Today was the first day of radiation. To prepare me for this historic event, they fit me with my own personalized mask they will use to bolt me to the table so I won’t move … I feel so special! I mean, how many of YOU have you own personal custom-made mask? It is made out of something similar to Kevlar, but with a waffle weave so I can see through it during the treatments. They made it by laying it over my face when it was warm and pliable, molding it to my face and blowing a fan on it to cool and harden it.
Another thing they did for me was to make a “stent” that I clinch in my teeth to protect them somewhat from the radiation. It is sort of like a mouth guard that football players wear, only there is a flat piece between the arch that covers your tongue.
All of this sounds great. But let me tell you …
- When they bolted the mask to the table (with me in it), it was tighter than a two-year-old on his mamma’s leg. After it was over, I had the waffle pattern imprinted on my cheeks and forehead. The looks I got afterwards were comical. I was trying to come up with a quick response but didn’t think of them fast enough. “I fell asleep at breakfast” or “I got hit with a fly swatter” were frontrunners.
- They did a practice run of the treatment to get me used to what was going to happen and to work out any kinks (well, thank goodness for that, right?). I lay down, put the stent in my mouth, they bolted me to the table, and the table slowly went under this huge machine. Then a voice over a speaker says, “Don’t swallow.” What?! Are you kidding me?! As soon as they said the words, my salivary glands responded by kicking into high gear and a huge wad of spit pooled at the back of my throat, which sent the signal to my brain, “SWALLOW NOW!” What happens if I swallow? How can I NOT swallow every day when my throat fills up with this responsive saliva? This became one of my greatest fears of the radiation process.
- When they finally told me I could swallow, I discovered I COULDN’T because of the bleepin’ tongue piece on the stent between my teeth. It depressed my tongue flat, and have you ever tried to swallow without being able to press your tongue against the top of your mouth? Not an easy task, my friend.
- Communicating is, well, tricky. My mouth was clenched on the stent, my mouth was full of spit, and my jaw was bolted shut. I needed to tell the tech something. “Ah hng ga ahk en titer eh nah tah fug,” I said. It came out like my tongue was asleep and I had had 10 margaritas.
He answered, “Sure, where is it?” I looked at him through the waffle weave with amazement. How in the heck did he know what I was saying? I chuckled (well, if you can call laughing through your nose “chuckling”).
“Yeah, I know,” he said, “I get asked that a lot.”
I pointed towards my purse and he grabbed my phone and took a bunch of photos with me laying on the table.
“I want to take a picture with my cell phone” was what he had miraculously deciphered.
And another miracle: They didn’t ask me to not swallow during the real treatment. Thank God for small victories.