Pinpoint Radiation for bladder cancer tumours

The 'Varian Linear Accelerator TrueBeam'
(Radiation machine)

If we read in a book about a character who becomes fatigued after cleaning a whole house, how would we really know how tired he/she was? Only after we'd had to clean a whole house too.

Similarly, in the past, I'd hear once in a while about someone who was "having radiation", but we really had no idea what was involved. How could we know?

Well, now I do. The natural process of aging (I’m now 91) brings with it a basket full of aches, needs for medication, and medical help.

In 2015 I was diagnosed with bladder cancer, but after surgery and BCG treatments, I got the all clear several months later.

Earlier this year, the symptoms returned and sure enough, so had the cancer.

Altogether in the past few years -- and more recently -- I’ve experienced:

• 3 CT-Scans

• 3 Cystoscopies

• 2 Surgeries for removal of tumours in the bladder

• 1 CT-Planning Scan

• 1 Nuclear Medicine Bone Scan

• 20 radiation sessions with the “Varian True-Beam Linear Accelerator”

Late summer and early fall, from August 27 until September 24, I had radiation treatments at the BC Cancer Agency, here in Victoria, British Columbia. These took place Monday-Friday, with each session lasting just 15 minutes.

This is how it works: a small team of radiation therapists prepare the ‘bed’ of the Linear Accelerator machine for the patient. We were surprised to discover this space-age, $2M piece of medical equipment is made in Las Vegas.(!)

Depending on which part of the body needs the radiation (in my case, the pelvis), some attire needs to be removed.

Great care was taken to position me on the bed precisely, with comfort, a pillow under my knees and head support.

Before the radiation sessions began, about 7 days beforehand, I had a CT-Planning Scan. During that procedure, I was given two (permanent) tattoos.

Two laser beams are zoomed in a ‘cross-fire’ matching the two tattoos (see photo), in order to be 100% sure the radiation beam reaches the right spot each day.

Two laser beams align in a 'cross' to ensure Henri is positioned in exactly the same place on the radiation bed each day.

Once I’m in the correct position, the team leaves the room and goes to an adjoining space, before pressing the ‘button’

Overall the entire staff are also caring and compassionate. They demonstrate a well-coordinated, high level of skill. Everyone of course wears masks thanks to the invisible C-19 killer virus.

Arms crossed over my chest, the machine begins to rotate slowly, stops, turns in the other direction, stops, turns again. No more than 10 minutes, the whole experience around 15 minutes.

Immediately following the radiation, the radiology technicians prepare to receive the next patient. This goes on all day long, five days a week.

Before going home, we’re given the time to return the next day. We had requested morning sessions and true to form they all took place between 09h30 and 11h45.

Natasha was my stalwart partner throughout it all

My lifelong partner, Natasha, somehow in her special way got us an exceptional deal on a rental car for one month (we don't have a car and live on a shoestring budget), and she faithfully drove me there and back each day.

Also, to help matters along, my brother-in-law Bruce paid for half of the car rental costs, and our long-time friend Seonaigh who lives on the Mainland, made a contribution too. These two gifts combined just about covered the full price of the rental.

Henri waving 'good-bye' on the final day of radiation, 
September 24, 2020

Bone Scan - Nuclear Medicine (radioactive)

Backing up a bit, before the radiation treatments began, I had to have a Bone Scan in a special area of the hospital devoted to Nuclear Medicine.

This is standard practice for people about to undergo radiation treatment. The purpose is to see if any cancer had spread to the bones.

First you get an injection of radioactive material, then you go away for 3-4 hours while this substance gets absorbs into your bones. The radioactivity lasts for two weeks. Then you return to the same place for the scan.

This test took much longer than the CT-Scan. The bone scanning machine moved very slowly over the whole body, from head to toe, for an hour.

Here is the image of the complete skeleton scan - 
quite spooky, isn't it?

A couple of weeks after the radiation was over, there was another CT Scan, to learn whether the radiation had done its job. Verdict = it had. They erased the tumours, all clear!

So, all the tests and treatments were not in vain.

Sincere thanks to many friends and family, who, by their heartfelt good wishes and prayers, I'm sure helped a lot towards this positive outcome to the 'pinpoint' radiation.

Thought I’d share these experiences with my blog readers. Any questions are welcome.

Henri van Bentum
November 3, 2020