The New Radioactive Man, Part 1: Preparation

The New Radioactive Man, Part 1: Preparation

I walk hunched over, lurching forward with a pronounced limp in my left leg. For the past two months, the pain shooting down through my sciatic nerve on my left side has grown progressively less bearable. I have tried alleviating the pain with a TENS unit, through stretching and motion, through manipulation of my posture, and through a variety of drugs. It has been a few weeks since an MRI pinpointed both a mildly bulging disc at the base of my spine and also a marble-sized mass in the muscle of my lower back. While I had hoped treating the aberrant disc with high-doses of anti-inflammatory ibuprofen might solve the problem, it became clear that the newly-discovered mass was the culprit.

Small Tumor, Big Source of Pain

Small as it is, the mass has developed in a section of muscle where the roots of the sciatic nerve begin. There is little pressure here, but not much is required to set off jolts of pain. There is an active tumor in my spine, hidden from most scans by bone and previously kept at bay during my years of chemotherapy. For the past five months, however, I have been treating my lung cancer with the targeted drug, afatinib. Watching the development of my primary tumor, floating in the upper lobe of my left lung on scan after scan with relatively little change in size, it became clear with the latest CT scan that afatinib would not be a long-term solution for me. While the overall size of my lung tumor remained consistent in the new images, the shape was beginning to change in ways it never had before. Some parts of the tumor were being killed, but other parts were thriving. There was no surprise in the revelation that, as my new radiation oncologist put it, there was a “drip” down from the tumor in the spine, forming a new metastasis in the muscle.

Knowing that a solution to this pain is available to me is very exciting. I am a big proponent of taking advantage of available care. And I am excited to get started as quickly as possible. It is a milestone worth commemorating.

Prepping for Radiation

This morning I received my first tattoo. It was not as glamorous as I would have thought; the prick of the needle neither particularly sharp nor the design particularly memorable. Indeed, it was just three dots, small blue specks to denote where the radio waves will be directed. In a way, being inked thusly was somewhat anti-climatic, even under the grid of red scan lines that made me feel like an outtake from some 1980s science fiction film or vector-based video game. But with those dots in place, the ten sessions that lie ahead of me will be quick and easy and entirely pre-calibrated.

Laying flat on my back is difficult, but this morning I suffered through a short CT scan simulation designed to ensure that the target was pinpointed and the coordinates for my treatment were locked in. I won’t get an actual zapping for a couple of days while paperwork and scheduling are taken care of but after my first treatment with radiation, I expect that the palliative effects will begin quickly.

Trying something new can be daunting, and there are no shortages of stories about how radiation has affected patients over the years. Yet, coming into this experience with a direct need and knowing that it will be the quickest solve to my problem, I find great confidence in this choice. And I find myself somewhat less stressed by accepting this course of action. In truth, I am excited to become a new radioactive man.


Read part 2 of Jeffrey’s article for an update on his radiation therapy.

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