Saturday, July 4

Radioactive man

Dad's three-stage cancer treatment regime is drawing to a close. Earlier today the final stage, Yttrium-90 irradiation, was completed under heavy sedation. I find this particular treatment fascinating. Tiny polymer spheres (about one-third the diameter of a strand of hair) are impregnated with a powerful radioisotope, then injected into arteries supplying blood to the tumours. These spheres become trapped within the tumour, destroying it with an intensive dose of beta radiation.

This incredible procedure is actually an Australian innovation. It was developed two decades ago by the Cancer Research Institute in Perth, Western Australia. The relatively benign treatment halves the rate of progression in a majority of patients, while improving the five-year survival rate three-fold. Such are the marvels of modern medicine.

Yttrium-90 has a half-life of 64 hours. This means its radioactive energy halves every three days, effectively decaying into a harmless substance within two weeks. The standard precautions after treatment are also rather amusing. My mother's been warned to keep her distance from Dad for the first few days after treatment. In fact partners are cautioned to sleep in a separate bed for the first few nights. Dad also has to fly home on Sunday seated in a window seat with his radioactive side facing the plane's airframe.

Dad's treatment appears to have gone well with only one brief hitch. He suffered a punctured lung earlier in the week when a treatment needle accidentally went astray. Incredibly, unlike most people that suffer a collapsed lung, Dad never suffered any pain or breathlessness. The problem was only picked up during a routine examination by his hospital specialist.

Now the waiting game starts. Only time will tell how favourably Dad responds to this latest round of treatment.

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