Tuesday morning. Prior to chemo. Appointment with the radiotherapy team.
I get shown down to the basement, a new area to me. My realm thus far has included the waiting room on the ground floor, the Macmilland centre to book up those reflexology sessions, the first floor Day Care Centre where the dreaded chemo takes place, and the second floor where the Oncologists sit in their ivory towered offices, and the boardroom where I once attended a Look Good Feel Better class staffed by scary make-up salesgirls plastered in their own products. Beyond these areas, the building still holds some mysteries.
The basement is where all the radiotherapy machines are kept. I'm not sure if this is because the machinery is so heavy it cannot be supported on other floors, or if it's a temperature control thing. I know the place has to be cold to keep the machines working - maybe that's easier when based in the old cellars of a building? I must ask someone who knows.
I am met by a smiley young woman who takes me through my schedule. They have planned out my 30 appointments over the six weeks starting on the 10th September. Contrary to what I was led to expect, my appointment is not scheduled for the same time every day but varies. For the first few weeks it's all over the place - jumping from early morning slots to late afternoon. The later weeks seem to settle into a more or less regular mid-morning slot.
I'm not so bothered by the variety of daily times. Just the fact that I have them in my possession now, four weeks before my first treatment, means that I can plan my life. It's not that I'm anxious to cram everything in. It's more that I don't want to have to spend time re-arranging every appointment at the last minute, messing up other people's diaries in the process. Most people don't get their schedules until a week before treatment starts. I have pushed hard to bring my scheduling forward so that I can be armed with my schedule and avoid double booking myself in the first place.
I am then left to wait for the CT scan room to become ready for me. When they are, the temperature of the room is the first thing that hits me. It's true about the coldness in these places. The assistant apologises because the temperature means she also has icy hands, which will shortly be manhandling me into position on the large, very cold-looking, radiotherapy back-board that lies in wait.
I strip my top half off and lie down on the board. It's not that bad once you seal skin on metal but then I have to put my arms up behind me in to the supports so that they can centre my body. The assistant starts to draw on me with a pen. She then announces that her colleague is in the room. A new face peers at me around my peripheral vision and says hello. It is weird being immobile and not being able to see people creep up on you.
The board I am lying on is designed to slide in and out of a huge doughnut shaped machine which is the CT scanner. They raise me up and down until they can see a clear passage and then slowly inch me closer to the centre of the machine. There are three red laser beams emanating from the central ring of the doughnut, and it is these they need to line me up with. One of them lifts my hips slightly and swivels me. The other inches an arm up a little higher. I feel like a very heavy, very cold rag doll and my right arm is starting to feel a little numb. Eventually they get me so close to the hard edges of the CT scanner doughnut hole that my left arm is in contact with the beige plastic.
Eventually they are satisfied with my position and place some little stickers on strategic points of my body ready for the CT scan to pick up. In my media-advertising-TV-production head this is akin to donning the ping pong ball motion suit they may actors wear when filming using CGI techniques. Not that my breast is about to star in the next Lords of the Rings style epic, but you never know.
Then they leave the room and tell me to relax and stay still for the scan, but that they are only the other side of the screen and can hear me if I need to call out to them.
I am suddenly relaxed. It is silent with the hum of machinery. Then all of a sudden a massive whir starts up. The donut shape supports a circular piece of machinery which is now winding itself up into a great centrifugal whir. The noise and activity is suddenly a little scary and industrial but after 30 seconds I get used to it. The board starts moving me in and out of this blur of circling machinery, apparently of it's own accord, but obviously based on their operations behind the screen, inching me forward into those previously marked positions. Except on the last one they barely stop in time and my left arm is slightly squished against the hard moulding of the machine. Not so much that it hurts, just enough to have me almost cry out for them to stop.
They come back in and pull me out of my hole. They take off the stickers and then come back with a small needle and some ink to tattoo the points of alignment into me. I get one tiny prick either side of each boob, and one just between the two. I was told the ink would be black. It's blue. I seem destined to have blue tits one way or the other.
Then it's time to unravel myself from my position, rub some warmth into my limbs and put my clothes back on. Next session will be a check of all of this - a verification of the plan - followed by the rads proper when they start on the 10th Sep.
Before then I need to go and finish chemo (now accomplished, but for a few lingering side-effects) and then go see a man about removing a portocath.
Later that day I make my way home, stopping to try on a top in Monsoon at Waterloo. I forget momentarily what I've been up to and catch sight of my doodled-on body in the changing room mirror.