20 days later…done!

By Caitlin Kelly


caitlin team

With their permission — the team whose kindness and skill got me through; Left to right; manager of clinic, Katrina; tech Yadi; Dr. Andrews; nurse practitioner Amara; receptionist/scheduler Khaleila and tech Susan.


I got to ring the gong today!

It’s the lovely ritual — some hospitals use a bell — with which patients mark the end of treatment. Jose, as he has for so much of this summer, came along to keep my company, to and celebrate.

It was a day of teary good-byes as well. Who would cry leaving a hospital clinic? If the team was as kind and fun and funny as mine was…you would, too!


caitlin hits gong


I had been  heading to our local hospital every morning for 20 days, the time prescribed for radiation for my left breast after surgery. I had a lumpectomy on July 6 removing all cancer, but this was considered a standard course of treatment to make sure nothing minuscule remained.

It began with a simulation, which was uncomfortable and disorienting, and also included weekly X-rays and a weekly meeting with the radiation doctor, a woman I liked a lot.

For the sim, I lay on the long narrow table while the team decided how to position my body and practiced it.

At the sim, they also gave me eight minuscule black tattoos — barely the size of a freckle — three on my front, five on my back — so the techs could align my body into position each time using laser beams. (It’s all stunningly space age.)



The entire machine pivots around you. The blue rubber ring is where I placed both my hands, my face in the cradle.

The actual daily treatment was painless and quick , once the two technicians shimmied me into precise position on the table. I lay face down, with my left breast dangling, to minimize radiation to my heart and lungs — about 24 seconds per side.

Here’s a link to the website for the machine, a Varian Trilogy.

The machine is enormous, and you get used to hearing it whirring into position, with a sound sort of like running water, as it pivoted to one side, then overhead, and down to the other side of my body.

With my face in a cradle, and my arms in a sort of V-shape above my head, I saw only peripheral flashes of light, heard a buzzing noise, and felt nothing.

The hardest part, initially, was the strain on my tight left shoulder staying immobile in that position.

The techs were always extremely kind and upbeat — apologizing every time they had to move my body into position and (gently!) move my other breast out of the way. They always placed a heated blanket over my bare back, put a scented strip beneath the cradle for my head and played a variety of music during the procedure.

Sort of a spa, I joked!



It’s enormous!


The clinic staff did everything possible to make it less frightening. There’s a huge fish tank in the waiting room and free coffee and tea and snacks and piles of new magazines and a television you can mute.

You can sit as long as you like before and after treatment, and there are never more than two or three people waiting.

I’m lucky that ours is a small suburban hospital and not some enormous, bustling big-city facility.

I never felt like a number, but a human being.

Of all the tests and treatments my body experienced this summer, this was in some ways the easiest since at least it was non-invasive — and, luckily, I don’t need chemo.



I have no idea what these numbers mean. It’s all quite mysterious.


But, by the end, I was done; I was really tired and my skin sore, itchy and irritated.

I got to know several other patients, as we all came at the same times every day. There’s a powerful sort of intimacy in a space like this. We don’t need to say much or ask probing questions. We can share a hug or an eye-roll.

We all arrive unwillingly, alone or with a loved one.

And we all pray for the best possible outcome.

34 thoughts on “20 days later…done!

  1. Heide

    Congratulations on finishing your treatment! And thank you for sharing your experience so openly and generously. It’s awful that you had to go through this, but wonderful to hear how caring and supportive people were through the entire long process. A toast to your health, and to a long, happy life!

    1. Thank you for making time to read it…it can seem scary and mysterious so I wanted to show it, literally, as best I could. I know no one wants to be there, but there are ways to make it as pleasant as it can be…

      1. Heide

        “I know no one wants to be there, but there are ways to make it as pleasant as it can be.” Talk about focusing on the positive! You really have made it less scary and mysterious to *this* reader. Thank you.

    1. Thanks…We all got teary this morning saying goodbye with many hugs. It is a great group of women and this made it much less scary or mysterious.

      You have to be there…so anyone who eases it is a huge blessing.

  2. Robert Lerose

    I knew that today was your last today, so I was waiting eagerly to hear the good news that your turn had finally come to hit that gong! You have no idea how thrilled I am for you that you have finished this course of treatment and can reclaim your life. Your dispatches throughout this ordeal have been intimate, courageous, heartfelt and revealing. Your honesty and bravery are inspiring and comforting. All my best to you and Jose.

  3. carolyn

    I’m thrilled that you have come out on the other side of your treatment with a good outcome and could ring that gong!!! Prayers for continued good reports on your checkups! I’m so happy you can now continue with your life…do I see a book coming of this?

  4. i’m so happy that you were able to bang the gong. i think this post will help others who may fear the procedures and are unsure about the process, the machines, etc. – when you talk about it and show it, it removes some of the fear factor. how lucky that you had such a wonderful team working on your wellness.

  5. Pingback: 20 days later…done! — Broadside | Myblog's Blog

    1. No need…but thanks.

      DCIS is not, by far, the worst diagnosis; statistically the best. Yes, there’s anxiety and some of the treatment has been very tiring and uncomfortable (no chemo.) But hopefully sailing ahead…

      1. I have made my way through dreadful painful situations in my own life; I can appreciate what it takes. Our emotions are doing their job because acknowledging the pain is the bridge to healing.

  6. Caitlin, I love that you had a gong there and you got to complete the ritual on such a fun yet ancient spiritual “note.” I love that the reporter in you wanted to document this and share it. I am so glad that you had such support from all the places you needed it, and most of all, I am thrilled you are on your road to recovery. (Bang a gong, get it on!)

    “Well you’re windy and wild
    You’ve got the blues in your shoes and your stockings
    You’re windy and wild, oh yeah
    Well you’re built like a car
    You’ve got a hub cap diamond star halo”— T. Rex

  7. Yes, to all that others have said! That phrase “Bang a gong” will have new meaning for me now. What a great image to conclude treatment with! Glad to see your smiling face and those of your support team! I’m sure what you have written will serve many people in helpful ways too.

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