Wednesday, September 06, 2006

the last time

Today, I will go to radiation for the last time.

I'll enter the cancer centre and turn right at the door marked radiotherapy, scan my card to get in the queue, go and change into my robes (one backwards and one open at the front) and sit in the waiting room.

When my name is called, I will go and lie on a table that has been set up just for me. I'll slip out of my robe, lift my knees so they can put a cushion under them and tuck my left hand under hip. My right arm will go over my head and into a special brace. I won't move again until the end of treatment.

The therapists will spend some time making sure I am aligned perfectly, with the help of lasers, lines they have drawn on me (with permanent marker) and the five little tattoos I was given before I started treatment. When they are satisfied that everything is set up the way it should be, they will drape something called a bolus (pliable plastic-like material that draws the rays to the skins surface. Treatment will be interrupted part way through to remove it) across my chest.

Then they will turn off the lights and leave the room.

The door will close with an audible click, a green light will turn to red and treatment will begin.

The machine they used looks like a giant lamp, with jaws at it's centre that open and close to control the amount of radiation emitted. As it moves around me, it makes a whirring noise and a high-pitched buzzing with each dose.

It will take only a few minutes to treat my back, chest, axilla (under arm) and clavicle (this felt like so much longer during the first week of treatment when I was still freaked out about being treated with radiation).

Then the therapists will come in, I'll say 'thank you' and be on my way.

I might cry.

Radiation was a pretty dehumanizing process. As a coping mechanism, I deliberately engaged the radiation therapists, asking questions or making observations. I am very grateful to the therapists and nurses who took the time to respond and who treated me as a whole person and not just body parts to be treated. I hope they realize what an enormous difference this made.

Monday, September 04, 2006


Cancer treatment is a very strange thing. The purported cures come with a whole host of side effects that I'm convinced are not fully understood by anyone.

I know a woman who was travelling abroad to celebrate the end of treatment. One day, she noticed that her treated breast had turned brown.

On her return home, she consulted her radiation oncologist, who insisted that this change could not have been brougth on by treatment.

She raised the subject with an alternative practiotioner, who said, "Don't ask your doctors. Ask other women."

The next time her support group met, this women mentioned what had happened to her breast. Four of the twelve women in the group had experienced the same thing. None had told their doctors.

Brown breasts, blistered skin, blackened toenails and bald heads.

Sometimes I think we haven't come that far since the days when people were treated with leeches.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

sometimes it's hard

I'm a bit of a mess these days.

I've got quite a bad burn from radiation and have been afflicted with a fatigue that defies description (a bit dramatic that, no?).

So, it's not surprising, I guess that my emotions are all a little close to the surface. I was especially feeling it earlier in the week. Frustration, the effects of treatment, the time I've lost to cancer and ramifications of battling a life threatening all hit me with the force of a tidal wave.

I'm feeling quite a bit better now, though. I spent the week doing as little as I could. Resting, reading. I even had a friend come with me to radiation (this had been planned for a while but the timing could not have been better).

My spouse and the boys have gone away for the week end. Last night they saw Spamelot in Toronto. Today, S. and my spouse are taking part in the year's most highly anticipated event - a comic book convention. Before leaving, S. hugged me and said, "Don't die while we're gone."

I started to reprimand him and then realized that he wasn't joking. He asked me, "There isn't a chance, is there, that you could die before I come back?"

I reassured him that the cancer treatment was to make sure that all the cancer was out of my body. "And you know what, if it ever does come back, we'll treat it again."

"So does this mean that we don't have to worry for at least a year?"

"Yes," I answered.

He looked so relieved.

Sometimes, I hate how hard this is.