Every morning, Monday through Friday, I get up, eat breakfast, and get dressed, and head off to the radiation specialist for an early enough appointment. Once there I sit in the waiting room and knit, because knitting doesn't care if you only manage three stitches or three hundred -- it's still progress. Sometimes I talk to the other patients. They tend to be an optimistic bunch and talk about lives that do not revolve around cancer. This is real life, not a Funky Winkerbean story.
Within a few minutes the loudspeaker calls my name and summons me. I go to the right hand changing room, put my purse, shirt, and bra into the right hand locker, and put on a medical gown. It's the kind that likes to fall open, so I use a couple of clips, one at the shoulder and one at the waist, to hold it shut. It's so much easier to just clip the gown than to fight with the ties. Apparently I'm not the first person to think of this, because the technician said that some people use clothespins. I wonder why doctor's offices haven't thought about investing in clips or clothespins for their patients? They aren't that expensive, and they do make the whole experience so much easier. But then I suppose the FDA would call such things medical devices and require vast amounts of research and testing to determine that they are safe -- and then how could we afford to buy them to hang up our clothes? Better just bring your own.
Next, I am escorted into the vault, lay down on a narrow table, and assume the virgin sacrifice position. Arms go above my head, head in place by brackets, and I grasp a post. The technicians slide me up beside a huge, one-eyed monster and pull back my robe to expose the "treatment area." The lights dim and they push my passive body back and forth to make the marks on my chest line up with the red laser lights shining from the wall and ceiling.
Oh yes, the mark. At every treatment my body must be in the exact same position, so that the radiation hits the exact same area. Some people get tattoos, a permanent reminder of their treatment, but I have painted marks with stickers over them. On the good side, they will go away after treatment is finished. On the bad side, they keep trying to go away now, and must be constantly reapplied.
Once my completely submissive, partly exposed body is ready, the technicians leave the half-lit room and the heavy door to the vault closes. I'm alone with the leering monster. There's a buzz, a pause, and then the monster slides over my body to peer at me from the other side. Another buzz. And then the door opens, the lights come up, and that's it for another day.
Maybe tomorrow the monster will eat me.
The name of the one-eyed monster is Linear Accelerator. For a good explanation of how it works, written in lay terms, check out http://www.radiologyinfo.org/en/info.cfm?pg=linac. The TL:DR version is this: the machine is programmed to deliver high-power x-rays that have been pre-shaped to fit the area that needs treatment. Thus my poor right breast is being radiated, but only my poor right breast.
There are side effects, the price of treatment. I'm developing what looks like chronic sunburn in that area, and I have fatigue. Fatigue is not just being tired. It's -- fatigue feels as if someone came up when you weren't looking and set the exercise bike to hard. Fatigue is always walking uphill, and every day the slope gets a little steeper. Fatigue is a vampire sucking out your soul.
Nothing much, just a little fatigue...
Tomorrow is a new day.