I am a writer. I have long had a habit of daily writing. Carrying a notebook around comes naturally to me. Prior to my cancer diagnosis, my writing had mostly been poetry, fiction, and essays. I had also done some work as a technical writer.
For the next year, I would fill multiple notebooks with details that I’d never thought to track: calories and proteins consumed, water intake, appointments, medications and side effects, more medications and more side effects, recommendations and remedies for side effects, notes of what the doctors and nurses said. These details became the focus of my daily life. Soon they became the only thing I wrote; they became my lifeline.
As I attempt to share my story, I am glad to have these notes for reference. In the beginning, they are neat and organized. Later, they become hard to read, both physically and emotionally. Often, I am struck by the recognition that, as my treatment progressed, as I became sicker and sicker, weaker and weaker, the notes too began to suffer. I find pages without dates, progressively sloppy writing, some unintelligible scribbles, and crossed out mistakes.
My first radiation treatment was on Wednesday, December 4. My weight was 145.5 pounds. I’d already lost over 5 pounds since my surgery. That day, I consumed 2027 calories, 68 grams of which were protein, and drank 56 oz of water. During the day, I took Tylenol twice, for the residual pain from my surgery.
The radiation would burn my mouth and throat. The pain would get progressively worse. I knew this. My intention was to avoid prescription pain medication as long as possible, fully aware of their addictive nature. But by December 19, I would be taking Hydrocodone.
The radiation treatment was to be five days a week for seven weeks. This was more than the Cancer Board had initially recommended, which had been five to six weeks.
One to two weeks might not sound like much. But this meant five to ten more radiation treatments. Think about it. Radiation is used to shrink and eradicate cancer. But radiation also causes cancer. I was asked to sign multiple documents acknowledging that I knew and accepted the risks.
So here I was between a rock and a hard place. And it was about to get a lot harder.
Coping with The Procedure
There would be two technicians administering each radiation treatment. They verified each other’s work to avoid mistakes. If the radiation is administered incorrectly, it can miss the intended target while damaging otherwise healthy areas.
The room was dark and cold. The table where I lay was hard and narrow. The technicians helped me position myself on my back, my head in the precise spot pointing toward the machine that would deliver the radiation, a triangular cushion under my knees for comfort. They covered me with blankets for warmth.
Then came the mask. This was the hard plastic mold that had been made to fit my face, neck and shoulders exactly, a devise to keep me from moving during treatment and to help them target the radiation. It fit like a glove. I was about to find out that this was no glove. Gloves are comfortable. Gloves give.Continue reading “My Cancer Journey – Part 4”