Well, the next phase of treatment is here. Alicia will begin radiation tomorrow, along with the new chemo treatment. Her radiation will be 35 treatments and the chemo will be once weekly during those seven weeks.
All of the biopsy samples from a couple weeks ago were negative.
The feeding tube, while a bit uncomfortable and somewhat unpleasant, is in good shape.
While chemo was certainly difficult, that was honestly the easier part of the treatment plan. I don’t want to put words in Alicia’s mouth, and I mostly try to stick to the facts in this blog, but the radiation will be quite hellish.
I’ll attempt to explain what they are doing: First, radiation is the standard of care for any cancer of the neck or throat, so this isn’t something that most doctors would consider optional. The type of radiation they are using is external-beam radiation (which means they are literally pointing a beam of radiation at the target area). Radiation works by damaging the DNA of the abnormal or unhealthy cells. Sometimes this action occurs because of the radiation itself altering the cell, and sometimes a free radical forms and creates the damage to the DNA in that way. One of the reasons that side-effects occur is because while the radiation is creating a change to the “bad” cells it can also damage the “good” cells. This is a calculated risk and is done within the parameters of how much radiation any one part of the body can tolerate. To insure that the correct area is targeted each treatment, a mold is made. This mold can also protect the neighboring tissue areas that they do not want to be affected. Each treatment the radiation machine (called LINAC) will aim the stream of particles at the precise area and angle where it has been determined to be most effective. This type of radiation does not make her radioactive (there are some radiation therapies where they inject or ingest the radioactive materials and those are the ones that make the patient radioactive). There are a long (I mean really long) list of side effects for radiation therapy. The big ones are moderate to severe burning (somewhere between the worst sunburn you have ever seen and a chemical burn), nausea, loss of salivary gland function, and extreme fatigue. The burn becomes progressively worse over the course of treatment. Obviously of great concern is the fact that most people become unable to eat or drink during this time. That is why Alicia had the feeding tube placed. It is more likely than not, that before the radiation is over she will be taking all fluids and nutrition via tube as oral consumption will be physically impossible.
By my calculations the final treatment will be around September 26.
If you have questions about any of the process or procedures please ask me. I will be glad to explain. I hope that I didn’t make all of this more confusing.
Thank you all for you continued support and prayers for Alicia!