Radiation Day One

Radiation Mask

Torture device for the claustrophobic.

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.

Terry Fox

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,
–T

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12 thoughts on “Radiation Day One

  1. I am indeed inspired by updates on your progress, Tyler. This seemingly unbeatable challenge can’t keep you down regardless of what gets thrown at you. There are drones of folks that care about you who are moved by your experience and your willingness to share.

    • a mouth full there tampage. Stage 4 is ptetry bad. Chemo and radiation would be used to shrink the tumours and hopefully buy more time. However people have beaten those long odds before. Your friend is young and strong and will fight this thing.

  2. Tyler…..can’t tell you how many times a day you are in my thoughts. The flash of my lime green wrist band takes me to dinners, KC Ballgames, Christmas Tree cuttings after breakfast at Shoemakers……you are always there and we all are looking forward to when the beast is beaten!!! Stay strong. We love you!
    Dick

  3. The radiation process sounds “nerve fraying” to say the least…and I was struck by your mom’s comment about “learning experiences”…as I feel the same way…and know that the most is learned by those experiences that are many times “negative” more than all the so called “great experiences” that come along…hang in there and keep the faith!

  4. T I hope radiation continues to be easier than the chemo and hope when your done with the radiation you can take some time off treatments. We need rain badly in Nebraska so we hope fall comes quickly w a new weather pattern. Our new dog was playing w the cat and actually got cat scratch fever cost me $80 no more play time for max the cat.

    Huskers have had two lineman quit this fall so we are getting thin in the o line. You need to get back ans see our new basketball arena it dominates the sky line. Be good hope to see u soon. Lee and Barb

  5. Ty,
    To chime in on what my dad said… we too think of you often. My bracelet is a little large so once in a while when removing a long sleeve shirt or my garden gloves, it disappears for a few minutes. But I know I look at it often and think of you because it only takes minutes to realize it’s missing when that happens. I make finding it my only mission until it’s back on my arm. I now wear your lime green bracelet with a importance like a wedding band. It is so important to me…reflecting how important YOU are to me.

    I have to say, that I am so glad you’ve been inspired by those stories from your childhood. Now YOU are the one who inspires us. I speak of you often to close friends here in Boise, because they wonder the significance of the bracelet. And do you know how I describe you…? As family, a gourmet kid, and I just realized a few weeks ago… you are my oldest friend… we’ve known each other since basically birth… and please know I cherish that bond with you!

    Keep staying strong and BRAVE, especially with that mask you have to wear (I don’t know how you do it…I’d be freaking out wearing that!)

    We LOVE YOU so much!
    Michelle and Jesse

  6. Tyler …
    I don’t need to read that Terry Fox book or watch the Netflix to be inspired … all I have to do is read YOUR postings! You are an inspiration to so many of us! Hang in there with that crazy mask … you need to name it. Hmmm … maybe a contest?? Best of luck with these treatments. xoxo **Mary**

  7. Our TY — The “Man in the Mesh Mask” — A man with many hats. You are our inspiration! Keep strong. We love you. We admire you. We are TEAM TYLER. Love Monica & Brad

  8. Tyler, YOU are the inspiration. Count on your support team to recharge your energies with love and prayers Don Harpst —

  9. I have to chime in with Michelle and Dick. Misha – I could not have said it any better! Tyler – We love you so much and you are like a second son to me. We look forward to many, many wonderful times together in the future. Keep strong and know that our love is ALWAYS with you!
    Annika

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