Radiation started at 6:30am. When I arrive the mask is waiting for me. A few weeks ago they created a plastic cast of my head, shoulders, and upper chest. Laying on my back, the hardened mesh is laid in place and fastened to the table, locking me into place. No moving. No talking. I can’t open my mouth.
“Thumbs up if you’re ok.”
Through mesh and barely open eyelids a grid of green lasers appears, aligning equipment to cast to body to tumor. Science fiction meets real life.
I’m alone. The technicians have retreated to the room next door. A few short x-ray sounds, as machinery hovers above and around me. A tech returns, making mechanical adjustments, then disappears. Longer x-ray sounds now, first on my left, above me, on my right. Am I breathing too hard? Is it hitting the right spot?
And just like that it’s over. And it’s only 7am.
This will be the routine for the next four weeks. Side-effects are cumulative. Fatigue may worsen. Rashes might develop. Swallowing may become difficult. Weight loss is possible…sounds like a tea-party compared to chemo.
I feel good; rode 40 miles on Saturday, but the pneumonia still isn’t completely “resolved”. Four months on IV antibiotics is too long. We’ve had to change drugs four different times. Every three weeks, like clockwork my immune system creates antibodies–like an allergic reaction–and sends my ANC and white cell count falling. Is it better to have a functioning immune system or a body full of antibiotics? Who knows.
I still have the PICC line in my arm, but I’ve been off antibiotics for two weeks now. We’re trying to let my immune system recoup; hoping it can knock out whatever remains of of the bacterial infection in my lungs. My lab numbers have been steadily improving, but maintenance chemotherapy is on hold for the time being.
Life teaches us lessons in strange ways. My mom always told me that you should appreciate every experience and learning opportunity, even if its significance isn’t immediately apparent, because the knowledge, wisdom, and skills that we acquire will come to serve us later in life–though we might not appreciate it at the time.
When I was a kid I loved to read. I had one particular set of books that I remember vividly. Short illustrated biographies of various historical figures, athletes, scientists, inventors, explorers, etc. Each story focused not only on a biographical subject, but on the values that each person lived by and the lessons to be learned through their life experience (After some quick googling, I found them; they’re called ValueTales). I never imagined at the time (How could’ve I?) how much these lessons would resonate with me later in life.
I didn’t have the whole set, but a few that stand out in my memory are The Importance of Courage (Jackie Robinson), Believing in Yourself (Louis Pasteur), and Facing a Challenge (Terry Fox). The Terry Fox story in particular is vivid in my memory: The Value of Facing a Challenge.
At 22 years old, Terry Fox lost a leg to cancer. While undergoing chemotherapy, he witnessed people–kids–dying of cancer. Terry decided that he wanted to do something to give cancer patients hope, and after hearing of a fellow amputee who had completed the New York Marathon, he was inspired. He decided that he was going to run across Canada, raising money for cancer research along the way.
He made it more than 3,000 miles before he was forced to abandon his Marathon For Hope. His cancer had returned. He sought treatment, but it was too late. Nothing could be done. At the time he was forced to abandon his run, Terry had raised $1.7 million. To date the Terry Fox Foundation (http://www.terryfox.org/) has raised more than $500 million to fund cancer research.
I was bored this afternoon and noticed that Into the Wind: The Story of Terry Fox (one of the ESPN 30 for 30 documentaries) is available on Netflix streaming. It is a sad (obviously) but incredibly inspiring story, and I highly recommend it if you haven’t seen it already.
Or, if you don’t have Netflix, you can check out the book from my childhood: http://www.amazon.com/Value-Facing-Challenge-Story-Valuetales/dp/0717281345
I hope it inspires you like it has inspired me.
Lots of love,