As promised, another photo show. This time, the pictures are of the techs locking me down in the Mask of Doom.
This is the mask. It’s a mesh construction they heat in warm water, place ove your head and mold, then cool down so it sets. When it hardens, it’s a lot like hard fiberglass. The holes you see are, in order: a cutout across the forehead area, as it was too tight, a cutout of the mouth area so I can have the biteblock stick in place, and a cutout across the throat – too tight, once again.
The mask fits in a frame (that’s the black outline around it above), and the whole thing locks into the table. My head rests on a clear plastic headrest and the techs lower the mask, over the biteblock, which I have to put in first since I can’t open my mouth once in the mask to have it inserted.
Once in place, the tabs of the mask frame are locked on to the table.
When they have me settled, they start lining me up with the machine. The green lasers are set to hit the marks on the side and front of the mask.
Once a week, new measurements are taken to make sure everything is lined up where it’s supposed to be – after all, this is mouth and throat cancer, not brain cancer.
And then, we’re aligned and ready to go.
Everyone has to leave the room at this point, as no one is allowed in while the machine fires.
The machine is on my right, and always starts there. They zap me, then it moves to my left. Zap again. Then a front shot. Each dose lasts between 15 and 20 seconds. And then we’re done. Unless they have to take measurements or new films, the whole process takes less than 15 minutes to complete, from lockdown to release. Overall, it’s not as horrible as it could be – familiarity and drug use help calm the nerves, I suppose.
If you’re one of the people reading this and have the same anxiety as me about the mask because you’re about to go through it yourself: get the drugs, and take them. Xanax works for me, about 30 minutes before treatment (this happens to coincide with the amifostene shots for me, so it’s easy to remember to take it). After a few sessions, you probably won’t care about it or think about the what-ifs all that much, but in the beginning, they help you get through the first (longer) sessions without hyperventilating yourself into unconsciousness. I highly recommend making the process as easy as possible in whatever way possible, because the effects of the treatment are pretty darned bad – anything that can be eliminated as a source of anguish, whether mental or physical, should be. Every medical person I’ve come in contact with thus far has also said exactly the same thing.