” as close to me as possible, technicians have removed its cowling.

I have two treatment areas – chest wall and lymph nodes around the collar bone. Each area has two treatments, slightly overlapping one another to account for movement from breathing.

I lay down in my foam cradle on a narrow metal table in the cold room; the cradle is to ensure that I’m always in the same position. I’m not to move once we get me settled and lined up. The two techs started setting up; there are two brass plates for each treatment (total of eight). James is from Kentucky; Trang is from Oregon.

proton therapy
On the proton therapy treatment table with James. We’ve not yet turned my head to the right.

The set up part went smoothly.

Then treatment one. Not very long. I didn’t hold my breath but I took shallow breaths. (“Breathe. We don’t want you to turn blue!” James told me.)

Change the plates and get ready for treatment two.

Clang-clang, stop. One of the guys comes in, does something, leaves. Clang-clang, stop. One of the guys comes in, does something, leaves. Rinse-and-repeat. Ad nauseam. Each departure is accompanied by two loud “door bell” rings.

Finally, I ask what’s going on. The magnets aren’t lining up properly so the “gun” won’t fire.

Time drags. My hands are asleep, the left one is behind my head, the right at my side. My head is turned to the right. My neck (the right side) starts to cramp.

I ask again what’s happening. Engineering has been called (that took long enough!). I explain that I desperately need to move. Hang on, they plead.

It’s now 9:30; the entire session was supposed to have ended by now, and we haven’t finished two of four.

By 9:50, they’ve got the machine working and finish the treatment for the chest wall.

James and Trane help me sit up, get my blood flowing. My bottom (lower spine/sacrum) hurts more than my neck. Both hands now tingle.

Then I lie back down. They recalibrate (because I moved) and then do the other two treatments, chop-chop.

I get changed, text Mike that I’m finally done, and ask him for a cup of coffee. We need to be in Bellevue for an 11 am appointment and it’s 10.15.

I walk into the lobby … and see what seems to be a dozen paramedics, an ambulance and fire truck outside with lights going, and a lady lying on the floor with said paramedics circled.* Mike is finishing up my coffee at the beverage bar, which is on the far side of the lounge. (They also have iPad loaners and device chargers everywhere.)

Mike goes to the truck while I check out (hand in my badge that gets scanned everywhere and has an RFID chip). Jennifer had already given me the card that lets us in-and-out of the parking lot without needing to pay.

And then we’re off for Bellevue.

Oh – and they have a graduation party when you finish treatment. And a private FB group for patients that I’ve asked to join.

* The long and short story end with “we don’t know.”



Header image:
Those brass plates customize my four treatments.

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