There are two running counts on our chalkboard at home. The first is a counter of actual days until my term as department chair is up (31 May is the last day of my term). That number is at 19, though the chairing is pretty light in May and I’ve had lots of help from colleagues. Still, I’m going to feel like I can really bookend an accomplishment (is that a metaphor?) when that number hits 0.
The number in the subject heading of this post is the number of external beam radiation treatments I have left. I hope it’s not approximate but I don’t really know. I was told I’ve ben scheduled for 30 treatments, so today would have been #2/29. The measure is in treatments, not days. So weekends and holidays at the Jewish General (including the next two Mondays) don’t get me any closer to 0. Perhaps it’s not healthy to count down like this, perhaps it is. I kind of like it. This is my last course of thyroid cancer treatment for the near term anyway, and the final obstacle to whatever approximation of a full recovery I can make.
I learned more about the machine today. There are these different parts that swirl around you. The beam shoots at me as it’s moving around, so the noises that it makes while it is sitting there looking at me are its “getting ready” noises. The staff were also faster at moving me around, so I was in and out much quicker.
The whole thing definitely feels a bit “I’m living in the future” science-fiction-y. The machine is very, well, machine-like and there is a small fleet of technicians (okay 3) whose official job is to attend to my treatment. But really their relationship is with the machine, and I’m just an intermediary. Of course, from my perspective it’s the opposite, since it’s me and the machine that get to spend 15 minutes of quality time together, utterly shut off from the rest of the world.
As M told me, there is something different about radiation oncology. Everyone is so nice and friendly. The spaces are beautiful. When I first visited endocrinology at the Jewish I joked that someone had redecorated it after a visit to Ikea. If that’s the case, then radiation oncology is more like Zone (a higher-end modern housewares store, for the non-Montrealers who don’t get the joke). So of course I call endocrinology Ikea and radiation oncology Zone, because in classic American fashion I like to give everything nicknames. It makes sense, though. The treatment is slowly debilitating, so they want to make the space as welcoming as possible so you keep coming even when it gets rough. I joked at one point that the waiting room was nice enough to make it worth the side-effects. Except that patients in EBR go into a secret, super-special waiting room that’s not as sunny. They call it the “green room” because there is green glass on the outside, but the broader cultural resonance is also pretty thick.
Anyway, the EBR room is gigantic and separated from the rest of the hospital by a massive concrete door (with the obligatory “warning–radiation”) sign and thick walls. The machine itself cost more than our condo, and can do these sort of pirouettes with its different parts during the treatment. I started to discern a pattern of movements. Once I decode it, I will know what marks the beginning, middle and end of my treatment, assuming they do the same thing each time.
Today I also had a getting-to-know-you meeting with a resident, but not much news was to be had on that front, as he hadn’t really looked over my treatment program yet and I don’t have any symptoms yet. He did tell me to try and avoid using creams and lotions until I need them as they actually adjust where the maximum impact of the radiation is–too thick a layer of lotion on your skin and the radiation effectively burns closer to the surface. Interesting theory and the opposite of what I read on the advanced ThyCa listserv, so I don’t really know what to think.
I keep getting these burning feelings on my skin and then I remember; that’s razorburn from the electric shaver. Duh. I haven’t had that in over 20 years. I’m a little hoarse now and then and maybe my mouth is a little dry. Or maybe I’m just noticing how things always are but anticipating their transformation.
Anyway, the numbers/how many treatments I have left in the title seem like a good conceit for the time being, so I’ll keep with it.
Tomorrow I’m back at 7:45, then I’ve got more reasonable times.
Endnote: I have picked up this odd habit of dropping the first person pronoun in my writing. I typed “Haven’t had that” instead of “I haven’t had that” and had to go back and fix it. I keep doing this. It’s probably just hypothyroid brain fog but it’s fun to think there’s a more profound existential explanation.