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Day 2 of 28 Proton Cancer Treatments

William E. Cleary Sr.
PHILADELPHIA, PA--Today, Wednesday, I left the house at 10 AM expecting traffic to be heavy because of the rain and fog. But to my surprise traffic was light. I arrived on South Street in 20 minutes and it took me another 10 minutes to navigate my way to the valet parking at the Abramson center on 34th St.  Connie wanted to come with me but I told her no. I was okay.  After my first treatment, I felt no side effects. I do feel nauseous and I am having headaches but I blame those problems on the hormone pills.

My appointment was for 11 AM. I no sooner sat down than the buzzer I was holding started to beep. It was 10:45 AM.  I am being called already. The buzzer continued to beep as I opened the door into the proton staging area. I like to call it The Home of the Big Zapper, but that is just me.  

Once inside the door, I got turned around and ended up in the wrong room. All the chairs were full of people waiting for treatment. But, not to fear I quickly rebounded. The buzzer is still beeping. I stopped and asked a man holding a buzzer that wasn’t beeping how to turn it off. My luck the guy didn’t speak English.

Before I can be zapped I must drink 3 eight oz glasses of water as my bladder has to be filled to keep it out of the way of the laser beam. I have to wait 30 minutes for that process to work. Stop and think about who figured this all out. How did they come up with the 30 minutes? I chugged down the water. Cardinal Puff came to mind. Only a few people will remember that game. I went into the changing room to put my gowns on. One on backward the other on frontwards. I can’t remember which is which. At last, the buzzer stops beeping. Took my clothes and belongings to the nearby lockers and went into another waiting room where others were also sitting.

My bladder has to be filled to keep it out of the way of radiation. Of course, just thinking about this makes you want to pee.  Before the proton machine came along many men ended up with damage to their bladder or anus because the radiation damaged those organs. With the proton, the laser can be stopped at the tumor without going any further.  It was about 11:30 or so when the nurse calls my name. The room with The Big Zapper is just a short walk from the waiting room. Today the treatment lasts about 10 to 15 minutes. Yesterday it was about the same.  Expect to spend about 90 minutes at the hospital which includes the 30 minutes for the water to enter your bladder, 15 to 20 minutes for proton treatment, and the time it takes to get undressed and dressed. There is always the chance that the machine can break down. 

Below is The Proton Treatment machine. The photos were taken today, December 7. The nurse gave me permission to take a photo of it. Being a rebel I took two. Tomorrow I’ll get her to take my pix with me laying on the bed/slab. Maybe not as I am not wearing any underwear at that point. I’ll play it by ear.
IMG_2537photo credit W.E. Cleary

When the machine is in operation it lights up with a number of different colors. So much is happening in those first few seconds I can’t remember which color is the most prominent. On the ceiling is a water scene with four turtles that appear to be swimming. Why turtles? Why not dolphins? Or people at a nudist camp.  Once the machine starts moving some of the parts of the machine block the water scene from my view.  Christmas Carols are playing.

There are two nurses that greet me at the entrance of the proton room. Yesterday there were three.  I have a gown on with an opening in the back. I am allowed to keep my shirt and socks on, but no underwear.  I lay on the slab/bed you see in the photo on my back with my head to the back of the big machine. That equipment is much bigger than any MRI or CAT scan I have ever seen.  The slab/bed moves back under the overhang. Or maybe it is the big machine that is moving to the bed. I know something is moving. Must pay more attention to it and stop looking at the pretty nurses. The nurses lift me using the sheet I am laying on to position me and my prostate using the tattoos they have on the outside of my body. They line me up with the beams of light coming out from the top of the machine.

Once that is done they leave and the machine starts. Large arms holding large square panels pop out of the sides of the machine and a bigger arm with a beam shooting down on my body comes close to my chest and stomach.

Everything starts moving around my body, stopping every so often to shoot radiation into me. Each day I have felt a warmness on the left side (the tumor is on the left side of my prostate) I keep forgetting to ask if that warm feeling is normal or if is it my imagination. Yesterday when I felt it, I thought I might have had an accident. After all, I continue to hold 24 ozs of water in my bladder.

Whew! Thank God that didn’t happen.  I am sure I would have been the talk of the hospital.

Besides my prostate, the doctor said he wanted to also treat my lymph nodes around my spine area as a precaution. Hopefully, the laser doesn’t hit anything nearby.

In a hurry to get home, I quickly changed my clothes and noticed that I was missing my jacket. Darn, I thought, I had left it in the main room almost an hour ago.  How stupid I thought. I put my pants on and laced my shoes and rushed out to the next room. My jacket was still there where I left it. I was wondering why I was having a tough time walking. Come to find out I put my pants on backward. Do I go back and change or take a chance that no one will notice?  What do you think I did?

All done for another day…Yea! Two down, 26 to go.