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I've Been Zapped

Whoop whoop! Today was the final day of radiation. Unlike the infusion center, where those folks run themselves ragged most of the time, this department is easier, more complacent. It is a happy spot, which sounds a little strange, considering that all of the patients have cancer, but it is. And a few hours ago, I was discharged following my last day of getting zapped. There was an official meeting with the nurse, an opportunity to learn that the “side effects” would continue for a few weeks, told that I should watch my diet, stay away from swimming, and remain active. Gotcha. I was given a fancy certificate, commemorating that I had completed the course of action with a “good nature,” which I thought was a pretty interesting phrase to describe the 10 days of the whole experience. And after that, I was allowed to RING THE BELL, a brief moment for rejoicing. The nurses stood around to watch, and they all applauded: no joke, I just felt like Queen Betsy during the whole thing. Interesting how a completed course of eighteen of the most grueling chemotherapy infusions I could possibly describe was not only anticlimactic, but downright depressing. No fanfare there: those nurses are too darned busy, and hastily wave as you exit the building. But this was different, a downright celebration.

I have determined that the medical run of thumb is let every situation be a BIG surprise for the patient. I’ve been caught in this spider web of health practices for several years now, and in some ways know enough to make me dangerous, but I am always amazed by the little sleight of hand, the things I wasn’t prepared for. Silly me. And this experience was no different.

Before radiation begins, you report to the facility for a rather long predetermination scan. I guess the idea is to make sure that you don’t self-explode on the table, although even the thought of that gives me the willies. But they want to determine your proper resting position and make your “special” body suit. That, too, was a big surprise. I was led to a changing room by two sweet nurses who handed me a gown with the instructions to take everything off from the waist up and wrap up. Joe (not his real name) would be in to get me soon. And yes, Joe soon appeared, with a ready smile as he pointed to where we would be heading. I was escorted to the room, dominated by a massive piece of machinery and positioned on the table while Joe made small talk. I probably could have counted to twenty-five, fifty at the most, before the faded blue surgical garb was carefully rolled up to my shoulder blades, and I was instructed to hold onto the bar adjacent to my head. Holey moley: I was lying on a table naked from the waist up, while Joe went back into the control room, moved the machinery into position and did a few twinks here and there. I tried to think pleasant thoughts as he later moved to get a special pen to mark the spots for radiation. I got two bold x’s across my abdomen and one where the laser pin was to highlight. And later, I even tried to gather a smile for the oncologist, who had learned I was there for the pre work and wanted to check on me. So far, the boob view was 2. But honestly, that was enough. I smiled weakly as I left the place, but goodness knows, I sat in the parking lot for a minute or two, not quite sure how to feel.

Two weeks later, I was armed and ready for my ten days of getting zapped. I had a technician, a girl this time, who handed me the proverbial light blue gown and instructed me to change. And there, I was led to yet another room with an immense and quite intimidating piece of metal equipment. Whoa. This thing made the other look quite benign. I was carefully lowered into position on the table and my arms were removed from the gown, my chest exposed once more, as the machine pivoted into position. I could hear the sound of my own beating heart as I prayed, the sweet Christmas music punctuating the scene. But before anxiety could kick in, it was all over, and I could check another day off on the calendar.

The whole thing is quick and painless, and a walk in the park compared to the brutal side effects of chemo. And the folks who work there smile sweetly as they lead you to the changing room: comparatively speaking; their job is pretty easy. There is a forced sense of familiarity that develops, by necessity, I am sure. And by day 10, even the radiation techs crack jokes as they make sure you are exactly ready for the zapping. I think I even learned to be oblivious to being breast exposed. What’s a pair of old boobies among friends?

I kinda had to laugh at the absurdity of this condition I call cancer. (Is that an oxymoron?) Because this began as ovarian, which has now transmigrated into my lung lymph nodes, every sacred part of my body has been offered up for examination by the medical folks. I have lost every whit of modesty God gave me, allowing myself to be poked, prodded, and processed. But that’s part of the whole circle of events that occur, the ones that are keeping me alive. I am grateful, that’s for sure. But no, not planning to turn into a nudist: at least not yet.


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