In a previous post I mentioned "spot fires" that may pop up...

Of late, irritation in one of Judy's eyes steadily degraded to totally blurred vision in that eye and constant discomfort and pain. This progressed over a three week period and culminated in an MRI, revealing that there is a tumor growing behind her eye pressing right on her optic nerve.

Chemicals like chemotherapy do not pass a blood/brain barrier (doesn't the body have clever defenses?), so tumors like this one have a limited set of treatments available. For this tumor radiotherapy is used to treat it, as it is effective and also non-invasive.

I can not truly express the frustration we experienced in the lead-up to this treatment.

As you would expect, the planning for this kind of treatment needs to be as precise as it possibly can be, as beams of radiation will be shot from multiple angles to focus their effect on a relatively small area in a part of the body with plenty of stuff that really should not be shot with blasts of radiation. You want to get it right. And it has to be precisely repeatable because treatment is spread out over several weeks.

So to achieve precision, getting ready for this treatment happens in two parts: planning all the angles, beam strengths and size, along with checking and re-checking the plan, and then custom shaping a whole head mask that is worn (well, rather a front and back part that are screwed together and encapsulate the head, recalling visions of Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs) to reference exactly the right spot over and over. And preparing all that takes time at a time when you really do not want to hang about waiting, while all the while your vision further and rapidly deteriorates.

While hanging about waiting, the only real option is to try and reduce the damaging effect that a growing tumor has pressing on an optic nerve. The way that is done is to take steroids to help reduce swelling. Enter another frustration. These drugs ironically make one swell up, retain fluids, gain weight, lose balance, and massively interfere with sleep patterns. The result? More (strong) drugs to try and sleep, which don't really get the job done anyway, occasional falls with blood shed, a wrung-out partner, and a significant dent in general wellbeing. And you need to be weaned off the steroids gradually to avoid issues with adrenal glands.

Really, it is a stretch to call this kind of treatment "non-invasive", at least in in Judy's circumstance. It was a truly awful time that seemed like it would never end. Mercifully, if a similar tumor grows we have a perfectly reusable Hannibal Lecter mask already, and will also be more mentally prepared.

We were thoroughly enjoying a medically uneventful five months until this, traveling, laughing and just enjoying each others company and being well and truly alive. Back down to Earth with a thud in a matter of weeks.