Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Hoover Hope Ride

Ever since M fell in love with road biking 2 years ago, he has been trying to convince me to join him.  I was never crazy about the thought of riding a bike on the road as I don't trust myself or drivers, so I resisted.  Recently, however, he began doing his tri training rides at Natchez Trace which is a 444-mile scenic drive that is super popular for bikers and has very limited traffic (the few cars you see are usually toting road bikes themselves).  We rented a bike one weekend for me to try out and after my first ride, I was hooked.  It was a better workout than I expected, not as scary as I feared, and had the beautiful benefit of being impact free (my shins and hips thanked me). After driving all over Nashville and testing out lots of bikes, we found one we both agreed on and I became the newest owner of a road bike!


Not long after my purchase, I discovered a road bike race a little south of us and set my goal on doing the 20 mile portion.  I convinced Mike and two of the guys I work with to do the 40 mile option.  I was a little nervous as it was only my third time on my bike and definitely my first time with that distance. 

The morning arrived and was absolutely beautiful: zero clouds, blue skies, and crisp temperatures.  The race took place near Arrington vineyards (those of you who have been will probably remember how gorgeous the scenery out there is).  I was super scared getting started in such a big group and trying to get my feet into the cage pedals but, once we got going, it was great.  M and I stayed together for the first 3.5 miles before splitting off on our respective courses. 

There weren't too many people on the 20 mile course and I was usually by myself.  I learned two things about rural Tennessee: it's super pretty and contains super hills.  Some of the hills were crazy but it was overall pretty reasonable.  {I'm not sure that M would say his course was reasonable- he equated his to the Swiss Alps.}

I finished up the ride fairly painlessly and waited around for the boys to get done.  I met some of the organizers of the event as well as the mom of the boy who the foundation is in honor of.  The foundation was created to raise money for pediatric cancer research after Liam Hoover lost his battle with brain cancer.  They have hosted a 5k run for 7 years and this was the first year for the bike ride.  It was a great event for a great cause and I'll definitely be marking my calendar for next years... maybe even for a longer distance!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

What I've been up to: Residency, first rotation

Last week marked the end of the twelve weeks I spent in my first rotation as a resident.  Because radiation therapy is not something you would necessarily have any knowledge of without having actually experienced it yourself, I get a number of questions like "what exactly do you do?"  It's been a long time since I last posted about what goes on in grad school (and things have changed quite a bit) so I figured I'd give it a whirl.  As is true with any person's specialty, it's hard to adequately explain the ins and outs with a brief description (without boring you completely) but I can attempt to elaborate on the questions I typically get from Mike. 

Radiation therapy is used predominately to treat cancer and usually in some combination with chemo and/or surgery.  The two major ways of delivering radiation are through external beam (ie. with a linear accelerator) or brachytherapy (implanting tiny radioactive seeds directly to the site of the tumor).  In our clinic, we have four linear accelerators (linac for short).

this is one of the linacs we have- radiation shoots out of the yellow circle source
The best way to think of these how these machines deliver radiation is to equate it to getting a diagnostic x-ray (ie. for a broken leg)- the difference being the energy of the beam in a typical x-ray is around 100 kilo(=thousand)volts while our machines deliver x-rays between 6 and 18 mega(=million)volts.  Our linacs treat with either high energy x-rays (referred to as photons) or electrons of various energies.  The machine can rotate 360 degrees and the table rotates around as well.  This allows us to shoot the beam of radiation through the patient at pretty much any angle.

The normal course of events is as follows:  The patient comes to the clinic and undergoes a CT scan.  The physicist will "fuse" any other scans the patient has had such as a PET scan or MRI.   This allows us to combine or overlay the two scans so we can determine the location of the tumor that might not be visible on a CT scan.

first image: PET scan, second: CT scan, third: PET-CT fusion- Bright area indicates location of disease source

The physicist and/or MD will contour (basically color in 3-D) the major organs in the treatment area.

organ contours source
The radiation oncologist will contour the tumor volumes and supply us with a prescription dose of radiation to deliver to the site.  Along with this, we have a list of radiation dose limits that the healthy tissues and organs can tolerate.

At this time, the physicist takes over and does the bulk of our work: treatment planning.  The idea is to use our treatment planning software to experiment with different radiation beam angles, energies, and techniques to design a plan that delivers the maximum amount of dose to the tumor while limiting the dose to all of the healthy tissues.

one of my treatment plans for a brain cancer case
Radiation effects from treating healthy organs can be acute (ie. radiating the bowel causing GI symptoms) or long term (possibly inducing secondary cancers) so limiting their dose is extremely important.  Using multiple beams at different angles is the most obvious way to make this happen.  By intersecting the beams at the tumor site, low radiation doses are spread out over more normal tissue and the cumulative dose in the tumor is greater.

six beams to treat the prostate at center source

Once the treatment plan meets the goals (or gets as close as possible), we present the plan to the radiation oncologist for approval.  Finally, the plans are exported to the linac consoles so that the radiation therapists can treat the patients.

plan for treating a lung cancer

Patients are generally treated once a day for several days (traditionally ranging from 10 to 44 treatments).  The idea behind this is to allow the normal tissue some time to recover between each treatment.  Normal tissue recovers more quickly from radiation and will partially heal itself between treatments while the cancerous tissues do not experience this same recovery.

The rotation I just completed was IMRT/Rapid Arc.  These are two special techniques used to allow us to better spare dose to normal tissue.  A conventional treatment can treat with any size box or rectangle.  The IMRT technique makes use of the set of 120 "leaves" inside the linac.  These leaves are 5 mm wide lead blocks that each move independently (and very quickly) across the radiation field while the beam is on to selectively block out and treat desired areas. 

this is a snapshot of the treatment- blue lines indicate the leaf position at this point in time, yellow box jagged outline indicates the starting and ending position of the leaves
Rapid Arc is similar to IMRT except that instead of treating several angles, the radiation remains on while the machine rotates and the leaves move.
two 180-degree rapid arc fields
If there's any chance you haven't given up on this blog post yet and are still reading (haha), hopefully that gave you some insight into what I do without boring you to tears!

ellie's opinion of this post

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Currahee Challenge

Last weekend we made a trip to my bro's (Alex and T) in Georgia for a little running and a lot of visiting.  A had told us about a run in nearby Toccoa, GA at Currahee Mountain.  Mt. Currahee was used as a training ground for paratroopers in WWII and was the setting for the popular HBO series Band of Brothers. The peak stands at 1735 feet which makes for some pretty challenging climbs.  The paratroopers motto became "3 miles up, 3 miles down" and stands as the race motto today.

We arrived at the mountain early, checked in and fought the cold, upper-40s temperatures as we waited for the race to start.  A&T are the experts at this mountain as they've been running it on weekends and they warned us of steep inclines making up the third mile.

check out my ridiculous trail running shoes. briiight.

The race began with a quick out and back on the road (added to make the distance a full 10k) before starting UP the mountain.  The first two miles were pretty steep rolling hills with plenty of ups and downs.  As warned, mile three was suuuper intense and rounding each curve just gave sight to another crazy hill.  I often felt as though I were running in place and glances at my Garmin confirmed these feelings.


really up

almost there
I was beyond thrilled to make it to the peak.  The views up top were amazing!


Coming back down was awesome.  I felt like I was flying on the steep declines (which is rare feeling for me as I'm usually a "slow and steady" runner).  Unfortunately, those pretty rolling hills on the way up made for some challenging moments on my tired legs on the way back.  Crossing the finish line was a great feeling, especially because I was only 3 minutes behind my speedy husband!  The time for my 10K was 1:03 which placed me fourth in my age group and seventh female overall. 

A finishing- he never stopped to walk- ridiculous!

I absolutely loved my first experience with trail running.  The gorgeous scenes, relaxed atmosphere and new type of challenge all appealed to me.  I'm already finding new trail races to sign up for!