So, on we go. After the black hole that was Patriots Day and the endless week that followed, including that Monday holiday and the Friday shelter-in-place stay-cation that wasn’t, it’s a relief to be back to my five-day-a-week radiation drill.
Truth be told, it all feels a bit like “Groundhog Day,” and I’m Bill Murray, keenly aware that I’m living the same day, over and over again. The mornings, anyhow. I get myself to my treatments via a pleasant little zig-zaggy route (same way, every day), which includes one of my favorite side streets and some of my favorite gardens; you can expect a photo post on that subject before too long. I zip in the hospital’s ground floor, bypassing the annoyingly slow revolving door, opting for the entrance labeled “Handicapped Only.” Or, in my case, not handicapped, just impatient. Get me in, get me out, let me get on with my day, okay? It’s my little expression of rebellion. That, and I do love my shortcuts, I truly do.
And honestly, my impatience is utterly misdirected, since it takes all of ten minutes to get through a round of radiation. I spend more time changing in and out of my clothes and getting properly located on the table than I do getting the actual treatment. I feel badly that I haven’t gotten to know the radiology technicians who make it happen, but our interactions are so brief, and they’re so efficient, there’s barely a moment to chat. They start by shifting me around, getting me lined up and registered beneath the projected red laser grid. Did I mention that I’ve been tattooed for registration purposes? Which sounds so (fill in your adjective of choice here; mine might be “disfiguring”), but for the record, it’s just six tiny dots, which I suspect I won’t be able to even find a year from now. Anyhow, they wiggle me left and right, shift me up and down, get me exactly where they want me, which is centered at some pre-determined distance from the radiation source. I get all my nose-itch-scratching and shoulder stretching done, then offer myself up, as still as possible, hands grasped over my head. Right about then, one of the tech gals says, “Perfect,” which always makes me smile. What a relief—something’s perfect in my day, five days a week. And then they retreat to the screens and dials behind the curtain, Oz-like, while I close my eyes and wait for it to be over.
Back to the Groundhog Day part. Every morning, once I’m in the door, it’s the exact the same thing—same woman at the front help desk looks up and knows not to ask me if I need any help. Next nice lady checks me in to radiology, where the same magazines are stacked in the waiting area, same pile of johnnies to change into, same locker for my belongings (I’m fond of locker #5, don’t ask me why), same walk to the room where the radiation business takes place. Same forgetfulness, when I am about to hop up to the table and then remember that I still have my reading glasses on my head. Not the same music, thankfully: I’ve been radiated to the tunes of Bruce Springsteen, Doobie Brothers and Led Zepplin and The Police, but no Sonny and Cher, not yet anyhow.
A dozen treatments into this drill, I’m starting to get a sense of the little details of the process. Which, basically, is a lot like getting x-rays of various durations, from various angles. I know now that the first one is defined by a long beeeeeeep, a count of 20 or so. The next one, not quite so long, maybe 15. Then the gizmos circle around, then there’s two rapid-fire beeps, which ends the first round tango: s l o w, pause, s l o w, pause, quick-quick. After that opening phrase, the techs re-enter my zone, squiggle me around a bit, retreat once more, and there’s more machinery rotating about (imagine the sounds WALL-E makes, I hear a lot of that), more jiggly movement, more predictable beeps of various lengths. Then I think it’s ended, but I wait to hear a confirming, “Okay, we’re done,” at which point I get to release my arms from up over my head with certainty. Aaaah. Then down comes the table, and as soon as I can reach the floor, I jump off, tell them thanks so much, and I’m on my merry way to the lockers, where I retrieve my belongings, change back into my top-half clothes, waltz past the command post with a cheery “See you tomorrow,” and get on with my day.
Here’s what I specifically try not to do while I’m being radiated: I try not to think about being radiated. Which is a high-level meditation trick, given that it’s tough not to find my mind wandering over to the subject of how hard, exactly, we’re slamming the barn door here, long after the horses got out, horses being the malignant tumors in this metaphor. How much more of this is enough? Again, I float back to the realization that there is no perfect answer to that question. Even if there were, it would keep shape-shifting with new information, with further study, with more research. But there will probably be no breakthroughs while I’m in treatment, so that’s where the meditation-not-fixation exercise kicks in. No sense driving myself bonkers, when by all accounts I’m getting the best possible care known to oncology-kind, as of this day, this month, this year, and my specific scenario.
Oh—and yes, if you’re wondering, I did see the Sunday New York Times story, about the so-called “Feel-Good” war on breast cancer. I specifically read it in the paper version, because I was pretty sure I’d get sucked down into another black hole of comments if I read it online. (aha, just checked, comments closed at over 600. Nope, not going there.) All I know is that what seemed like a simple little ductal carcinoma in situ wasn’t just a risk factor in my case, it was something that had already jumped ship into my nodes. So, in the department of feeling just fine about my current course of action, check plus. But in the department of wishing, wishing, wishing they’d get closer to figuring out which crappy little D.C.I.S’s are the lazy little lapdogs we all hope for, the kind that behave and stay put, and which ones turn into angry growly pit bulls, well, they can’t get to that part too soon. I don’t know about you, but I think we’re all aware that breast cancer is out there. A few more dollars towards research, a few fewer pink baseball bats, that’d be fine by me.
Meanwhile, here’s the best news: it’s May. And when this month is over with, I’ll be done with my Groundhog Day mornings. Praise be!