Tuesday, January 8, 2008

First Radiation Treatment

Remember when I said I get bitchy during my cancer treatment? In addition to the tattoos for radiation targets, I'm considering getting one on my forehead that says "Five Days A Week, For Six Weeks," because I have to repeat this over and over and over, sometimes to the same people. I'm getting radiation Monday-Friday for six weeks. You will be tested on this later.

Also, please don't ask me what "stage" I am. I may choose to volunteer the information, but since most laypersons don't understand staging, it's essentially just a scary number. I don't like scaring people, especially myself. Despite statistical survival averages, some Stage I cancers advance, while some Stage IV cancers go into remission. For a scientist's insight on cancer survival statistics, I suggest you read The Median Isn't the Message, by evolutionary biologist and author Stephen Jay Gould. In 1982, Gould was diagnosed with abdominal mesothelioma, a rare and, according to survival statistics, deadly cancer. He lived another 20 years, eventually succumbing to another type of cancer entirely.

Off of my cancer soapbox and back to radiation. The radiation lab is in the basement of the Womens' Hospital. A windowless and cheerless space, the environment was considerably livened by an oldies rock station. The Beatles sang "Twist and Shout" while the radiologist and two young male technicians took setup x-rays. "I'm going to try to get your sternal lymph nodes," Dr. K told me. What about lung damage? "It will just touch your lungs, but it's an acceptable margin." The arm of the radiation machine was poised over me, its glass face reflecting an image of my naked right torso bathed in green and white target beams. Once the targets were in place, the medical staff retreated to the control room. An alarm sounded, and the "Beam In Use" warning light on the wall flashed red. I was now being exposed to large amounts of radiation. I felt nothing, at least physically.

Afterwards, I dressed and went in to the ladies room to put on some makeup. I started weeping, and had difficulty pulling it together. It will get easier, I know. I am constantly amazed at my adaptability, an apparently built-in feature for us homo sapiens. It's not that "what doesn't kill us, makes us stronger;" we already are strong, and it takes a lot to kill us.

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