A man sits on the outstretched tongue of a giant donut with eyes and lasers in its mouth

The Unwelcome Guest: The Donut of Doom

New medical treatment always makes me ask two questions:

  1. Will it work?
  2. Will it hurt?

Enter the donut of doom

With that in mind, I want to share my radiotherapy experiences and introduce you to the donut of doom, a device that attempts to kill cancer cells and shrinks tumors. I call it a donut as it’s a large circular machine that to my fevered imagination looks like a giant Krispy Kreme. During treatment, the patient slides into the heart of the donut becoming the cream or jam in the middle.

My particular donut was a TomoTherapy Hi-Art. According to the company blurb the Hi-Art ‘delivers radiation slice-by-slice, while the couch moves through the machine and breaks the beam into narrow beamlets to target and shape the radiation around the tumor’. All of which somehow manages to sound comforting and scary at the same time.

Cancer is never straight forward

Fascinating stuff, but I’m guessing you’d like to know the answer to my two questions. Here goes:

  1. So far so good.
  2. No, but it does come with a grab bag of irritating side effects.

Now you’re thinking, this writer is just like a politician, and won’t give a straight answer. I’m going to have to plead guilty to that, but as many of you already know cancer isn’t straight forward, it’s a slippery customer.

But we are getting way ahead of ourselves here as I plan, in the course of several articles, to take you through my brush with the donut of doom and give you the skinny on the whole radiotherapy experience. Other old lags like me who have been through it, might want to compare and share experiences.

The donut of doom debrief

Several days before treatment was due to start, I and about twenty others gathered in a room for a briefing and another form of torture: a PowerPoint presentation. Aren’t we suffering enough? But I’m being unfair to the young Advanced Urology Practitioner who gazed out at us bunch of ancients who had made the huge mistake of getting old and allowing the Unwelcome Guest into our lives.

She gave it to us straight: I was to have radiotherapy five days a week for the next seven weeks. It was also made clear that while we were being nuked, we wouldn’t present a threat to the wider public and weren’t about to become mini mobile Chernobyls.

We also learned we were to get tattoos, which sounded exciting but turned out to be three dots, one on either side of the pelvis and another just below the belly button. The dots, I learned, were used to line us up correctly in the donut, which sounds either charmingly lo-tech or alarmingly unscientific depending on your point of view.

Preparing for radiotherapy

Gallons of water was on the menu over the coming weeks to enlarge our bladders and push our healthy organs away from radio beams. The idea being that the Unwelcome Guest gets clobbered and not the healthy bits of anatomy that are in the neighborhood. To be fair those weren’t the exact words used by the Advanced Urology Practitioner.

We were also warned about certain side effects including tiredness and an almost unstoppable need to go to the John.

Towards the end of the presentation, an old man in the front row raised his hand and asked in a hesitant voice, not much above a whisper, whether during treatment he was allowed a whiskey in the evenings. We held our breath. The Advanced Urology Practitioner pursed her lips and said tartly, yes a small amount of alcohol was permitted. From the back row, I heard a muffled cheer, I turned around to give whoever it was a disapproving look and discovered it was me.

Read the second part of Jim’s Donut of Doom odyssey in Donut of Doom: First Blast.

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