Gettin' Ready to Radiate!

After a magnificent lunch at Boulettes Larder – oh my goodness.  Hold on. The lunch. Can I just stop for a minute and tell you about this lunch?  I had the arugula and burrata salad.  The arugula arrived about 2 hours before I ate it, after having been picked this morning.  And the cheese?  Good gracious.  It was a divine experience.  All of this outside.  On a beautiful, sunny day.


After the incredible lunch, I headed over to the UCSF Comprehensive Cancer Center for my radiation preparation appointment.  As I walked in, I had that all too familiar feeling of shock that announces, “WTF are you doing HERE? You were just supposed to go for a check-up.”  Sometimes the feeling gives me chills.  Other times, it gives me a hot flash.  Either way, I’m thrown off. (Better than throwing up!  Silver Lining).

Very quickly, however, my chills were warmed and my hot flash cooled thanks to the UCSF staff. Every person I met was nicer than the last. More patient than the last.

Whenever I get nervous, I tend to speak very quickly and my voice goes up a couple of octaves. And nerves tend to bring on a hot flash. All of which happened today. Not attractive.  At all. Especially with Irish skin.

Staff patience and warmth persisted which was a huge Silver Lining!

The reason that I had to have this preparation, otherwise known as a simulation appointment is because before radiation therapy can begin, a radiation oncologist must prescribe the dose of required radiation.

The way to determine said prescription is to do an X-ray and CT scan to determine the exact boundaries of the treatment area.

I had to lay in the worst imaginable position during these tests.  See the blue appendages in this photo? Well, my arms had to “rest” in this absurd torture apparatus.


My arms went in the blue "appendages"...strapped down so I couldn't move. Or feel my arms. At all.


I went to the rodeo last summer in Santa Barbara (my first and last time).  The device I was in today made me feel like those poor little calves who race out in the middle of a ring and have their hooves (all of them…or the majority of them!) tied down so that they are immobile.  That’s what I thought about when I was “tied” to this device.  Thankfully, my feet were not restrained (though I was told not to move or cross them!).

By the time I could no longer feel my arms, I seriously thought:  “A person doesn’t really need arms.  I get it because I now longer have any sensation in mine.  Though, how am I going to hail a cab when I get out of here (without arms)?  Maybe someone could call a cab for me.  How am I going to eat dinner (without arms)?” …& so on…

This was seriously my line of thinking as I was laying on a hard table. In a room. By myself.

Why by myself, you ask?  Well, because the emissions from the X-ray and CT scan are so toxic that no one can be in the room when I received them.  The technicians would come in from time to time to check in on me or to change my position.

Here’s the dialogue when they came in (which tried every last bit of my patience):

Don’t move. We will move you.  Don’t hold your breath. Breathe normally, but not too deeply. Don’t talk. This scarf won’t do. Wait…don’t move.  I think we have it.  Breathe. Normally. Not too deeply.

Now, you should no longer wonder why I had those bizarro thoughts.

Anyway, by the time I was done, the area to be radiated was tattooed on my skin. Can you imagine?  I went to Catholic school for an innumerable period of time without a tattoo…and now, thanks to FBC, a tattoo is mandated.  Comedy of the absurd – again!

These tattoos will stay on my skin throughout the entire treatment period because they show exactly where the radiation will be delivered.

After the tattoos were on,  I was told it was time for my “bolus”.  WTF? This caught me completely off guard. My learning curve never ceases.

Though I’ve never had a cast, this was the closest thing I could imagine to having a body cast.  The technicians warned me “this will be warm” before they put the plastic material over my lady lumps.  It felt good, actually.  Like a warm blanket.

WTF is a bolus, you ask?  Well, so did I!

A bolus is a flabby, rubbery material that is used to ‘fool’ the radiation beam so it will deposit the maximum dose on the skin surface instead of a fraction of an inch deeper, as it would otherwise. The net-net is that the bolus ensures that the radiation goes exactly where it should go (near the surface of the skin) and not anywhere else.


My Bolus. I wonder if it will be incorporated into the La Perla Fall Collection...


In addition to a bolus, the delivery of radiation requires a team effort.

The radiation oncologist works with physicists, technicians and a medical dosimetrist (dosimetrists are responsible for calculating and devising the dose of radiation to best destroy a tumor/tumors while sparing normal tissues). It takes at least 3 days to determine a radiation dose.

Radiation therapy treatments take a few minutes each day (please don’t put the word “only” before “a few minutes). This will take place everyday (Monday through Friday).

The radiation dose is usually is delivered from several different angles so that healthy tissue is exposed to a lower total dose of radiation and to give a more uniform dose to the treatment area.

Next week, I will have a “dry run” (as it says on my appointment card) of radiation.  My official first dose will begin on Tuesday.

After my appointment, I walked to the Ferry Building and had myself a little sweet treat.



Patience:  A minor form of despair disguised as a virtue.

~Ambrose Bierce




Leave a comment


  1. says

    We have more in common than I want to have but… Could not do radiation because of a "complicated cyst" was discovered but did Chemo & surviving, did go to Catholic Elem school (the Nuns would not like your WTF I say "sweet Jesus help me" & he does. I aso have the world's best husband but for 46yrs & love him "More" (our song) everyday & hope he reciprocates the feeling. Can't "control" anything we can only have "hope" & believe we have the best Drs. best "cocktails" & pray to God they'll work their best to get/keep us well. Just breathe.

    • says

      I love hearing about your husband. How absolutely wonderful! You're so right that the Nuns would DEFINITELY not like my WTF's. I went to Catholic school when I was a little girl and can only imagine the trouble I'd be in! As they often said, "Jesus, Mary and Joseph…" (with an Irish brogue of course!).

  2. says

    You are so good at seeing (and sharing) the humor in this not particularly funny experience! I love the BOLUS and your comments about the technicians inane and contradictory comments as they tried to get you in the proper position. I'm SO glad you can finally eat, and those chocolates look DELISH. Hang in there. This is the final leg of the journey. XO

  3. Linda says

    Thanks Hollye, as always, for giving me an honest look at the next treatment stop on the cancer train. As I mentioned I am about to leap into chemo, and radiation will be down the line. Always remember that you are doing people like me an enormous good. Thank you.
    Also, as an aside, my daughter bought me a Hermes scarf for Mother's Day! Hope suggestions are on the way!

  4. Merryl says

    Love you Hol! You are a rock star. So, when you get done with your FRT each day, go to Miette and have something divine and be sure to take lots of photos. That place is sure to make you feel the love!

  5. Kim says

    Your lunch sounded wonderful and the cashmere divine!You're in good hands Hollye. I can understand your thoughts during CT – I used to say FUBAR. Keep busy with lots of self care this weekend. You're in my thoughts.


  6. Susan Rooney says

    Wow- what an unbelievable journey you are on Holley… Your amazing description of getting ready to radiate allows each reader the privilege of being right there with you (as we sob openly onto our keyboards!) Your optimism, humor, vulnerability, patience and gratitude are priceless gifts to all of us.
    Soulful appreciation and all my prayers,
    Susan Rooney

  7. Jools says

    Your bolus is lovely darling! Perhaps you can have it duplicated in marble when you no longer need it? I am happy for you that you're on the last phase of your treatment and I am hoping for NO side effects whatsoever! (except for higher credit card statements from lovely SF dining and shopping).