Measuring Up to be Microwaved

Yesterday was my radiotherapy booking-in appointment. So, off I went to the basement of Bart’s hospital to be fitted and measured.

Some more forms to fill in and consents to be signed – this time, consenting to have permanent marks made on my body. Until now, I have avoided having tattoos: it just doesn’t appeal to me, though I’ve sometimes thought I might take it up in later life. Never did I consider that the design would be three small dots. But there you go: I’ll think of it as abstract art.

Strip to the waist again, and put on this gown. I share the waiting area with a hairless woman and her two kids, a young adult daughter and a teenage-ish son. She’s having radiotherapy to her brain. I ponder on how lucky I am.

Then it’s off to the radiotherapy room, past a door marked “Mould Room”: I think I’ll stay out of there.

My team of three radiotherapists – two women and a man – are all friendly and kind. When I mention I’m a poet, they ask for an ode, and the only one that comes to mind is Jeremy Hunt. Really, you can’t go wrong  having a go at Jeremy Hunt to NHS staff. My joke about sending my tumour to the USA goes down well too. “We’ve got a comedian here”, they advise colleagues.

Gown off, lie down on this. With MRI scans, I get to lie on my front and dangle my boobs through a couple of hilarious holes, but for radiotherapy, I lie on my back with my hands interlaced above my head as instructed, and the full implication of enormous jugs hits home. This requires some intense discussion among the team, with an invitation to the oncologist and the guy form the aforementioned Mould Room to join the deliberations. This is when I find out that the Mould Room is where they make special moulds, usually to protect your face when having radiotherapy to the eyes, brain or other head parts, but occasionally to prop up massive knockers. An essential, and rather more pleasant, room than the, ahem, mouldy one that I had imagined.

Eventually, they decide that my boobs lie so beautifully that I will not need a mould. This is simultaneously reassuring and disappointing, as I had already secured their agreement that I could keep the mould after the treatment. Ah well.

So, we move on to the scan – similar to the MRI but much more brief and without the horrid drippy thing. Lie back and relax as your body moves in and out of a large whirring drum. All good.

Once it’s over, I open my eyes and look down and there is a green laser-type line of light straight up the middle of my body. That scene in which James Bond is strapped to a table while an emormous circular saw approaches between his legs jumps into my mind. But apparently, it indicates that I am lying perfectly symmetrically. I am impressed with myself.

Next comes the only part which is painful. Having lined everything up to their satisfaction, and called out various measurements to each other for noting, the radiotherapists need to make permanent marks so that they will know where to aim their magic beams: one on the side of each breast, one in the middle. But it’s a momentary, and pretty mild, pain. It’s quite an inky procedure, so there is some mopping up to be done.

I should mention at this point that I have no sense of embarassment or self-consciousness about having my boobs out in front of medics – even at the point when one of them was reaching across my body holding up my breast with both hands while another one did the tattooing. Neither do I have any sense of embarrassment about medics poking around my cervix (which, perhaps surprisingly, has happened twice so far during my breast cancer treatment). It’s just as well, all things considered. I really feel for women who do feel this self-consciousness, although I am confident that the medical staff will be kind and sensitive and do their best to put them at their ease. I am angry at a society that makes women feel bad about our body parts, a world in which social media bans pictures of bare breasts but allows open racism, that scrutinises women’s looks and shapes far more than our talents or opinions.

Anyways, the booking appointment finishes with the schedule for the radiotherapy itself. Starting on Monday 13 February, I will attend Bart’s every weekday morning at 09:50 to be zapped, and should be done by 11am. I am hoping for minimal side effects so I can enjoy some late morning coffee meet-ups with friends.

Apparently it may cause swelling. A highly amusing prospect. Onwards and upwards.

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