Tuesday, 22 January 2013
Radiotherapy and Steve
Two big things to write about today, one lovely and one less than lovely. I've started radiotherapy, now on day 5 of 20 sessions, and this isn't the good thing, in fact I hate it. Everyone had led me to believe that after going through chemo, radiotherapy seems like a complete walk in the park, but not in my case. I'd also been led to believe that you turn up, haul yourself up on the table, bish bash bosh and it's all over in about 2 minutes, so you get dressed and go home. Why is my life never that simple? In my case, because I had cancer on both sides, and because I also had a fairly major spread to the lymph nodes, they want to zap me to within an inch of my coping ability. Every day I take up a triple appointment slot, and have to hold myself stock still whilst half naked for nearly 40 minutes. Boring, and I'm not good with boredom at all.
I turn up to the reception desk in the most futuristic, state of the art beautiful part of the hospital, and book myself in. Every day they very nicely tell me off for not bringing my appointment card, and every day I still forget, and it doesn't count that I know my six-digit hospital number off by heart as well as my birthday and address and name. Then I sit, nearly always with the ever-supportive WM by my side, on really swanky armchairs, trendily placed around equally swanky coffee tables. They are pretty good, and don't keep me waiting long, apart from Friday when the snow came down heavily and they rang everyone and got us all to turn up at the same time in the morning.
When my name gets called, I'm assigned one of many very clean, bright broom-cupboard changing-rooms along the corridor, and this is when everything starts to go downhill. I strip to the waist, and put on a purple hospital gown tying up at the back, except it doesn't really. The ties are in completely the wrong places, and as anyone who has had major armpit surgery knows, trying to catch the ties on the back of the gown is nigh on impossible. Even on the days that by some fluke both the ties manage to find their way into the palms of my hands, modesty is still somewhat hard to maintain because your whole back is on display and the gown loves to slip off your shoulders. Even if it doesn't, without my fake boob in place anymore, once I take my seat again suitably gowned up it's pretty apparent to all and sundry that I'm a boob short of a pair.
Then they call me in. The room is huge, with the most difficult bed in the world to climb up onto. There is a funny knee-shaped foam-cushion to keep your legs in place just past the middle on one end, and the other end is in a sit-up position. So there is this tiny patch of bed, about 8 inches long, that you have to aim for in your ascension. Factor in that I never quite reached five foot (150cms if you don't think in "old money") and that the bed is incredibly high, plus I'm still very weak and breathless, and the fact that I ever get up there at all is quite amazing. All this struggle watched by sometimes 4 radiographers means that I feel stupid, vulnerable and back-footed before the session even gets started. It wasn't until yesterday, day four, that I happened to notice that there was a step in the corner especially for people like me, and asked to use it. Impossible Everest converted to a small flight of stairs in one easy move, but probably far less entertaining for my audience.
Once on the bed, I somehow have to hoke my legs over the knee cushion, place my head on a funny little plastic ring-doughnut that becomes very uncomfortable over the next 40 minutes, and then take my arms out of the hospital gown. Even more entertaining when I've already positioned myself before I remember it was that odd occasion where I actually managed to tie a knot behind myself. Taking my arms out of the hospital gown is a moment of complete vulnerability, knowing that complete strangers are now looking at my shark-bite disfigurement, but worse is to come.
They have specially designed arm-stirrups to hold your elbows and wrists in a most unnatural position way above your head, again very difficult and uncomfortable if you've had armpit surgery on both sides, like me. So I lie there, exposed and stretched out and completely immobile, like I'm on some sort of medieval torture table.
This is when they really start to have some fun. Out come their rulers and their pens - red, black and blue ones. One person on each side of me, using my upper body to draw things on and to say strange things about to each other. "I make it 98.2", "correct" "4 centimetres to the left" "OK". You know that sarcastic phrase "I'm talking about you, not to you"? Well, that's just about how it feels. This whole technical drawing lesson goes on for about 10 minutes, while they are trying to ensure that their magic laser beams go into the exact location. It also means that they move me, both by moving the table, up, down, left, right, rotational both ways, tilting too - but because they are talking to each other rather than me I don't know that I'm being moved until it happens, and it is rather pleasant really, like being on an old-lady white knuckle ride, or maybe like eating magic mushrooms - quite surreal and other-worldly. If the bed moving doesn't quite hit the right spot, they shove me around manually, but because they are only aiming for a millimetre of difference, I have to play dead and not help them.
By the time they are ready to leave the room, the worst things have happened - by now I have normally developed about 15 really itchy spots, or I'm now dying to go to the loo, or even worse, my chemo-runny-nose has decided to really show off how clever it is at spilling its' mucousy contents all over my lower face. My chin has been tilted skyward, so my field of vision is severely limited, but I am aware that the bed is gently dancing again, and that various bits of high-tech gizmos are circling above me. Sometimes the lights are on, sometimes they are off, but at least in my favourite of the three rooms I've had this torture so far, they have pretty good old lady piped music - Harry Secombe sang "If I ruled the world" especially for me yesterday, and today I had Tom Jones all to myself. Half naked with Tom Jones in the room and I'm whingeing?
Every now and again they pop back, draw more lines on my chest, move me about a bit and leave. What is particularly disconcerting is when someone new comes in at this stage and I can't even see their face. If you have to take your kit off for people it's nice to know who exactly has seen your wares.
Eventually it's over. Except that my arms have by now frozen into position and I never think I'll ever move them again, and it takes several minutes for feeling and movement ability to return, before I can start to work out how to sit up and get off the table. Then back through the waiting area to find my broom-cupboard, and home again in a slightly worse mood. Today though, clever WM knew exactly what to do - lunch and a mint hot chocolate in my favourite cafe!
Now to the fun stuff. We're getting a dog! Yes, I know I'm crazy. Yes, I know it's the wrong time, we've never had a dog before, I've got no resources left and I'm not well enough at all, but to heck with it we're getting one. For the past few weeks this dog was a concept, a virtual dog, but now it's become totally real. His name is Steve, he is six weeks old, a cross between a Labrador and a Staffie, and jet black. He is one of a litter of 10, all equally gorgeous, from a lovely family a couple of miles up the road. We chose him on Sunday, but he's not old enough to leave his mum quite yet, so we have a chance to buy all his bits and pieces and get our heads around it.
Actually it's not my dog at all, it's going to be for my gorgeous 15 year old son. He's the one who named him, and he's the one who had the terrible task of choosing which one of the 10 to reserve. Steve is hardly a conventional name for a dog, and we have suggested all sorts of other names, but no, he wants a completely un-dog-like name, and Steve is non-negotiable. An unconventional dog for an unconventional family - perfect!