Wednesday, February 20, 2008

And the Bead Goes On

The day is crisp as a good croissant, the river wider and deep enough to drown the skyline, the barges moving faster and with larger loads, the full moon yellow on early morning’s dark canvas, friends and children holding up my spirits with their love and prayers; I’ve passed through two days of this radical radiation therapy, hope comes by mail and I feel great.

As I lie on the metal beds for the twice a day Xrays (low grade ones not dangerous) looking up at the cherry blossom ceiling, I finger the unique Episcopal prayer beads Susan Henley gifted me. She put them together from South African picture jaspers and tiger’s eyes, antique Ethiopian banded prayer beads, hand carved Chinese bone, hand-carved cylindrical horn, and an Islamic telsum protective prayer amulet; Tibetan Buddhist bone mala prayer beads, an ancient Hebraic Hebron bead of Dead Sea Salt; and a replica of a 3rd century Ethiopian Coptic cross. I pray all sorts of traditional prayers on these irregular beads, chosen to represent the imperfection of our lives. I pray some funky prayers, many Hail Marys, some chants and always sing Jesus Loves Me while the Xray technicians are trying to get my left boob in focus or while the radiation bead roams around the balloon in me for eight minutes per session. I am impressed how kind the technicians and nurses are. I do have a physicist who works with Dr. Lee the radiology oncologist. The physicist is from Hong Kong. I told him I was delighted to have my own physicist - I had never met one. Then I asked if he was like Stephen Hawkins. He humbly apologized that his work wasn’t as complicated as Hawkins. I told him it was complicated to me and I rely on him to get me cancer free. I want to be a survivor.

Here’s the routine: after removing my top wear, crawling out of my bra, and donning the hospital robe, I go first to Xray. The girls focus the huge lens on me at an angle and move the camera by remote in every direction possible - as well as the bed (It’s like one of those Disney rides where the seats move to give you certain impressions.) They stick long thin plastic wires into the tubes hanging out of my boob to get an accurate measurement of where the balloon resides. After this, I sit in the inside holding area and knit or read or work on my poems. When Dr. Lee and his physicist are both in the same place at the same time, they call me into the radiation room. Once again, there is a cherry blossom ceiling. Once again, I hold my left arm up over my head. Once again I take a few deep breaths, and finger my prayer beads. When I’m hooked to a robot like machine (which is locked in a closet until the physicist lets it out), everyone leaves me laying there alone. A huge door slowly, pedantically, grudgingly closes - reminds me of those old horror movies when radiation runs rampant in a Frankenstein monster type. The inner sanctum is shut.

Well, it’s not bad. The lights are on and if I want, there’s a radio. Once the machine is working, you feel sort of a gush of air into the balloon and I know something is going on in my left boob. But it doesn’t hurt and it really does feel like anything other than what the imagination donates to the moment. Immediately, I grab the large cross on the beads and start with the Lord’s Prayer. At intervals, an assistant says treatment is starting over a microphone and how many minutes remain of the treatment. There are two cameras looking at me to make sure I’m OK. Since the radiation beads lose their potency over a period of two or three months, the sessions at the end of that time are longer than when they first arrive new. So this is why my sessions are eight minutes. It’s okay. It’s a great time for meditation and prayer. It’s a time to focus on people in my life whom I adore, and trying to find solutions for relationships with people I don’t adore so much, although those are rare. It’s only 16 minutes a day but it works. It blesses you. And, amazing, I feel great.

When the machine stops it loud beeps, the session has ended. The vault-size door creeps open and the physicist enters first holding something like a microphone. I think it’s a wand to test radiation - Has anything slipped out? Am I radioactive? No. The seed goes back into the robot and leaves me as I am. I wonder if I will earn a glow in the end.

Finally, my hair dresser came to town, and my hair was shampooed then he cut the tar out of it. Whew. But still, I’m licensed only to take sponge baths for another week. That’s the hardest part. And my boob wounds/scars are beginning to itch. That’s a good sign. It’s healing fast, although we are still working hard on the left side of the left breast. I’m still trying to find a safe and comfortable deal to offer the car seat belt. It sits poorly. I’ve added Essiac to my daily pill take, since it is an herbal antidote that may influence cancerous tumors (a Canadian drug many have suggested to me.) I asked Dr. Lee if I might take the Liu Wei Di huang nine flavor tea the acupuncturist in California suggested. He said, Fine. Herbal assistant doesn’t hurt anything, apparently. And I am taking for the duration of the tubes and balloon in my boob, two antibiotics per day. But what I swear by - and have taken for 10 years - is CQ-10, that builds up the immune system. It keeps away common head colds and viruses, for some reason. I’ve also had the flu shot, the pneumonia vaccine, and the hepatitis vaccine. So I hope I’m fortified.
I miss my exercise, however, and when the wind isn’t too bold, I’ll take some river walks, and hope to get back to Pilates next week. Once the tubes are gone, I’m free to do whatever I feel I can do. Of course, then I’ll be assigned a oncologist from West Clinic to follow up on me. I guess once you have stepped into this pool of the cancer phenomenon, you spend the rest of your life "checking in", which usually means long waits and wasted days.

So I reward myself every day with something - today it was a cheese pretzel, one of those large ones that looks like an intestine wrap. I’m sure it’ll join other rewards around my waistline which is enjoying this time off from ab exercises.

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