Last Wednesday was my final visit to the mighty MV-4. After five sessions I’m done with radiation therapy – at least for the time being.
I can confirm that I don’t glow in the dark, it was the first thing I checked. In fact, considering I’ve just had my most intimate molecules forcibly rearranged by a five tonne mega-volt death-ray there’s no outwardly visible sign that anything has changed at all. I have been warned that I might at the very least get a rash, itchy skin or blotches but so far there’s nothing to report. My Adonis like physique and boyish good looks remain mercifully unblemished.
That’s not to say I get away completely scot-free. It’s tempting to believe that’s the case as I skip out of the Oncology Department feeling all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, but that’s not how radiation works. Rather than instantaneous, its effect is gradual and cumulative.
An hour after exposure, I start feeling sore. It begins in the center of my back, between my shoulder blades. Half an hour later my chest and sides are burning and I feel like I’ve been kicked in the kidneys. A dull and persistent ache, overlaid with a bright, sharp stinging sensation. It’s that feeling you get after getting under a hot shower with sunburned skin. Only way, deep inside. I have a vivid mental image of my organs and sweetbreads lying on a meat tray, browned and sizzling.
After a few hours the worst of the pain abates, to be replaced by a kind of shrunken, dried-out feeling, an empty nausea and a drowsy, creeping fatigue. I quickly learn that trying to blithely push-on through this unwelcome feeling is counter productive. Physical activity, even walking far just exacerbates the discomfort. Eating is painful. Sitting still helps. Lying down is better.
I fall into a routine of traveling back from the hospital after treatment, and retreating to the bedroom with a bad book. It goes against the grain, I can tell you. It feels like I should be fighting rather than acquiescing. Railing not rolling over. People in movies with cancer are always portrayed lolling around indoors looking pale and limp, or slumped in a wicker chair in an autumnal garden with a plaid rug over their knees staring at the sunset.
I’m not ready to be one of those just yet.
A mid-afternoon Nana-nap just might turn out to be the thin end of a long wedge. It’s hard not to resist.
It’s now five days on, and the side-affects are thankfully receding. I was told I would probably feel worse before I feel better, and that has been the case. The couple of days immediately after my last session were the worst, and not much fun, but as each day passes I’m feeling more like my old self. Don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t awful or unbearable. Just unpleasant. I’ve been incredibly lucky so far, I’ve had few symptoms, and little or no pain. I am still sleeping-in later than I should, and feeling a bit washed out by mid-afternoon which troubles me. And I’m getting through Lee Child airport novels at a prodigious rate, which means I’m probably destroying brain cells faster than tumor cells – but I feel like this is at last some kind of progress.
Finally the weeks of politicking and posturing are over, and the enemy has been engaged. Been sent a message. This has only been a preliminary skirmish, but the rules of engagement are now established and hostilities have commenced.
The big push starts on the 26th when the chemical weapons will be wheeled out. That gives me just over a week to get myself combat fit.