On day three of radiation treatment, I feel comfortable enough to address the therapists by their first names. By now, they have seen my naked breasts more than anyone has in the past three years, so I guess it’s time to get over the shyness and any formalities.
Today, while they positioned me on the gurney, we talked about Edmonton’s food scene and my favourite restaurants. And then they told me to hold still and walked away to the safety of their radiation-proof office behind a wall.
Radiation Therapy (RTx) is often used alone or in combination with surgery and chemotherapy to treat a specific area of the body where cancer has grown. The tattoo dots I received a few weeks ago and the Xs drawn on my chest by the therapists are there to line up the target area so that only it receives radiation and other parts, like vital organs, are avoided.
The entire procedure takes maybe 15 minutes and most of that is time for setting up. The actual radiation, delivered by an intimidating piece of equipment called a Linear Accelerator machine (pictured below), takes only two or three minutes to deliver.
Patients who go for RTx, are usually assigned to the same unit for the entire treatment. Mine is Unit 8 and every time I walk down the long hallway after checking in at the Radiation Oncology desk, I want to start chanting, WE ARE UNIT NUMBER 8, NUMBER 8, NUMBER 8! WE ARE UNIT NUMBER 8, GOOOooo EIGHT! as I high five everyone along the way.
I know. The mind does funny things under stress.
This is one reason why they assign you to the same unit—to alleviate stress by fostering familiarity and so that you know your team, the same people who see you every day, will be there waiting for you. No surprises. Everything is familiar. Everything is comfortable. The same people who saw you naked yesterday are the same people who will see you naked today.
Devon and Dilan are my Radiation Therapists. To be completely honest, I would rather have had women at my side but when the body is in a vulnerable situation and there to receive medical aid, you don’t really care who is doing the procedure.
Take giving birth, for example.
You are on a bed (or a couch or the floor), legs spread wide open and you are writhing in agony. You are exhausted and acting more akin to Linda Blair in the Exorcist than you are to any soon-to-be version of Madonna with Child, and you are screaming for anyone, someone, to get this baby out of you. There’s a doctor, a couple of nurses, and maybe a student or two (or three or four) there to learn about the birthing process. At that point, a group of tourists, a choir or an army squadron could walk in and you wouldn’t care one bit. All you can focus on is getting this over with.
So today, as I laid on the bed for radiation session No. 3, after I’d been exposed, studied, lined up, and told to hold still by these two therapists, I closed my eyes and went to a place of gratitude.
Practising gratitude, I have learned, shifts your focus from what is bad to what is good.
I started with where I was: on a table at The Cross.
I am grateful for my Oncology team and for the services I’ve received at this Institute.
I am grateful that we live in a country that provides these services to all who need them.
I am grateful for my friends who continue to check in on me.
I am grateful for the crew at CBC who hugged me an hour ago and welcomed me back to the airwaves with such warmth.
I am grateful that people continue to seek me out for writing services.
I am grateful for this beautiful autumn day, this glorious city and this generous, supportive community that surrounds me.
I am grateful for people like Devon and Dilan who spent years at school to become radiation therapists and who do their job so wonderfully. People like them make going through cancer treatment much more bearable.
I may be one in eight, but life is good. And I am grateful.