I am now half way through my course of radiotherapy.
Each day of the 5 days per week I spend in Wellington at Margaret Stewart House is ruled by a machine very similar to the one above. At approx 11.15am each day I walk from the House to the hospital for my 11.30am appointment. My arms are outstretched beyond my head, the top of the gown is opened to bare everything and then everything is measured to the precise millimetre from the height the bed is raised, the incline my upper body is at, to where my butt is positioned, even where my legs are, and of course where the affected boob is. The radiologists consult a computer screen against which they check each measurement off. I can’t see it from my semi-prone position, and anyway I am in a state of semi-undress which would be made worse if I raised myself, aside from which the machine is usually in the way.
The radiologists scoot off out the rapidly closing doors as soon as they have checked and rechecked my positioning at all points and leave me to the mercy of the machine which gives me four blasts of radiation, two from what seems to be almost underneath me to my lower right, and one with the round part of the machine positioned on a right facing tilt a little to my left. I feel nothing, but I hate being left alone in the very large room with nothing but machinery which everyone else has no desire to be near and, indeed, they aren’t allowed near it while it’s in operation, for their own safety. Yet, I am left there at the mercies of its blasts, because it’s supposed to be doing me some good and may be lengthening my lifespan while it kills off cells in my body!
The worst part of my days is, no doubt, well meaning but chirpy radiologists. Each day I walk in past the reception area, into a changing room and don a hospital gown of the variety that opens at both shoulders. Sometimes I have to wait for a few, or more minutes while my treatment room becomes clear from the person before. When they are ready for me, one of the radiologists will inevitably appear, chirpily call out my name and off I go down the corridor to the treatment room accompanied by said chirpy radiologist brightly enquiring how has my day or weekend been and what have I been up to etc. Sorry ladies, I know I have to be there and you are probably doing your best to put me at ease, but I’m there under sufferance. I didn’t ask to have cancer. But I do, and the fact that I have it doesn’t mean that I am all that happy to have it. If there were a choice I wouldn’t be subjecting myself to daily blasts of radiation all the while separated from home and things that make me happy for 5 of 7 days each week for 6 weeks. No amount of chirp is going to erase that. Please just greet me with a smile and a word of greeting and don’t try to inject false merriment into a situation I don’t find to be a merry place. God save me from chirpy radiologists.
Rant over. So the effects of the radiation are making themselves felt more than ever now. In the beginning I was told that my skin would start to go pink from about 2 weeks in and that I would begin to feel fatigued from about 3 weeks in. Well I have been struggling with a hot pink boob right from day one. Most days you could fry eggs on me. It’s made worse by the fact that most places around the country, Wellington included, are having a warm summer. I can’t stand to wear an ordinary bra. I am not allowed to wear ordinary deodorants (most of them contain metals). So I have tried three ‘natural’ ones – one of them just doesn’t work and within an hour of my treatment I need another shower. The other two have both ended up giving me underarm rashes, and while I have managed to clear one away from under my left arm, the right arm (by the affected breast) refuses to clear up. Nobody has made any comment about it yet. I almost wonder if its the sort of thing they expect.
The fatigue has also set in. I was always quite tired as a result of the Dr’s happy pills and sleeping tablets, but I had been managing to keep on top of it with a nana nap a few days a week. But yesterday I was in the supermarket (at home) and I had this amazing feeling of the fatigue setting in. It was almost like a force trying to crush me. For a short while I thought I was going to have to call Peter and ask him to come and fetch me home. But eventually I managed to work my way through it, and the checkout, and navigate my way home, albeit minus one crucial item I had gone there for.
At the “House” in the Wellington Hospital Grounds, I have come across all sorts of people from different walks of life who have been afflicted with Cancer in some part of their anatomies (although there are some renal patients there short-term as well). It’s quite a melting pot but we are all there for the same thing, some to a worse degree than others. While I have managed to get off with a fairly easy journey through cancer, in comparison to most, I still have to have a 6 week course of radiotherapy, where others who have been through worse than me already get off with much shorter courses. How that works I am not sure, but I am one of the ones in there for a longer haul than most so I am a constant while others come and go. It’s difficult that you find someone you can bond with, talk to, and with, that you could become fast friends with and then days later they are gone and I have to find someone else who’s going to be there a while to befriend.
Most people there are with a support person. In my case, it’s Peter, although life carries on as normal for him as he goes off to work just the same each day and I prepare the meals at night, just as if we were at home. One night this week there were four women cooking in the communal kitchen. Three of them were there as support persons for their husbands/partners and there was me. One lady has been through quite a bit with her husband whom I met one Monday morning, and that afternoon he was hoisted out of the House by the fire rescue people and taken by ambulance to hospital, where has has been for the past two weeks. Her husband is, fortunately, mending, and on Wednesday evening she said he felt like a steak for his dinner, and there she was cooking an enormous slab of meat to take over to him in his hospital ward. The other three of us exclaimed what a marvelous person she was to cook him this extra special steak and walk it over to the hospital, when he had already been given a hospital meal. She shrugged her shoulders. I said to her, “S*****, you are absolutely wonderful. I am the patient here, and where is my support person…….?” And I pointed towards the dining room where Peter was sitting, quite oblivious, reading the newspaper, while I was preparing our evening meal. Everybody in the kitchen just cracked up. However, I have reminded Peter that when the fatigue really sets in he may be called upon to do more than just read the newspaper.