After sending my two younger children off for the first day of the new school year, my wife and I (and my mother, who came down the night before) all went to my first visit with the radiation oncologist today. We drove over to Paris (the other one . . . no, the other one) and arrived at the Cancer Care Center just in time for my nine o’clock appointment.
The office is nice and the medical staff seems very friendly, two good things in a place accustomed to dealing with severe sickness and impending death. I’m not there for any of that, though, so I can appreciate the finer aspects of the place, such as it’s sea green roof and assorted cancer-related fund-raising items available to raise money for Relay for Life. Nothing like a captive audience, I guess.
Still, the import of where we were was not lost on my wife.
“I can’t believe we’re at a Cancer Care Center about to see an oncologist,” she said as we sat in the exam room.
“Well,” I replied, scooting just far enough away that she could not swat me, “he wouldn’t come to us.”
And that’s how it’s been through this entire process. Despite the scary disease and the almost-scarier treatments, despite the cramps in my hand from filling out so many medical forms, and despite being stuck by needles so many times that I feel like a bleeding pin cushion, I have worked very hard to maintain a sense of humor. In doing so, I believe I’m accomplishing several goals. First of all, humor is how I diffuse stress in my own life. I’m not an anxious person by nature, but I, like just about everyone else, have my share of stresses. To keep myself from worrying myself sick, I make jokes–sometimes tasteless, sometimes not very funny, but always with the intent of lightening the mood.
I’m also managing to help my wife and those around me deal with the reality that I’m being treated for cancer. It’s easy for me to be strong about it when I feel it’s necessary for those who care about me. Amy doesn’t always appreciate my humor, particularly in such cases as the above, but she understands that while I’m not taking the situation too lightly, I am trying to keep things in perspective. I have a very treatable cancer and I will go on from this and live a very long, happy, and hopefully profoundly wealthy life.
Finally, I’m dealing with doctors, nurses, and support personnel at these places who are used to people in a depressed state of mind. They may put on happy faces and talk about recovery, but a good many of the patients they see are not as fortunate as I am. Many of them are only prolonging the inevitable and that, regardless of how you deal with it on the outside, must be both mentally and emotionally draining. I can only imagine how difficult it is to put on that mask of hope every single day knowing that this patient may be receiving his or her last chemo treatment or that patient came in too late and will not live to see his or her children grow up. Oncologist offices are, by their very natures, places of despair, so if I can shed a little light on the people there with a self-deprecating joke or a bit of lively banter, if I can, just for a moment, dispel that darkness and bring life back into their daily regimen of death and sickness, then I feel I must do so. I am entrusting these people to take care of me and it’s only right that I, in whatever way I can, work to take care of them.
So, my treatment plan is set. I got to Jackson next Wednesday for the “pre-game walkthrough”–a few scans and x-rays to see exactly where they will be shooting the radiation into me. The doctor today told me that, unlike in the past, they now target the lymph nodes near the middle of the abdomen as seminomas tend to skip past the inguinal nodes farther down. Then, starting a week from Monday, I’ll go into the local office in Paris (no, the other one), get radiated, and be back out again in about 20 minutes. This will go on for three weeks–a total of fifteen treatments, with weekends off to rest and recover.
I asked a few questions at my appointment, the most important being whether or not I would be sick from the treatments. The oncologist was rather vague and I understand why–different people react differently to the same treatment, so there’s no real way of knowing if I’ll be sick or, if so, how severe it will be. There are other side effects to consider–skin irritation, fatigue, and insomnia are among the possibilities–but the main one I’m worried about is the nausea, which will make it very difficult to work either at my day job or at home on my growing novel. Luckily, I talked it over with my boss today and we have a tentative schedule that will allow me to work when I feel up to it without leaving my coworkers scrambling to cover my shifts if I miss. My doctor says I should be fine the first week, as the effects of the treatments are cumulative, and I hope he is right as I plan on working a full schedule that week, including two overnight shifts while work is done on our store. I have enough paid time accrued to take the full three weeks off, but I want to use as little as possible in case I run into complications down the road, or if another emergency arises. I do not plan on being sick, but I want to take every precaution so that, if I am, life around me continues on without a hitch and I don’t have to worry about what I’m not doing while I’m paying tribute to the porcelain throne.
At this point, I’m just ready to get this all over with. I feel good now and I know that won’t last through the radiation, but I know I’ll feel better still once the treatments are behind me and I can go about my normal business again.
In other news, I’m still writing nearly every night now and am sitting one about 12,000 words on the new work. I still don’t have a title, not even a working title, although I will say now that it involves a conflict between a superhero and a supervillain, one that stretches back before they were super anything. I’ve even figured out a way I can work my treatments into the storyline, adding a little verisimilitude for my trouble. So far, the story has been very fun to work on and, more importantly, I seem to have found that groove again, that out-of-body feeling that I hadn’t been able to conjure while Mr. Seminoma was growing in my nether regions. My head is clear, for now, and I’m making the most of it before I start getting nuked. I may feel fine during the treatments and not lose any of my momentum, but I want to be sure that, if I do have to take some time off from the story, I have something fun and alive to come back to.
In other other news, I turned 33 on Monday, which is only significant if you saw me get pelted by a whipped cream pie at our local Mexican restaurant that evening. Other than that, my birthday was just another day–I worked and I wrote and I had dinner with my family. That–to be able to do all those things–was all the gift I could have asked for.