Thursday. “See the doctor day” at the Radiation Oncology Center. That, combined with the fact that The Machine (it’s like a proper noun now, don’t you think?) went down yesterday, caused a bit of a back-up in the blue gown waiting room. When I arrived, the woman who gets radiated right after me (she’s 9:15) and Jane (8:45) were both in the waiting area, and Jane had a new friend with her (Jane is a popular lady; lots of her friends seem to be taking turns driving her, she rarely repeats a friend!). I learned from the radiation therapist that the day after The Machine goes down is always a stressful one–apparently a lot of patients have anxiety about this (will it work right? will there be problems? Is the radiation going to go on forever???) and the radiation therapists spend a lot of extra time dealing with more emotional issues. Except with me. We talk about shoes (from behind their metal doors and windows, and from the angle they’re at, that’s mostly what they see “live” of me; the rest is on the video camera). And shoes can be an emotionally charged topic, but not such that it slows down radiation.
At any rate, before I got to the shoe of the day discussion (and you know I pulled a denim and burgundy stripe pointy-toed Coach heel out of the repertoire today; oh yes I did), I was hanging with my peeps in the blue gown zone. We got to chatting as we do and I learned a few things. First, there’s definitely a cancer shorthand language. If you are going through treatment you can learn everything about someone else’s cancer and treatment in about 2 minutes flat. And it’s pretty easy to talk about it since everyone in the room is dealing with the same thing. There’s no one cringing or bursting into tears or feeling sorry for you. It’s just straightforward and, well, kind of supportive (I am not in a support group!! Not!!!).
So Jane’s cancer is “lower down” than mine and she did not have to have chemo. Her friend is also a cancer survivor and did not have chemo. So they were interested in what Ms. 9:15 and I were discussing–which was of course, hair! 9:15 is the lady that I taught the scarf-tying to (and she looks very cute in her scarves!). Her hair was previously strawberry blonde–it’s growing back white! My hair was previously blonde and probably a dark blonde if I wasn’t in the sun and adding highlights, but it’s growing back brunette. Really brunette. Neither one of us has enough hair to know if it will also be curly. Heck, my eyelashes aren’t long enough to even have an upward bend to them yet (right–they stick straight out). They were surprised to learn I was “normally” blonde–they see me in a scarf or in the red wig all the time. And I realized there is a whole group of folks in my life now who’ve never once been tempted to call me “Blondie” or make a blonde joke, or assume I’m a ditz!!
Eventually Mr. 9:30 arrived with the same friend who’s been bringing him everyday. We were discussing chemo (and the fact that I kept working through mine) and Mr. 9:30 joined in (he’s normally pretty quiet)–turns out he just finished chemo on Monday. 3 days ago!! He’s doing chemo and radiation at the same time. He had throat cancer (and yeah, I’m using the past tense–and hoping that’s true). So that’s why he doesn’t join in much–kinda painful to talk. He hasn’t eaten solid food in two weeks and is learning to hate Ensure. He is on radiation #31 and thus will be the first of us to graduate. He looked pretty good for what he’s been through. He also didn’t get nauseous from the chemo. And thank goodness because that would be brutal!
And finally, I learned that Ms. 9:15 had a 15cm tumor! That’s 10 times the size of mine. The biggest her doctor had ever seen. We were comparing the number of radiation treatments we each had to have. She and I are both breast cancer patients and both get 33 radiations. But my last 3 are the “power boost” targeted to the tumor bed. Her last 5 are the “boost.” We decided that must be because of the size of the treated area–and then of course cracked up laughing because that sounded like we were saying she had bigger boobs than me (She doesn’t; she had a masectomy). But, we did compare where size does matter–the tumor size. That’s how I learned she had basically a baseball in her boob. Yikes!! No wonder her hair went white!
I suspect that the two friends who were not the cancer patients are not sleeping well tonight–you probably don’t want to be in a room of cancer patients all telling war stories about chemo and radiation side effects and tumor growth and surgeries. Unless you are a cancer patient and then somehow, you kind of start to feel normal. For the most part, we were actually laughing at the absurdity of it all.
But of course eventually it was my turn at The Machine. When I was done Mr. 9:30 told me he’d always noticed that my radiation treatments were much faster than his–funny how we pay attention to these things. Then his friend paid me a very nice compliment. He said that while I was getting treated they were all discussing that I had such a nice “persona” and cheerful affect on others. He thought I should know that and know that it was appreciated. I think I blushed. I did however remember to say thank you. I don’t really think of myself as a cheerful person (particualrly in the morning!), so I was caught offguard. But I kind of liked it!
Anyway, I did see the doctor. The sharp shooting pains are normal and I can try taking ibuprofren/ anti-inflammatory medicines. The pressure pain is not so usual. So now I’m thinking it might be too much caffeine. I was nearly off caffeine during chemo and have slowly crept back up to my many, many cups of French Roast a day (not to mention those trashy Mountain Dew binges). I backed off it today and didn’t have the pressure pain. Hmmm…. further study is necessary.
So ends treatment 16. Tomorrow marks the halfway point. 50 yard line, folks. Goal in sight.