Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Whole Brain Radiation

I wanted to share a bit about this bizarre procedure I am undergoing everyday for 13 days, not counting weekends. 

My final day of WBR (whole brain radiation) is next Tuesday, August 13. On that day I will go from radiation, straight to "chemo class" and then to the infusion room for the first round of my systemic whole body poisoning. 

As an aside, there is something called a "blood brain barrier" that prevents chemo from crossing over to the brain as it should. I have been told that WBR helps break down that barrier, which should make chemo more effective.

Here is my miniscule understanding of how WBR works. If you are a medical physicist, or some such person, please forgive my shallow understanding, and feel free to comment and clarify in any way you can! 

First of all, this is not a procedure for everyone, only those who have so may lesions on the brain, that treating individual spots is not possible. There are procedures known as CyberKnife or Gammaknife or, more generically, Stereostatic Radiosurgery (SRS). These are "surgeries" done using radiation techniques that can pinpoint and eliminate individual tumors within parts of the body, often the brain. However, my brain is so full of lesions that this is not a possibility. So my WHOLE BRAIN gets treated. Not ideal, but really the only option to try and eliminate as many bad things going on in there as possible.

Today, I asked my radiation therapists to take a few photos of this procedure, just so you'd have some idea of this, my daily 9:50 occurrence. The whole procedure takes less than 10 minutes, once I am on the table and strapped down. 

Let me preface this by stating that the therapists you see pictured here are the sweetest, kindest, most caring people you could ever meet. They are ultra sensitive to how I am feeling, and yesterday I was swooped into a wheelchair as soon as they set eyes on me. I did not think I was that bad off, but, fighting mystery nausea, I did have Sean drive me, thinking it might not be the best for me to go solo. I guess as soon as they saw me they knew I did not need to be standing upright. I was grateful for the wheelchair, and not too proud to use it. Today seemed better, thank goodness.

So, to start with, how do you get your own mask? Before any treatment begins, you get your own personal mask formed by two very sweet and chatty ladies who drape a very warm and wet plastic mesh thing over your face. They then spend a few minutes pressing this down onto your face and nose area so it fits as closely as possible, using small fans to blow, cool, and create a permanent face shape only for you. It works. They then do some taping and marking and measuring and I don't know what all to make sure everything lines up perfectly. Before any radiation is done, they line all up using xrays and CT scans and double and triple check that "things" go where they should go.

Ready to get masked.
See white thing above my head - that's the mask.
Getting me positioned for treatment.
The table is cushioned and they always place a pillow under my legs and offer a blanket.

I don't know if this is the beginning or ending.
I do know the technicians are NOT in the room when I am getting treated.
Me and the machine.

These lovely people always make me feel better...
an amazing feet.

Ready to go.
The "mask" is strapped down to a plastic head shape sort of thing.
No moving!

That blue and grey thing is the radiation machine. It moves left, right, up, down, all around me to get in the perfect zapping position, making whirring and clicking sounds as it goes.

Masked and ready to go.

Part of my Sunny Spring View on the ceiling...It could be a lot worse.

Better view of me in the mask attached to the table/head holder thing...
and part of the machine.


What they see when they leave the room.
Me on the monitor.
They are never far away.

Some oddities that occur during treatment:

  • I do see a blue light during each round of radiation. It lasts just a few seconds, but it's definitely there...and bright blue.
  • There IS an odd smell that also occurs. Not offensive, and apparently not always a side effect, but I smell it. I have decided it smells slightly like the smell of the tap water in my house that is not filtered - so slightly chlorinated. Our kitchen filter prevents that smell, but I get it in the bathroom. Go figure.
  • The coolness of the mask is almost a comfort. It does not make be feel claustrophobic, as it does for some. I am not wearing it for long enough, I suppose.
  • I close my eyes and pray while undergoing this. Still see that blue light, though.


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  3. I have been treated for small cell neuroendocrine cancer and my latest pet scans show that it is gone. Praise God. Now they want to do whole brain radiation for three weeks in case it metasticized to the brain. Can you tell me of any side effects you had? I have heard it affects your memory, short term and long term. I have also heard there is a chance of brain swelling and headaches. Your response would be so appreciated.