Tuesday, June 28, 2011

I Glow in the Dark!

One look at the massive machine that will deliver my daily radiation treatments is terrifying. A  room with one huge technologically advanced machine designed to destroy cancer cells. All is can say is, “Oy!”
Preparation for my treatment is equally scary. I met up with two radiation techs who will prepare me for my future treatments. Both are very nice -- polite and professional. Their job is to create a mold that will be used every time I visit the “machine.” I must always be in the same, precise spot for this to work. So, precision is essential. They move me onto the table and begin taking measurements. My right breast is the focal point and they begin “drawing” on it with markers. I must admit, this part seemed rather “funny” to me and I did start laughing. Realizing how I felt, the also began laughing along with me. It lightened the mood, which otherwise was (as noted before) very professional. (I have to admit, no one has ever drawn on my breast before. So, yes, this was both unique and weird!) 
At some point in this long, lasting procedure I finally saw Dr. Daniel Buchholz, M.D., a radiation oncologist at MD Anderson. (Look up Division of Radiation Oncology at
His job, to ensure that my markings are precise and that each and every time I have a treatment, the same location will be radiated. It is a series of calculations -- we’re talking high level math (not my speciality). I listen to the discussion but I am lost. I don’t really understand everything happening, even though I did read and re-read the material given to me. (Yes, I’m one of those individuals who reads through all the medical data handed to me -- whether I fully comprehend it or not.)I’m moved ever so slightly in a new direction. The doctor checks and re-checks the position. More marks are made to my breast.  I have magic marker all over my right breast at this point. Numbers, lines, whatever. I can’t really see what’s going on and won’t truly see the “masterpiece that’s been created until later. 
Then, without must fanfare, Dr. Buchholz seems to exit and now I’m left with the two techs. They begin to make preps for the next step. One, that I apparently did not read about -- or that I chose to ignore. They are now ready to tattoo me. Just hearing the words “tatoo” freaks me out. I actually attempted to break lose from the straps holding me down, but they were strong. I began screaming, “NO! You can’t tattoo me!!” I was insane with confusion and fear. One of the techs, realizing how terrified I was, stopped for a moment and began to roll up the sleeve of her lab coat. She showed me this tiny, dark blue (almost navy-colored) mark on her forearm. It resembled a freckle except for the color. She quietly explained that they had to do this. It was an absolute necessity. Two tiny (permanent) marks needed to be made so that the procedure could be done accurately every time. These were the guide marks -- the two blue dots would serve as the guidelines for setting me up for treatment. Since precision was a necessity, the tattoos were not optional. The other X’s and lines (being made by the markers) would continue to be done on a daily basis. I was asked to try not to scrub my breast area too much while washing -- however, they would make these markings on me each time I visited. But, the blue dots -- they had to be there. Every decision made by Dr. Buchholtz was done to ensure that my actual radiation dose and the exact location for delivery were the same every single time, without any room for errors. This was all calculated beyond anything my brain could understand. 
I finally settled down, and then I felt the pricks. Both techs did the tattoos at the same time. I recall a quick sharp pain and then, it was over. I was still upset and quite honestly, it would take time for me to both get over my fear as well as my feelings about what had happened. When I did arrive home, I tried to find the tiny tattoos. However, with all the other X’s and marks they had made, I could not even find the little blue dots. 
I would not see them until months later -- long after my radiation treatments were over. And by that time, I considered my “tatoos” to be a badge of honor -- a sign that I was a survivor.  


  1. Well, now I see I didn't do it right so I'm reposting what I said here . . . Marilyn, I'm not sure I'm doing this right but giving it a try to see if it posts back on your FB page. So far your blog is amazing! Did you keep a detailed journal during your journey? I can't imagine anyone remembering the details you've described otherwise. Heck, I had tatoos and can't even remember getting them. But, I think I was in a fog for a lot of my treatment . . . my built in defense mechanism!!

  2. In response to your question about my ability to recall details, let's just say that my brain is now just beginning to wake up. It was "asleep" for many years and quite honestly, I was walking through the world with a dysfunctional brain. I kept some journals but many were disjointed -- words ran on and sentences hardly made any sense. When I read them, I needed to read between the lines in order to figure out what I was saying. My big problem was I could not write during those dark years. My brain shut down and as a writer, I was not functioning well. That's why I did apply for the United Arts grant in 2008 -- I was forced to write. That brought me out of my writer's block and now, words are coming back to me. Yeah! I'm a writer and I feel great! This blog is keeping me on the right track and it's allowing me to continue my bigger project -- my book. Darla - I appreciate your kind words and support. We've been through a lot as survivors. I am proud to call you my friend.