Day -7

Today began early, for me: a 6:00 AM wakeup for pre-meds to get me set for my first 7:15 radiation session. Ativan was delivered, as promised, and I even managed to gobble down some early breakfast before the transport team (I think you could call them the SWAT team and they wouldn’t be surprised or need much of a change of outfit) arrived. I am not allowed to walk any part of this brief journey across the road, for reasons that escape me but no doubt have to do with the transport company’s self-protective policies, so the transport team straps me into a gurney, raises me to a surprisingly, rajah-like height, and wheels me along briskly. I also need to wear a special gown, a hairnet, gloves, shoe-covers, and a mask; that’s for my protection now that I’m deemed to be immune-compromised, so fair enough

The radiation treatments today were time-consuming and uncomfortable, to say the least. I was wedged into a plexiglass-and-metal pole frame which (at the risk of seeming paranoid and hostile) reminded me of something that might be used to detain Hannibal Lecter during one of his less friendly moods. I had to stand as still as possible in this device for the better part of half an hour as they adjusted it, readjusted it, made sharpie marks on my chest and back, and asked me to move over an inch or so, stand straighter, or what have you, and then finally administered the dose. I appreciated the care they were taking; after an earlier simulation and fitting visit they had fashioned blocks to protect some of my vital organs from the extremely high doses of energy they were proposing to send through my body, and these blocks needed to be placed in exactly the right spots, for obvious reasons. I was like a slice of meat being grilled from both sides (morning front, afternoon back) and they wanted to make sure the right bits were being cooked.

The morning session was the worse of the two sessions today, by some distance; they did not let me know when I could relax my posture and so my legs began to feel cramped and stiff right away (and kept cramping throughout). Also, despite the Ativan, I felt light-headed and began to break out in sweat. Uh oh, I thought, here we go again… You see, I had had similar squeamish symptoms during the simulation visit, and at that time I had asked to lie down for a while before the sweat actually broke out. The little rest had done me some good, but had interrupted the process to such an extent that my helpers had wandered off for a while, confusion hadreigned, and one of the procedures they had needed to do had ended up getting skipped. Afterwards, I had wondered if I might not have done better to soldier on, so to speak.

So today, when I feared I was going to faint, I worked harder to breathe deeply (not easy when your upper chest is being pressed into place); happily, I remembered that you use your diaphragm, which is lower down, when you inhale. I could see my sweat pouring down the glass plate in front of me as I leaned my forehead against it, but I realized that I was so well and truly surrounded by restraints that the very things that were making me feel claustrophobic, or like I was about to be executed, were in fact going to prevent me from falling down. I could sag gradually onto the bicycle-style seat they had wedged just under my butt, and I would be fine. So that’s what I did. My head slowly cleared, and the sweating soon stopped. I started to object when one the tech referred to my sweating as profuse, but when I saw the extent of the smear I’d made on the glass around me, I decided not to quibble.

By the afternoon session, I had overcome whatever my morning aversion to the radiation setup was, and recited World War One poetry to myself in a silent whisper instead of having a meltdown. My legs were still cramping up from having to hold the same pose for so long, but that was manageable with subtle weight shifts and a few (now for some reason officially permitted) breaks to stretch and wiggle. Everyone says the radiation sessions will get much shorter from now on, and thus easier to get through (their medical effects won’t truly begin to be felt till they have ended, apparently), which is a good enough reason to be glad that Day -7 is more or less over, and to look forward to Day -6.

6 thoughts on “Day -7

    1. I am deeply moved by your story. Stay strong, trust your instincts and keep writing. I had a small breast cancer way back in 1980s,,the same type and stage that Nancy Reagan had. She got major Tx, I had minimal excision and nothing else. Since then the oncologists have added radiation to the protocol. I never got the radiation. The result was the same. We both lived into old age.

      You may not know me. I am “a poetry friend”. Heard you read once.


  1. Brad, I drove to work thinking about you this morning and when I got home I hoped I’d find a post. You didn’t disappoint! It seems odd (or possibly in bad taste) to comment on your writing at a time like this, but wow. Wow. wow. wow. I feel sweaty and it’s hard to breathe. Thanks for sharing your experience so we can not only think about you, cuss the unfairness of it, but also be there with you in a small way. Sending positive thoughts to you, Kate and your girls.

    Frances Sutz Brown


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