1/3 complete

“When you’re ready, take a deep breathe and hold.”

Her voice is smooth and soothing.  I have heard Jodi say these same exact words at least a hundred times now.  I swallow, then fill my lungs with a healthy dose of oxygen, close my throat and freeze.


I now keep my eyes closed during treatment simply because there is nothing to look at and it’s easier to keep my mind from messing with me while I’m trying to remain completely frozen as the rays of radiation are bombarding my body ever so closely to my heart.  The loud buzzing stops.

“You can breathe.”

I slowly let my breath out, enjoying the release.  It’s like a cleansing yoga breath, I tell myself.  The breath holds are not always the same length.  The machine makes it’s mechanical move noise as the techs put it into the next position. Wwhhirrrr

“When you’re ready, take a deep breathe and hold.”

I try not to picture exactly how these rays are hitting my skin as I take another breath and freeze.  BBbbbzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.    This buzz seems to be lasting a way long time.  Suddenly my lungs feel like they are on fire and if I don’t take a breath my entire body will jerk. zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.  No, no Gail.  You are fine. This hold is no different than the others.

“You can breath.”

It’s a struggle, but I slowly let my breath out instead of gasp.  Seriously, none of these breath holds are any longer than 15 seconds.  The machine slowly whirls into its next position.  I wiggle my fingers in an attempt to force some blood into them.  I already can’t feel my thumb.

“When you’re ready, take a deep breathe and hold.”

Though I am in a big friggin hurry to get my arm out of Guido’s vice grip, I wait until my next natural breath exhale before I suck in air and push out my chest.  BBBBzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.  Funny, as a singer, I was taught to breath with my belly.  Belly breathing is actually the healthiest way to breath as it draws oxygen deep into your lower lungs.   Belly breathing is what you naturally do when you take those super deep cleanings breaths that feel so amazing.  Most people breathe with their chest.  If you place one hand on your chest and the other on your belly -which moves more when you breath?

“You can breath.”   Wwhhiiirrrrr.

After my third or fourth treatment, one of the techs asked me if I did yoga.  I told her I DID -but it had been about a year since I’d been able to due to my numerous surgeries.  Then she asked me if I was a runner or swimmer.  ???  I chuckled and said, “Do I LOOK like a runner?”

“Take a deep breath and hold.”    BBBBZZZZZZZZZZzz

She told me that I had amazing breath control.  Ahhh!  That’s when I told her that I was a singer.  I was also an actor wwaaaayyyyy back in the day.  In drama class we actually practiced freezing our bodies.  I was in a play once where we had to hold still for a several minutes at a time while action was happening elsewhere on stage.  I may not have been the best actress, but I could hold a freeze stance like nobody’s business.

“You can breathe.”  wwwhhhiiiirrrr

I don’t have a breast there so my field is much smaller.  You can see why a deep breath is important to pull the tissue as far away as possible.

It’s been far too many years since those days, but there’s something about the potential of accidentally radiating my heart that gives my body the motivation it needs to remain stock still.  I swear the only movement you see while that machine buzzes its death rays into me is the beating of my heart revealed by belly pulses.

“When you’re ready, take a deep breathe and hold.”

I sure wish my arm would pulse with blood!  I remain stock still during the breath hold and try to distract my mind from the pain in my shoulder and arm.  If I don’t get situated just right in Guido’s grip, the blood gets cut off almost immediately to arm.  Yesterday was one of those glorious times when my position allowed enough blood down my arm that I only needed to wriggle my fingers once or twice instead of constantly.

“You can breathe.”  wwhhhirr

I let my breath out and wriggle my shoulder just a little.  I feel a slight bit of warmth come down my arm.  Ahhhh…  I know I’m nearing the end of the treatment now.  A few days ago I started counting how many breath holds I had to do.  Apparently the treatment is different each day.

“When you’re ready, take a deep breath and hold.”

I had asked the techs about the variances at the last treatment.  I was told that yes, they DO change up the treatment  to avoid over radiating any certain area and sometimes they target other areas.  Some days they put a silicone “skin” over me that nice and cool and about a quarter inch thick that is supposed to help direct the rays closer to the top of the dermis.  And sometimes they break up the breath hold into two doses for my sake.  It depends on who is pressing the button that day.

“You can breathe.”  Whhirrrr

Woof!  That was a long one!  Apparently they WILL go longer than 15 seconds for a good breath holder.  At least that speeds up the session a little.  I keep the breath hold count on my right hand by lifting my fingers.  The sessions usually involve about 12-16 breath holds.

“When you’re ready, take a deep breath and hold.”

Each session begins by me whipping off my shirt and laying down on the table.  Two or three techs will get me into position by scooching me on the table using the sheet beneath me to line up the stickers on my belly and chest to the laser guides that shine on me.  The faster they do this the better.  Then they disappear into the adjoining room and the thick steel door closes behind them.

“You can breathe.”   whirrrr

The first thing that happens is the x-ray module comes down and once in position, I’m told to take a breath and hold while an x-ray is taken to make sure I am in the exact proper position.  once a week they add a CT scan as well.

“When you’re ready, take a deep breath and hold.”

The X-ray makes a near imperceptible sound.  But I’ve learned to listen hard for it after the one time the tech forgot to tell me I could breathe again.  After I thought I was about to pass out from holding my breath, I finally yelled out, “Can I breathe?” using as little oxygen as I could.  Soooo happy to hear the “Oh whoops -yes! Breathe!”  Now that I know what to listen for, I won’t be afraid to let my breath go if someone forgets again.

“You can breathe.”   There was a long pause this time with no whhhiiirr.  I opened my eyes to look at the door.  Am I done?  Sometimes the tech will tell me its the last one but they usually don’t.  Even if the door opens I can’t always move my arm in case they are coming in to re-position me or re-mark me.  Alas -no door opened.

“When you’re ready, take a deep breathe and hold.”   BBBbzzzzzzz

Boo.   The radiation module of the machine is definitely behind me now.  The other reason I keep my eyes closed during treatment is that there is a bright light that shines in my eyes once the machine has rotated towards my back.  Guido holds my head in a position that I can only to my right so I’ve never seen just how far the machine rotates but I’m told that it targets all the lymph nodes under my left arm as well.  In fact, the field on my body that is targeted is bigger than I had anticipated.

“You can breathe.”

I can already feel my skin beginning to burn.  I’m into my 11th session now.  A third of the way through the entire treatment.  An area from the middle of my neck (all on the left side of course) down to under my arm, all around to my back (about as far as my right hand can reach) and about 2-3 inches below where my breast used to be is now getting pink and hot.

“When you’re ready, take a deep breath and hold.”

I put the recommended Calendula cream on as soon as I get home and again before I go to bed.  It’s supposed to help but the doc warned me that my treatment is very aggressive and that I WILL burn some.  This is why its important to use the cream and to stay out of the sun.  What they didn’t warn me about was the itch.  Like a sunburn, I’m finding the area also has that weird hurt-itch happening as well.  And of course it hurts like a mo-fo if I forget and actually scratch it.

I have another several breath holds to suffer through, but you get the idea.  The whole process is pretty boring but tedious as I try to distract myself from freaking out during breath holds, not twitching when I get random nerve pains during treatment, or forgetting I’m supposed to be holding my breath when a good song comes on the radio that I want to sing to.

It’s always music to my ears when the door opens and I’m told I can lower my arm.  They lower the table and unbind my feet so I can hop off and put my shirt on.  I collect my parking pass, say my goodbyes (usually a “see you tomorrow”) and make the long trek back out to my car.

I am pleased with myself as I climb the 5-6 floors to where ever I was able to find parking that I can go up that many flights without getting winded.  Thank you awesome breath holds!  I realize that for the first time in a long time I feel positive about my future.

My intuition or body awareness that I’ve developed over the last year that has let me know when Larry was growing back and assured me that those lymph nodes were NOT cancerous is giving me a sense of peace about this treatment.  It occurred to me today that I really feel that radiation is what’s going to work to finally kill off Larry for good.  I know that is everyone’s fervent prayer these days -mine as well.

It’s that proverbial breath hold waiting for the NED (“no evidence of disease” all clear message) that I can’t wait to tell everyone:

“You can breathe.”




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One Response to 1/3 complete

  1. Jess says:

    I used to bring my cream with me to radiation, put it on before leaving and put it on about four times a day. I really liked dream cream from lush. If you get burns your doc can prescribe a special cream as well. Also they have stuff for itching too


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