My Throat Hurts Already
I have no idea why but up until two days ago, I’d though radiation treatment would be a snap.
One of the first things I asked Dr. Pugh, my ENT guy, was whether I’d have to undergo chemotherapy or not. I’d always figured that was the nightmare of cancer. Dr. Pugh said he was fairly sure there’d be no need for chemotherapy.
BTW: I refuse to say “chemo” as if it’s some sort of nickname. It’s not my friend. I have no affection for it. It’s chemotherapy and let’s let it stay way away from me.
Anyway, I then asked Pugh if I’d lose my hair during radiation. No, no, he said.
Well, that’s that, right? I’ll get through this like a dream.
Swear to god, that’s what I’d been thinking.
I even described my upcoming radiation as “zapping.” Yeah, they’ll just zap my cancer away and I’ll go skipping off to frolic in the flower garden.
But, as Dr. Wu, my radiation oncologist, explained Thursday, it’ll be hell. His word. Hell.
So that’s why, for the last two nights, every time I’d toss or turn, I’d wake up fully and ask myself the following questions:
- Why would anyone willingly go through with this?
- Why would I let them destroy my sense of taste? Temporarily, sure, for the most part. But, still, for the rest of my life food just won’t taste the same even after I fully recover.
- Why would I let them destroy most of my salivary glands?
- Why would I subject myself to the torture of a burning throat for several weeks?
- Why would I risk being unable to swallow for the same period of time?
- Am I crazy?
- Are these doctors, nuclear physicists, and various other researchers crazy?
- Is life that precious to me that I’d make this deal to hold on to it?
Answer to the last Q: Um, I guess so. Uh huh. Yeah, sure.
Up until this weekend, I’d always considered imagination a good thing. I’d counsel people: Let your imagination run wild. Imagination leads to innovation, hope, optimism, invention, art — all those fabulous things we think make life worth living.
Now my imagination is fixed upon what my throat will feel like by the third or fourth week of radiation. I’m thinking of the worst sore throats I’ve ever experienced and multiplying them by, oh, ten. Toss in the sensation of charring and burning, with a dry, sore-filled mouth. Man, my imagination is good. I’d be a great innovator, hoper, optimist, etc.
Only now I’m imagining so well that I feel pain in my throat already.
Okay, step one in my mental prep for this ordeal: Control my imagination. So counterintuitive, isn’t it? I’ve never tried to control my imagination. Quite the contrary. This cancer business forces a whole new set of rules upon me.
The Loved One and I took a drive down to Louisville yesterday afternoon. I’ve been wanting to see the new bridge that Kentucky and Indiana jointly built right next to the aging, rickety JFK Bridge, carrying I-65 over the the three-quarters-of-a-mile wide Ohio River. The new span opened just three and a half weeks ago.
It was a perfect day for a drive. The sun, a rare visitor to these parts of late, was out. High, puffy clouds, temps approaching 40, and sparse traffic. We took backroads to get to I-65, passing through small towns and endless expanses of farmland with rolling hills and challenging curves.
We started out in the early afternoon and didn’t get home until after eight. Throughout the trip, The Loved One worked hard to remind me I wasn’t alone in this journey and that she loves me dearly.
Prior to Thursday, I’d been joking that I should have caught cancer sooner, what with The Loved One being so attentive and affectionate toward me and my friends all showering me with sympathy.
Ah, hell, I’m going to continue to make that crack. If I can’t handle this business with humor, I may not be able to handle it at all. Besides, a lot of my pals are touting me as a tough Chicago guy who can’t be beaten by this thing. There’s plenty riding on me to pull through it.