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Scars and scribbles

I’ve finished my first four radiation treatments, with fourteen remaining. I keep hoping something blogworthy will happen there, but the reality is that radiation therapy isn’t very exciting.

The most intriguing thing about it is that it’s in the basement of the Civic Hospital. To get there I have to go through a maze of tunnels (“a real rabbit’s warren,” as one nurse described it), through the utilitarian bowels of the building. I keep expecting to stumble into the morgue.

Once I find my destination (which, after four days, still feels like a bit of an accomplishment), I change, scan my appointment card, and join all the other cancer patients in the waiting room.

I’m assigned to Machine #18, even though there are only four of these machines at the Civic. There are four radiation therapists on the #18, and they work together in two-person teams.

On the first day of treatment, they made a little custom plastic thing which gets taped each day to the scar, where the tumor was removed. At first I thought it was a shield, but it’s the opposite – it amplifies or intensifies the radiation to that area.

I lie on my back on the table, and they tape that plastic thing on and then they draw thick heavy lines on my breast with green magic marker. They look like skylines. The radiation therapists asked me not to wash them off in the shower. (Hmph. I’m still not even allowed to have showers because of the back surgery complications. I’ve just been spot-cleaning for the last 15 days.)

Anyway, they line up everything: the five tattoos they gave me awhile back, their green light beams from machine #18, the magic marker lines, and the longitudinal and latitudinal numbers that they call out to each other. This takes about three minutes. Then they leave the room and I lie still while the big #18 radiation machine moves around me, quietly doing its job. I don’t feel anything, except cold; it’s a chilly room.

It takes about five minutes, during which I stare at the mural on the ceiling. Three ceiling panels have been painted with two clown fish, five tangs, two sharks, a turtle and a puffer fish. There’s a rectangle about the size of a playing card cut out of one of the panels, and two green lights live in the hole. Every day I wonder who painted that mural. The radiation therapists? Maintenance? A volunteer? An artist?

Even though it’s fast and easy and painless, I’m looking forward to the end of radiation. I want my body back to myself. The longer all this medical stuff goes on, the less my body feels like my body and more like a collection of body parts.

Besides, I don’t like strangers drawing on my breast with magic markers. At some level it feels demeaning. I know it’s not, and it’s a small price to pay, and I accept it…but I don’t like it.

8 comments to Scars and scribbles

  • Deb

    I know how you feel about your body not being your own. In the past 13 days, I have had 7 appointments to be poked, prodded, cut, squished, and one occasion; I felt that a glass of wine might have been a fitting prelude. I will be glad to see the end of it, just as you will.

    I am glad to hear that the radiation doesn’t hurt…those of us who have never gone through it, wonder, but it isn’t the sort of question we ever feel comfortable asking. I had no idea either, that it was so quick. I had visions of you spend hours there every day.

    14 days to go…almost there.

  • Julia

    I am glad you find the radiation a snap too. I had the same machine and I really got to know those fish and that turtle. Someone had written names for them on masking tape but the tape was peeling off when I got there and for the last few sessions, they were nameless. They had peeled the tape off so it wouldn’t fall on someone and startle them. And there is a real draft in there but I didn’t mind because I had cycled there and was all hot and sweaty so it was kind of nice. I liked the radiation, especially compared with the chemo. The technicians were efficient and cheerful and I was always in and out in record time.

    Ask them who painted the fish so then we’ll both know!

  • Deb, feel free to ask anything you want. I’m an open book. As for all your pokings and proddings, I hope they look everywhere and find nothing!

    Julia, I was actually wondering if you’d had the same machine. We seem to be traveling the same circuit in many ways. Melanie (from the #18 team) is getting married today, by the way. I’ll ask about the painter on Tuesday.

  • Julia

    By another weird set of coincidences, a girlfriend I had in high school recently got diagnosed and she had her surgery on the same day I did, only a year later. Turns out her little lump (same size as mine) is triple negative and so they are talking chemo. We are in constant communication now. She lives in Florida, so I haven’t seen for in forever. I love email.

  • You are lucky to be having radiation at the Civic. Even though I live in the Glebe, mine was at the General. One day (which happened to be my birthday), I got to go the Civic and I liked the atmosphere much better. And I got to ride my bike!
    I think the plastic thingie is called a bolus.

  • XUP

    Isn’t it interesting that after all you’ve been through; all you’ve endured – the anxiety, pain, fear, the waiting, the surgeries, the not showering, etc., etc…. it’s the green marker that seems to be the last straw for you? But I know how something like that can become the symbol and focus of everything that went before.

  • Laurie – very lucky. The Civic is actually within walking distance for me. I like that I’ve recovered enough from my back problem to go to radiation on my own.

    XUP, it’s not the last straw. Just a minor irritation. I suspect that I’m only letting it get to me because I know I’m almost done. Up until now, I brushed aside all the small stuff because I had to save my energy for the big stuff. But now? I can afford to waste a little energy on the small stuff.

  • felonius bunk

    “within walking distance” has a nice ring to it