Something I didn’t expect over these first several days of radiation therapy is how quickly this would become a norm for me. I think I expected every trip up for radiation to be something that was out of the ordinary, something that was so outside the norm of my daily life that it would be a constant stand-out. I didn’t expect to experience acclimation so quickly.
But let’s be clear. This is acclimation (adjusting, becoming accustomed to something) and not acclamation (loud and enthusiastic approval). I’m adjusting. I’m becoming accustomed to this new pattern, especially going 5 days a week until mid-January. But I am far from enthusiastically approving the necessity of this. Because I still hate cancer.
In an effort to answer some questions that have been asked and also as a form of my own internal processing, I’ll share a bit about the process as it goes. And one more thing. Somebody asked my dad if I was doing chemotherapy. No. No, no, no, no, no. Thank God I don’t have a cancer that requires that.
As I said, I go 5 days a week and it will total 5 weeks of total therapy. So I’m done in mid-January. The general gist is that I drive a little less than 10 miles from my house (which – depending on traffic – takes either 15 or 40 minutes) and I have to park. And one of my first days they gave me a little parking permit so I could park for free. I love parking for free. And I hate that I have to have that stupid <insert expletive here> parking permit. Ya, I’m still randomly emotional.
Then when I go inside, I have this special bar-coded card that I scan at a terminal and then wait in the waiting room. Without actually interacting in any way with a human. And that feels sad. To be honest, I kinda want there to be some kind of check-in: “How are you today?” And not only on my behalf, but on behalf of the people who are fighting much more aggressive and dangerous cancers than I do. But then again, maybe most people prefer to be left alone…
Eventually somebody comes and calls my name and I go back through the magic behind-the-scenes door, the one with the bell next to it. And that’s when somebody checks in and says, “How are you today?” And we walk past a few offices and hallways and turn to go through a curtain that leads to a bank-vault door. Ok, there’s no giant combination wheel or anything like that, but it’s this super-thick door that looks like it requires Supergirl (for my DC friends) or Iron Man (for my Marvel friends) to open it.
And inside is the giant radiation machine. I know it has a ton of moving parts and arms and whatever, so the picture doesn’t show it in all its glory. But somebody beDazzled the radiation machine!!! I find that awesome and hilarious and magical.
As I enter the room (generally giggling a bit about the beDazzling), I’m usually asked if I want a warm blanket. ‘Cause it’s kinda cold in there. And so I always get the warm blanket. And I lay down on the table and wait. Because every time they have to either adjust the extra extension on the end or where they have the cylinder that supports my knees because they always forget that I’m tall. Always. And I get to giggle a bit more.
There’s always music playing and sometimes they remember to ask me what kind of music I’d like (rock). But I think they forget to ask about that because they’re so busy being surprised that I’m tall.
But then comes the mask. As I lay back on the table, there’s a clear plastic support for my neck and head. And after I’m situated, they bolt a mask over my face that was formed specifically to me. It’s made of a mesh so I can breathe and (kinda) see, and so the radiation goes through. It helps keep me still during the therapy session, and mostly I don’t hate it. But I don’t love it either. And it’s not really something to giggle about.
Then the machine moves and whirs and clicks, and red and green (Christmas!) lights help with measurements and alignments. I think the buzzing sounds that happen are when the radiation part is actually happening. But I’m not completely sure. No one has told me that part. So I generally lay there with my eyes closed in my mask and wait. It doesn’t take long.
And after 10 or 15 minutes they come back and they tell me to have a nice day and I go out into the world as if I didn’t just get blasted with radiation. I walk back out through the waiting room where no one talks to anyone and back to my car with the parking permit and drive home. Sometimes after the giggling in the treatment room comes the tears in the car. But not as much anymore.
Because it’s become my norm.