Yesterday I swallowed a small pill containing 3700 MBq (mega becquerels) iodine 131 and became radioactive. This is (hopefully) the last part of my treatment for thyroid cancer, following my thyroidectomy earlier in the year.
This ‘remnant ablation’ is to mop up any stray cancerous thyroid cells. They love iodine and so having starved myself of iodine for the past 2 weeks (think dairy, egg, fish, nut free diet), any stray cancerous thyroid cells in my body will take up the radioactive iodine and be destroyed.
For the first few days I’m too radioactive to be allowed anywhere near anyone else. I’m in isolation in a lead-lined room at Edinburgh’s Western General hospital. All surfaces are covered in a thick layer of sticky plastic with CAUTION RADIOACTIVE MATERIAL marked on everything. The only person allowed into my room is the medical physics person who measures me with a Geiger counter each day but even she keeps at least a metre away from me at the moment. She has a tape measure to check her distance. Everything I’ve brought into the room and touched after having my pill can’t leave the room (Unfortunately I didn’t think that through properly regarding clothes and underwear for going home). It all goes into the radioactive bin in my room. Visitors are ‘discouraged’. ‘
Once my counts are low enough I’m allowed home but still with no close contact (less than 1m) with children and pregnant women nor prolonged contact with anyone for possibly another week – maybe sooner depending on my counts.
I have a long list of ‘advice’ to ‘adhere to’ to reduce or avoid contamination. Whilst in the hospital I have to drink a lot of water and shower several times a day. Once I’m allowed home, but before my ‘cleared safe’ date (which could be anything from this Sunday to the next) anything that I touch can be contaminated so I’ve to wash clothes, crockery and bedding separately.
I’ve been allowed to keep my phone and iPad (laptop not allowed) as they can be wrapped in plastic but there was initially some doubt about the chargers as they are difficult to fully cover. It was finally agreed that I could keep my chargers if I only touched them after washing my hands and using plastic gloves. There is no wi-fi so I’m having to massively increase my data allowance. I couldn’t bring any books unless I was willing to bin or leave them.
Aside from the radiation, there are some benefits. Most importantly I am able to sleep undisturbed all through the night. All my meals are prepared and left at my door and there is no washing up to do as the (paper and plastic) plates and crockery don’t need washed as they go straight into the radioactive waste bin. I’ve got a tv and phone. And I had the best view ever for Edinburgh’s amazing end of festival fireworks.
Team Anna is in action at home. My Mum and aunt Patricia are doing an amazing job running the house, making sure everyone is fed and getting to and from where they need to be. I know from experience that it’s best to try and keep to Anna and Nathan’s routine as far as possible. Anna’s carers are doing a wonderful job getting her up and dressed, putting her to bed and looking after her through the night. Friends are ready to step in (remember the snow?) and school are hugely supportive as always. It makes such a difference knowing that everything is ok at home.