Preparations for the concerted poison and radioactive ray attack on My Olive Pit™ had been moving along at such a glacial pace that I sort of forgot about the “hell” (Dr. Wu’s word) I’m slated to endure.
BTW: chemotherapy really is a poison attack upon the body. It’s no different than, say, dropping a third American nuclear weapon on Tokyo in the hope of ridding Japan of its ruling militarists toward the end of World War II. Sure, the war-loving madmen who helped push the globe into all-out conflagration would have been fried into the afterlife, but so would have hundreds of thousands of common citizens.
In my case, belligerent fanatics in the form of squamous cell carcinoma are gradually taking over my body’s government. My medical oncologist — one of my two top generals — has decided the best response to this development is to flood me with with Cisplatin, a platinum-based drug. The Cisplatin will attack the cancer cells, instructing their DNA molecules to shut down their reproduction and repair functions. Okay, cool, all those crazy belligerent fanatics will be killed — but the populace, the innocent cells of my body, will suffer as much or even more so.
Some of Cisplatin’s possible side effects include kidney damage, neurotoxicities resulting in hearing and vision loss, anemia, and severe nausea and vomiting. What kind of sadistic general would want to be responsible for such collateral damage? The kind that wants to win a war that otherwise would destroy the homeland. Namely, me.
Add Cisplatin’s effects to those of radiation therapy and many billions of my body’s cells are gonna get the holy shit kicked out of them.
That’s why there’s so much prep work to be done before chemoradiation therapy can begin. My bod must be in as tip-top shape as it can possibly be, a tall order considering the number of years I’ve spent on this planet enduring normal wear and tear in addition to my own abuse and neglect of this not-so-sacred temple.
It’s been two months since I’ve learned I have cancer. The entire time has been taken up with tests, procedures, dosages of medications, drainings of blood, and various other high-tech voodoos designed to get me into fighting shape. The dental work that’s been done upon me has eaten up the lion’s share of time. Not that my choppers were in particularly bad shape — quite the contrary — but any trifling dental issue, any picayune gum irregularity, must be dealt with now before my mouth’s healing capacity is compromised by radiation therapy.
To that end, Dr. Wu’s office rang me up Monday and asked, essentially, What in the hell is going on? He wants to get going with radiation treatment. Funny he should have called that day because I’d been stewing the entire weekend, wondering why my dentist, Dr. Baker, hadn’t scheduled me for a tooth extraction yet. That’s the last thing I have to get done before the War on Cancer begins. I was about to dial Dr. Baker’s number when Dr. Wu’s office called.
So, I spent the day raising hell with Dr. Baker’s phone person. She told me Baker doesn’t do the yanking, her associate (who happens to be her father) does that work. But that Dr. Baker — ohsweetjesus, this is gonna get confusing — doesn’t have an opening for ten days or so. Maybe more.
Uh uh, sez I. That won’t do. Who else can I go to? Dr. Baker I’s phone person gave me a few numbers. I dialed them and told those phone persons I needed a tooth yanked ASAP otherwise I was in danger of collapsing from a cancer attack. None of them had openings within the next few weeks. So, I dialed Dr. Baker I’s office again and tried to put on a sniffly voice (BTW: I won’t be nominated for an Academy Award this year). Isn’t there anything that can be done? I begged.
The woman must have taken pity on me. She sighed, Okay, we can fit you in as an emergency patient Saturday morning. Success.
I called back Dr. Wu’s crew to spread the good news. His peeps told me, “Good, now you can come in tomorrow to get your mask fitted and your mapping done.” I was to come in the next morning at ten.
Alright, then. I hung up, satisfied that we were moving ahead.
And it hit me. This “hell” Wu’d promised me was about to begin. Tomorrow (Tuesday), as a matter of fact.
I thereupon fell into a deep funk. The day, overcast already, seemed to turn even darker. I could no longer entertain the fantasy that Dr. Wu or Dr. Allerton, my medical oncologist, might call and say, Haha, did we pull a fast one on you! You don’t have cancer. You won’t need any radiation or chemotherapy! Aren’t we pistols?
Honestly, when hellish potentialities loom, you start dreaming crazy dreams.
I’d been poring through the newspapers and all my bookmarked science sites daily, searching in vain for breaking news that a brand new drug had been discovered, one that would make radiation and chemotherapy unnecessary. Pop a single pill and — boom! — down goes the cancer. Or perhaps some machine might be invented by a consortium headed by Elon Musk, Stephen Hawking, and Warren Buffett, a gadget so advanced its operator could press a button for a deliciously quick second and thereupon zap the offending nodes and tumors into nothingness.
Need I clarify? No such scientific advancement is forthcoming.
I’d be going to hell starting Tuesday.
I was so discouraged that I couldn’t even talk about it with The Loved One. I sat smoldering in my recliner, unable even to say hello when she came home that evening. Poor kid. At first she was worried that I’d gotten some horrible news. I roused myself enough to tell her, No, that wasn’t it. Otherwise, I was mute.
My black moods aren’t necessarily fleeting but, having battled clinical depression for years I’ve learned how to pull myself out of a morass, they don’t last much longer than a night. When I got up the next morning, I was able to explain what was happening inside the coconut to The Loved One. She, too, is experiencing a kind of hell.
I met a couple of delightful radiation technologists yesterday. Their task was to fit me onto an electronic, moveable platform that’ll shift me in and out of their radiation machine.
Oh, it’s a hell of a task. Precision is paramount. They had to shift my hips and shoulders this way and that, often by millimeters, centering me. The strapped my feet together so I wouldn’t be tempted to cross my legs during the 15 or 20 minutes I’ll spend daily in the machine. They placed pegs in the platform for me to grip tightly, further guarding against herks and jerks. They jammed brackets into the platform, shoving my shoulders down, thereby clearing them of the radiation beams. They placed a form-fitting plastic mold under my neck to hold my big bean steady. All this was done as a laser beam attached to the ceiling shined down on my sternum, giving them a centering point of reference. Then — the pièce de résistance — they created a mesh mask to be fitted to my face.
The mask serves a dual purpose. One is for the technologists to draw aiming points on it without permanently marking my ruggedly handsome mug. The other is to hold my head as absolutely steady as humanly possible as the radiation enters my neck.
All the pegs, brackets, sticks, pool cues, garden hoses, and other paraphernalia have been graduated and marked to my specifications and will be pulled out every time I come in for treatment.
The technologists did their work smartly, quickly, and with a fine sense of humor. Now, that’s what I call customer service. As far as I can tell, everybody in the radiation rooms has a top-notch bedside manner. Considering how scared to death all their customers are, that seems a prerequisite asset.
Dig the following slide show featuring two aspects of the mask as well as one shot with it on me as I lie on the table. The thing sticking out of my mouth is a bite stick; that ensures my tongue is kept down during the beaming, sparing it too much unintended fire.
Joey Bishop in Ocean’s Eleven! (The original)