I started radiation therapy last Thursday and have had seven treatments already (my treatments are every day at 8AM). They are treating my 11th rib on my left side and my T4 vertebrae in my upper back. The treatment takes about 20 minutes and is pretty uneventful. I just lay on a table and this HUGE machine with four arms moves around me and buzzes. I don't feel anything (except anxiety) and then I am done. It "zaps" each area twice (once from the side and once from directly above my body). The machine is aligned by lasers and markers on my body and it basically get's aligned and takes an X-ray to ensure it's in the right spot, and then gives me a 20 second dose of radiation. The people there are extremely friendly. I have to say that my experience with Hematology & Oncology Associates (HOA) which is my treatment center in Syracuse has been amazing. Everyone, from the administrative staff, the nurses, the techs, the PA's, the research staff and the doctors have been amazing. They are so friendly and always smiling and really help to make a bad experience better. The work they do is so important and I grateful for everyone of them.
The side effects of the radiation are exactly as described. I was told that radiation doesn't have many, except when done at the same time as chemo, as it kind of intensifies those side-effects. So I am basically more tired and fatigued now, and sometimes my body feels like it's just getting old (I move slow, my joints are sore, etc). On top of that, since the radiation field passes through my esophagus , I get a sore throat once in a while. I am told that this will get worse over time, and will eventually make it difficult to swallow, but will go away soon after I stop radiation (my last dose is on April 7th). I really just don’t like the idea of radiation, but I do like the idea of it stopping the cancer from doing further damage to my T4 vertebrae, as the issues that it can cause in this specific area of my body can be pretty serious.
I had my 20th chemo treatment on Friday. Four more to go before we head back to Boston for another full set of scans and to learn what's next in my treatment plan. I am not even going to try to predict what's next…but I know we are meeting with the surgeon, so there is a chance that we go in that direction next. I am curious to know how the discovery of another spot (my L2 vertebrae) will impact their decision. The reason they don't want to do surgery now is because they are worried about taking me off chemo…they are worried that the cancer will spread more as it's usually very aggressive. Of course that's what I am worried about too, but part of me still wants to get this surgery over and done with, and behind me.
Remember to check out my Heart Walk webpage for the Syracuse Heart Walk that's on April 18th. You can check it out at http://heartwalk.kintera.org/syracuseny/willmccaffrey.
I figured I would throw this in at the end of my post this week. A few people have asked me what the difference between chemotherapy and radiation therapy are. To be honest, until my Pa (god rest his soul) got cancer in 2007 I didn't know the difference either. So, in case anyone is wondering here is the most basic explanation I can give you. Chemotherapy is a medication that is given either orally or through direct infusion into the blood (which is how I get it). It's a systemic treatment that treats your entire body. It's basically a poison that kills fast growing cells, which include cancer cells (as well as other, healthy cells, like hair, blood cells, etc). Radiation therapy is a local treatment, that targets a specific site in your body and uses radiation "beams" to burn/kill cancer cells to stop them from growing. Unfortunately, radiation can also damage healthy cells, but as the technology gets better they are better able to control and minimize this.
Finally, I want to continue to thank all of the people in my life who continue to help me through this. There are way too many people to name, but as I have said since October, I am the luckiest person alive because of the support system I have. My wife, parents, siblings, nana and family (all of them including my aunts, uncles, cousins and in-laws) have been so good to me that I know I have come this far because of them. My employer, The American Heart Association, and my boss Marty and some of the other great friends and co-workers I have there have been so supportive and flexible through this ordeal. Being able to live my life and work full time has been a huge part of the progress I have made since this began as the best way to fight and win this battle is to continue to live my life and not let the cancer beat me. Thank you so much to everyone…I am so full of love and gratitude to you all that I still can't put it into words.