It has been 10 days since my radiation treatment and I am now back at home implementing “radiation precautions”. The radiation has been a lot harder on me than I expected; apparently most people don’t have any noticeable effects from it. I, on the other hand, have been lucky to be hit with all the potential side effect except one (dry mouth). In addition to the residual pain, swelling, and undissolved stitches I’m still experiencing from my second surgery, the radiation brought initial nausea, painful salivary glands, increased swelling in my neck, swelling of my tongue, and a complete loss of taste except for a disgusting “metal” flavor. I’m told these side effects are usually temporary but can last weeks to months or longer to resolve.
But on the positive side, I had my post-radiation whole body scan this past Wed. (8 days after my radiation) and it showed uptake by the two cancerous lymph nodes but no detectable uptake anywhere else in my body. What this means is that I had successfully flushed any non-uptaken iodine out of my system and I no longer have to worry about contaminating anything I touch with radioactive iodine (yay!). However, the iodine which was uptake by the two lymph nodes in my neck is still emitting energy, so I still need to limit my time close to others and maximize my distance from them.
In order to know just how far I could be from other people without harming them, I had the technicians Geiger check me (since I purposely scheduled my appt. for that afternoon knowing that the half-life for iodine 131 is 8.1 days). I’ve read/heard that getting a Geiger re-check isn’t standard hospital protocol, and even when I requested to have it done when I scheduled my scan I was told that they don’t usually do it and couldn’t recall ever have….I can only guess because they are lazy and/or patients don’t know to ask and then refuse to take no for an answer? Basically the check entails someone picking up a large flashlight sized, battery-operated instrument that they already have sitting right there in the room or close by, aiming it at me, pushing a button and then reading a number off a screen. It’s honestly less complicated than getting weighed! I highly recommend that patients simply demand to have it done because it’s the ONLY way to know how much radiation you’re emitting (and therefore if you’re taking adequate, insufficient, or overly cautious precautions to keep others safe).
I had the technician measure me at about 4 feet away, the same distance I was measured in the hospital, and about a foot from my neck. The first (farther) reading was 0.05 (about 0.02 being background; for reference I measured at 12 just after ingesting the pill, at five 24 hours later, and at three 48 hours later when I was discharged from the hospital). At the closer distance the reading was .027. So with reassuring numbers I was told I could resume most normal “casual contact” but should continue to avoid “prolonged contact” especially close to my neck. So basically, continue to sleep in a separate room and not sit right next to the same person (or have little people sitting on my lap) for hours at a time. The less time and proximity I am with someone, the less their exposure and potential effects. I am also less radioactive as time goes by, so each day emitting much less than the previous.
In some ways this is easier said than done, especially when it comes to a 3 and 5 year old – both of whom are off of school for holiday break and so we’re all in the same house at the same time pretty much the entire day. It’s also hard that it’s still for another seven days….a llllooooonnngggg time to have to “stay away from Mommy!” ALL the time. But we’re doing our best and it is rejuvenating to at least be able to observe them from afar and participate in some activities (like hikes through our park, going to see Santa, and watching a Christmas movie from opposite sides of our family room).
At this point I’ve given up expecting to feel better by Christmas….and by “Christmas” I mean that one we’ve already postponed until Dec. 31st. But at least I can confidentially say that I’ll be able to end my quarantine/precautions and get to finally experience unrestricted snuggles and hugs with the kids once again! Everything else, it seems, wants to heal at its VERY pokey pace.