Radio Days (2): Prostate mapping and other larks

An eight-week course of radiotherapy, to treat my prostate cancer, starts soon. So, in preparation I spent most of yesterday at Guy’s Cancer Centre being scanned, measured and probed by a series of large, impressive machines. The one you see above is a General Electric CT scanner. The machinery was operated by a bunch of brisk, caring NHS staff.

Before the radiotherapy starts the docs need to have my prostate mapped so they know where to shoot their rays. They aim to target just my prostate, currently home to the Unwelcome Guest, and leave the healthy tissue alone. Having said that if all goes well, when they hit the cancer it should die, whereas the healthy tissue should regenerate.

The CT scanner does the mapping, but it needs help. That involves my bowels being empty and my bladder being full of water – 350ml to be exact. A cannula was jabbed into my arm, so they could fire dye into my blood stream which apparently makes the prostate and attendant lymph nodes glow in the dark. The technicians also have to fix my position, so it can be replicated while I’m under the gadget that dishes out the radio beams. To help them achieve this I’m now the proud owner of three tattoo crosses which will help them line me up. This seems either charmingly low-tech or alarmingly unscientific depending on your view of such things.

So, I’m lying there, the machinery is whizzing, and all seems to be going well until suddenly it grinds to a halt. The machine, a stickler for such things, has deemed that my bowels are not sufficiently evacuated so I’m sent to the loo with a flea in my ear and an enema to stuff up my arse. What women say about childbirth is equally true here, you check your dignity at the door.

While nature takes its course, I read my book and drink yet another 350ml of water. This all takes around an hour, but this time my bowels are deemed to be in peak condition and the scan gets underway and lasts just a few minutes. I’m not shown the results, but I’m reliably informed the docs now have access to an ordinance survey map of my prostate.

Next up is an MRI scan which is part of a trial I’ve agreed to and is not a feature of current radiotherapy treatment. The trial is an attempt to harness the imaging of both the CT and MRI scans to improve the accuracy of the ray guns which target the luckless prostate. Apparently, a lot of maths is involved, so I think I’ll leave that to them.

MRI scanners and I have form and let me say right away I’m not a fan. My first MRI took place in the 90s to determine whether I had a prolapsed disc in my back – I did. Then around nine months ago I had another scan to check the size and general ugliness of the Unwelcome Guest. It was 10mm’s ugly.

This latest instalment was no better. You are stuck in a tube and as mentioned in a previous blog, the sound the machine makes is the equivalent of living next door to a heavy metal band. Every tune is in a relentless, thunderous 4/4 time signature. No waltz time for this baby. Despite wearing headphones to muffle the racket, after 45 minutes I’ve definitely had my fill.

The staff are grateful for my participation and I’m grateful to be gone. As I leave I’m handed my radiotherapy schedule. The fun starts at 8.30 on 12th September and grinds to a halt on 7th November. I will be reporting on my progress, so join me if you feel inclined, as Jim’s cancer capers continue.


 

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