Thursday, October 24, 2013

Repost: Believe in things you don't understand

I originally wrote this post during radiation therapy.  I chose to repost it because it's upbeat and informative.  It was tough to chose between this one and the one where the owl omen appeared in my backyard, but see how I managed to sneak in a link so that you can find it own your own.  Speaking of sneaking stuff in, happy 33rd birthday to me today!

As I was hoping last week, I have indeed adjusted to this crazy radiation schedule.  It is not nearly as exhausting as it was last week, although I find it hard to believe that it's only been one week.  The electron doses started on Monday and just take an extra few minutes.  Well, the electron dose itself takes only ~20 seconds, but it takes a minute or two for the technicians to get things set up.  My skin is starting to turn a little bit pink, as predicted.  Still not red.  Still not sore.  Huzzah!

In other health-related news, I have 100% range of motion in my left arm.  It is not pain-free, in neither the nerves nor the muscles, so I will continue physical therapy for a bit.  I do my exercises every day, and I can feel improvement every day.  I've started to forget that I used to bump into a breast when I reached across my body.  I've even grown accustomed to the burning nerve pain in my arm.  It's sensitive, but not crippling.  Again, huzzah!

While I was getting zapped today, I was thinking about all of the particles that were poking through my skin.  I couldn't feel these particles, but I nonetheless thought of my poke tally.  Was there a way to calculate how many particles (photons or electrons) were "poking" me in a single dose of radiation?  So that I could start a particle poke tally?  I asked this question of one of the fabulous technicians, and she introduced me to the physicist.  He seemed delighted to talk shop with someone and explained that the radiation machine is calibrated by measuring how it ionizes a known amount of air.  This is then converted mathematically into the ionization of an amount of liquid, liquid being of interest because a human body is ~60% liquid (today mine is ~70% liquid due to the incredible amount of snot I'm producing; thank you sweet Eleanor for giving me your cold).  This is further converted to the unit Joules per gram, and he said from here we could calculate exactly how many Joules-per-gram of radiation I am receiving in a single dose.  It sounded like it would take a fair bit of effort on his part, and because this is an unnecessary exercise I said no thank you.  He further explained that the machine is tested every morning to see that it functions within good parameters, and if it ever falls out of those parameters he re-calibrates it with the air ionization thing.  He also said that he belongs to some Houston-based national radiation calibration organization and follows their calibration protocol annually.  I came away from the discussion with something much better than a particle poke tally:  confidence in the machine and the people running it.  But part of me still wants to know something quantitative about this radiation rather than the empirical "20 seconds of photons here, 10 seconds of photons there, and 20 seconds of electrons there."  It's a little hard for me to grasp, but I guess I'm just biased towards whole atoms.  

It has been a cold, rainy, sleety day here today.  To combat the cooped-up feeling, the girls and I had a disco dance party this evening.  Cinderella even made an appearance:

Pandora radio was our DJ, and one of the songs that popped up was Stevie Wonder's Superstition.  I know I've already posted a Stevie Wonder song, but this one really resonated with my thoughts after the discussion with the physicist today.  Radiation at times feels like it could be superstitious:  I lay there with my arms above my head while a machine waves an over-sized magic wand above my former cancer.  Bibbity bobbity ZAP! and the cancer is gone.  I know it's not superstition, however, and that's why I've found another connection between this song and radiation.  The clavinet riff, which is the song's trademark, sounds like the buzzing noise made by the radiation machine when it is zapping me.  I wish radiation were as funky as Stevie.  Below is the jam-session version of Superstition, performed on Sesame Street.  Smile.    

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