Radiation Therapy

I’m sitting in my office, roughly an hour and a half away from the radiation therapy site. I am waiting for them to call. Confirmation of my first appointment  sets in motion events that stretch undiluted through six solid weeks. Therapy must be at the same time every day, no exceptions. Sort of like antibiotics in this one small way: I can’t stop just because I feel “better.” The course must be run in its entirety in order to soundly stomp out vestigial legacy of the errant cancer cells. On the plus side, radiation therapy has come a long way since the 1970s. Areas are more closely blocked and levels more acutely monitored. My doctor (lol, I have like 7 to 12 of ’em in all), my doctor assures me that most people don’t suffer side effects until the 5th week.

Every time, bless his heart, he tells me this, I secretly close my ears. I know why he’s telling me. It’s so that I don’t sue him later for improper or incomplete disclosure. I don’t blame him. Nonetheless, I see no reason to fill my head with ugly expectations or self-fulfilling prophecy. Maybe I can be that one in a thousand people that sails through unmolested. So far I haven’t done well with the statistics. Two out of three people require only one lumpectomy to get clean margins. I wasn’t in that group. Phooey. Even after the two surgeries I’m subject to a fifth biopsy, just to be sure, before radiation therapy starts.

The good news is, the last biopsy was clear, i.e. benign. I’m ready to move forward, today, with six weeks of radiation therapy. Since plenty of people are available unasked to put doubt in my head I make a small list of pleasantries to install in my long-term memory. Pleasantries. The sky is blue. My car runs true. I can drive myself. This treatment has been shown to be effective in a high percentage of cases. Except for my cancer I’m still pretty healthy. I like kittens and dogs. Hiking trails are within driving distance. I have food in my refrigerator.

If that sounds dorky to mention I’ll say this: it’s of the utmost important to create the habit of installing routine good news. Because if I don’t, good news won’t install. It will be enjoyable for the moment and then evaporate without registering as a concrete memory. That’s only natural. If animals were designed to satiate on agreeable events they would forget to feed themselves. Memories of deprivation, of hunger and thirst, haunt. Memories of fine food? not so much, those memories dissipate unless I make a point to store them.

Being pessimistic is actually totally natural, which is why years and years of therapy talking about what ails you is an unfortunate feedback loop. Being optimistic is not completely natural but it can be taught. Optimism can be learned. The beauty of the system is I can start right here, right now, even though I have Cancer. It’s my Golden Opportunity to face my own fears. My own fears, and I do have them, have never been about my doctor. (For the record, I have the very best surgeon, a compassionate gynecologist who caught what my primary care physician missed, and a totally brilliant oncologist. Also a fine team of medical/radiology oncologists, and doctors who performed/analyzed my biopsies.)

I amuse myself, when I feel up to it, by googling people willing to blog on Cancer treatment experiences. I read the blog of a very young woman, in her late teens/early 20s, about chemo. After absorbing her poignant observations I look up her Twitter account, pleased to see all these years later, she looks healthy, happy, and fully re-haired. Good for her. She survives. I give silent thanks for her unembellished description of chemo. Now if only I can find someone so kind as to describe radiation therapy.

The center calls. By three o’clock this afternoon I will know for myself how it goes. Shortly before Christmas I go down for a CT scan. This is a three dimensional image used to pinpoint the therapy target. The technician pulls gently at my surgical-tape from my last needle biopsy. Ouch! “Mik” apologies for my discomfort. She says she’s trying to target the area where my Cancer has been found. But that doesn’t seem right to me. If the last biopsy was benign maybe she should be looking at a different entrance wound. “Which one?” she asks reasonably.

Oops. . . I haven’t looked at myself since October 18th, a couple of days before my first surgery. I haven’t felt the need to survey what’s left of me. I can tell when I do yoga I’m not all there. My stretch abruptly ruptures herself, if you have no idea what I’m talking about take some duct tape and hinder yourself. Like a wrecked ship, I’m missing tissue. A fleeting glimpse I took in November reveals an angry row of black stitches. I look like Frankenstein. That taught me not to look down.

So, actually for Mik I haven’t a clue how to direct her. I acquiesce to her probing, sticking stickers on me and drawing marks. I have no idea which scar is the likeliest entry point. If you’re a Cancer patient who has had surgery and you can bring yourself or a loved one to have a look, it might be helpful – just sayin’. While it shouldn’t have been painful, to be honest her ministrations feel like little pin pricks. The markers must stay put over the holiday weekend so that my appointment today can be successful. I hope I did ok. This morning I still felt the one sticker in the middle of my chest but I didn’t go searching for the others. There’s nothing to do at this point besides show up, on time, appropriately dressed.

The last person I speak to before I get in my car is the director at Circle of Hope in Santa Clarita. She’s warm and kind and willing to consider my providing a class or a workshop for Cancer patients or people who work with them. I would like to help people with yoga. Yoga is a valuable tool for staying realistic and open to uncertainty. I look forward to working with them if they’ll have me. Being useful, feeling useful is healing in itself.

Now y’all play nice.

Sat Nam


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