Treatments have begun

Monday’s PET scan allowed the doctors to determine that the cancer has not spread beyond my neck and throat. What a relief. So we have been able to proceed with the planned course of treatment: radiation therapy targeted on my neck, plus a general chemotherapy treatment.

My first radiation treatment took place yesterday, Thursday. Not really knowing what to expect, I had gotten myself somewhat anxious. The session began, as anticipated, with me putting my new fluoride trays in my mouth and then laying down on the table. Nice clean sheets, and quite comfortable. Then the techs put velcro cuffs around my wrists that are attached to a strap that is tightened (snugly, but not uncomfortably) around the bottom of my shoes, the effect being to pull my wrists towards my feet and prevent me from inadvertently lifting my shoulders during the treatment. My mask was placed over my head & secured, and the techs then used a matrix of low-power laser beams to make small final position adjustments to my torso. The techs then left the room, and the huge machine began burping out sounds of all sorts, ranging from low hums to a warning buzzer. After about 20 minutes, the techs walked back into the room and said “Okay, you’re done.” Really? That was it? In the end, it was rather anti-climactic. No pain, no pain. The machine is impressive. I’ll report more on the machine later – I still need to get a better understanding of how it works, but in the meantime here’s a picture:


Clinec image

Following yesterday’s radiation treatment, I met with my medical oncologist. Dr. Liu is the third key member of  my care team (the other two being Dr. Davidson, the otolaringology surgeon who first found the tumor in my throat, and Dr. Harter, a radiation oncologist). All three of these Georgetown doctors have a specialty in treating head and neck cancers, and do this sort of thing all day, every day. They know what they’re doing. After chatting for 15 minutes or so with Dr. Liu about the treatment plan overall and my specific options for chemotherapy, we decided to go with weekly doses of Cisplatin. The other option would have been to do Cisplatin “bolus” once every three weeks, but the side effects from the higher dose are apparently much more severe. My initial chemo treatment will be next Wednesday morning, meaning that I will have had four radiation sessions before the chemo starts contributing to the equation, and Dr. Liu said he is happy with that timing. There are several type of chemotherapy, but Cisplatin has been found to be most the effective option for neck and throat cancers. In addition to inhibiting the cell division process throughout my body (and cancer cells are prodigious dividers), Cisplatin also acts as a “radiosensitizer.” What this means is that it will make the cancer cells in my throat and neck more susceptible (or responsive) to the radiation treatment. So this is a situation where the radiation and chemo combine to create a result where 1 + 1 = 2.3. So not a huge boost in efficacy, but the two work well together.

After Dr. Liu, I met with the oncology dietician, Rachel Wong, who encouraged me to eat well for as long as possible. My baseline weight, as measured yesterday, is 165 pounds, and they don’t want me to fall below that throughout the treatment. So she encouraged me to chow down over the next couple of weeks so that I will have a few extra pounds to lose once throat soreness and dormant taste buds cause me to lose my appetite. She told me that taking in sufficient calorie will become a chore, and that I will need to treat food like medicine for awhile.

I had my second radiation treatment today. It was fine. It even started to feel routine. Going into the weekend, I’m glad to be feeling great.

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5 Responses to Treatments have begun

  1. Kim Fitzpatrick says:

    Chocolate milk shakes, donuts, snickers bars I could go on and on. Enjoy this directive and beef up! I am so glad your treatment has started. The sooner the better and the sooner it will be finished! Oh and remember beer has lots of calories! Hugs, Kim

  2. Alex S says:

    Salut mec!
    Glad to hear treatment is proceeding smoothly and thank you for letting us know what you are undergoing!
    – On the topic of diet and calories…. Are you up for a fondue? Would be happy to get the cheese shredded and ready for you, and you can come over when you want!
    – Is there a means to receive your future posts via email or RSS?
    De tout coeur avec toi…

  3. Pam McGill & Lou Del Gobbo says:

    Sean – Thinking of you often and sending you lots of positive thoughts. Great to hear that so far all is going well.
    Pam and Lou

  4. Phil Scruggs says:

    Glad everything has started out well. Keep it going that way! Let me know if you want some company for the next treatment. I have been to Georgetown University Hospital many times in recent years. In the distant past too as I was born there.

  5. connie swymeler says:

    Great news about the cancer not spreading. My idea of comfort food is mashed potatoes and gravy, macaroni and cheese and corn on the cob. Sure weight gain tips. Tested by me for years. I continue to keep you in prayer and send positive thoughts your way. I love you and send hugs and kisses. Aunt Connie

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