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13_Irradiatin’ You, Electric Boogaloo

September 24, 2013

My friend Lori pointed out in no uncertain terms that I have been lax in updating the blog since my chemo ended. She is absolutely right (though it doesn’t preclude the fact that she is a terrible nag). After all, who wouldn’t want to hear the continued adventures of an irradiated but hip fellow in the most happening city on earth? Let’s do it!

A story of sex, drugs and money!*

*To be clear. . . sex = I have two kids, which proves I’ve had sex (to be more precise, it only proves that my wife had sex, but you’ll have to take my word for it that I was there), drugs = chemotherapy and tums, money = dealing with hospital co-pays (“How could I owe Mt. Sinai $30 AND $50? I’ve only been there once!” Mo money, mo problems. . .)

So here’s what’s new in the past three weeks or so since I last posted:

Radiation Therapy

First of all, her name is Yadi. So I was pretty far off in the last post about the radiation. We thought she would be my radiation girl throughout, which is why I learned her name, but since my treatment times jumped around a bit I haven’t seen her much. But I wanted make sure she got her time to shine in the blog, for whatever that’s worth (it’s most definitely worth nothing. Sorry Yadi!). For the most part, I’ve received my treatment from a couple of guys named Jamie and something or other (Marcus? Michael?), and a woman named Kim. Knowing 66% of their names is better than knowing 0% of their names, so my average is improving. . . 

Every weekday morning at 8:45 I go the radiation unit of the hospital to get my daily recommended dose of high energy particles (part of any nutritious breakfast). While it is not even remotely by any stretch of the imagination fun, it is miles better than chemo. Here’s how it goes . . .

From the waiting room I get called into the treatment area where I say my hellos and take off my shirt. After everyone admires my physique for a few hushed seconds, I lay down on a table. Then the radiation people adjust my position slightly and slowly lower the mask I talked about in the last post over my head and shoulders. They then bolt the hard plastic mask onto the table. The mask is so tight that I can’t open my eyelids once it’s bolted in. Nor can I open my mouth, or swallow with any conviction. It’s very tight. A few seconds of panic ensue (I’m panicking, the technicians are talking about their nights out or what they will eat for lunch) and I hear “See you in while!” and then I hear the “thunk” of the thick door to the room closing. Since I can’t move my head or open my eyes, I assume that’s what the noise is, though really anything could be happening in there.

I asked Kim if patients ever freak out (just want to know my options), and she says, “Yup. All the time”. Apparently, for some of these poor sods they’ll cut out the mouth and eye areas of the mask to give a sense of relief. So the question in my mind was: do I accept the embarrassment and pretend to freak out so they’ll cut out some eye and mouth holes or do I suffer mini-claustrophobia attacks daily with unknown, and hence unappreciated stoicism? (Or I suppose I could just ask them politely to cut the freaking  holes, but that didn’t occur to me until just now, as I wrote it. Bummer!) Needless to say, I’ve suffered in silence the past three weeks.

Then a bunch of whirring happens and the table moves ever so slightly. I hear some clicking and buzzing and the occasional beep. Supposedly what’s going on is that the technicians are taking a few x-rays each day and moving the table via remote control until my neck is absolutely, perfectly lined up with millimeter precision with the x-ray of my neck from the previous day. Then the machines whirl around in three dimensions, zapping my lymph node (or to be more precise and existential, the hole in the universe where my lymph node used to be) from the precise angle needed to irradiate the area in question without blasting my thyroid or any other essential bits of me. The whole thing takes about ten minutes. Really amazing, actually, how accurately they can shoot stuff . . .

Two points about the procedure noted above:

1) Apparently, the saliva gland on the right side isn’t “essential”. It is getting fried and, sadly, probably won’t survive the procedure. They warned me about this ahead of time, but damn! My throat is drier than I thought possible. Drier  than the surface of the moon. (A quick google search of “dry humor” revealed a renowned expert in humor stylings, Donn Lee. This fellow’s humor is so inconceivably dry that it could be said to be non-existent, which, in a certain sense, is the ultimate in dryness. The comments on the page provide some examples. My mouth is not that dry [or obtuse]. But it is pretty dry.) This makes it very uncomfortable, especially after I teach a three hour class on Monday afternoons. It will supposedly get better in a few weeks as my other gland acclimates. My neck is also getting redder, which looks like either a strange sunburn or some very localized embarrassment.

2) The idea of having a few x-rays taken every day seemed a bit dangerous to me. I brought the question up to my radiation oncologist, Dr. Parikh. He literally laughed in my face. “The dose of an x-ray is like one-thousandth of the radiation we’re blasting you with every treatment! X-rays are the least of your problems! Ha ha ha!” I feel so relieved!

So for a few weeks I’ve been saying that the worst is almost past. Now the worst has, in fact, passed! Today was my last radiation treatment! There was again very little fanfare. My wife called and left a sweet message. Kim waved goodbye and I slapped her hand. I thought she was giving me a high five. Oops. They offered me the mask, which was nice, but seeing as it is literally as big as my head and upper torso, I felt that taking it to work (via the subway no less) might encourage more discussion on the matter than I was willing to subject myself to (only a few people there know for a fact that I had cancer. They just think I’m the guy from Low Winter Sun.) Anyways, I look forward to not feeling like I have a mouth full of spackle all day. Oh and to being done with my treatment.

Showing me up

Some kudos where they are due. . . My wife, Stephanie, and two friends ran a 10k on Sunday morning. She told us what time she would arrive at the finish line, so me and Juliette went to meet her (did you know there’s a 6 in the morning now?). Lo and behold, there was Stephanie waiting for us. She had finished 15 minutes before the allotted time!

photo 1

Juliette (who started kindergarten last week, btw) took a shine to the idea. At least to the idea of taping something to her chest.

All three of the ladies did a great job and embarrassed all of us husbands. Congratulations and shame on you.

4 Comments
  1. Lori permalink

    Thank you very much. But you can’t stop. Now let’s (you) write about OTHER things! because I am a stay at home mom and don’t have anything else to do but read other people’s blogs.

  2. Yayyyyy, Lori! I don’t know you, but I’m glad you got his blog ass going again. Needed this today. Perhaps you’re listening, Z? I don’t know you either, but just know you make a difference with this thing. Keep it going. No pressure. No, really, no pressure…

  3. Michelle permalink

    Hey there! Zeth, CONGRATULATIONS!!! I could not be happier for you!! You are an amazing writer and I love reading it all!! Life is a little different now, through your eyes, I suppose. A friend of mine was just diagnosed with lymphoma. No easy battle. You are amazing!! Keep on truckin!

  4. Hello there Zeth. All the best on your treatment!

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