Radiation Therapy

I knew from my research that radiation would be the easiest part of my cancer therapy.

Lie still. We must make a mold for you, so that you assume the exact same position every time, so the radiation hits only the correct tissue. Precision is key.

OK, I will lie perfectly still.

That’s not all. Tattoos. We must permanently mark your skin in three places, to triangulate a perfect adjustment, so the radiation hits exactly the right spot. 

OK, I will wear my tattoos like badges of honor.

That’s not all. You must not move, even a little bit, during your radiation therapy sessions. Don’t risk damaging your lung. Or heart.

OK, I will not move. Not one bit. If you tell me not to breathe, I’ll stop breathing. I want nothing more than to be rid of this wretched cancer, to be healthy again.

That’s not all. Your breast will be exposed for the duration. You must not worry about that. She smiles, slightly.

You’re kidding, right? I smile back. Don’t worry, I have no shame. Cancer robbed me of what little I had left after childbirth. Besides, at this point, everyone’s seen my boobs.

Good. You will show up every day, Monday through Friday, for the six weeks of your treatment.

OK, I will.

Compared to the chemotherapy that almost killed me, radiation should be a piece of cake. A few friends tell me radiation made them incredibly tired. They didn’t have chemo. I think radiation is only draining if you don’t have chemo as a comparison. I ask several more friends who have weathered both therapies and confirm that I’m right.

Child’s play, boob radiation, for a chemo veteran like me.

***

I go to the radiation therapy waiting room on my first day. I am five minutes early.

Have a seat. We’ll call you at your appointed time.

OK.

I know it’s not true, but I feel like I’m in the wrong place.

There are too many kids here. Some read books, some play with toys. One boy sits on his mother’s lap, sucking his thumb. So many beautiful kids.

Not one of the kids has hair. I realize they are here, like me, for treatment. Kids. Silent tears fall from my eyes. These kids have cancer. I hate having cancer but give a million thanks that it’s me and not my toddler son. These kids are gorgeous. Innocent. Cancer patients.

Stacie, come on in.

Unlike the rest of oncology, radiation runs like clockwork. I am called into the room five minutes after I arrive, exactly at the time of my appointment. I follow the nurse, leaving the kids behind in the waiting room. I undress from the waist up, position myself in the mold and receive my treatment. The entire process takes ten minutes. I leave the hospital.

But the kids stay with me.

I haven’t felt this good physically since right before my first chemo infusion four months ago. But mentally, I’m exhausted. Six weeks of radiation is going to be so much more difficult than I could have imagined.

Nobody prepared me for the heartbreaking part of this therapy. 

No one mentioned the kids.

____

Other posts about my cancer experience:

Peace of Mind
Routine Tests
Numb Spot
The Red Death
The Green Bag
I Celebrate Another Birthday
Setting Her Free

Please join us over at yeah write, for writers who blog and bloggers who write. Good stuff!
 

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60 Responses to “Radiation Therapy”

  1. icescreammamaJanuary 21, 2014 at 4:53 pm #

    ugh piercing! children should never ever ever ever be sick. it’s so not okay.

    • StacieJanuary 21, 2014 at 5:28 pm #

      So not okay…

  2. cynkingfeelingJanuary 21, 2014 at 5:27 pm #

    I’m trying to decide if it would have been any easier to be warned about those children. I can’t imagine being told in advance would have prepared you for the site of them.
    My heart ached reading this one.

    • StacieJanuary 21, 2014 at 5:38 pm #

      As a scientist, I should have figured it out on my own. Most hospitals only have one radiation center and the most common childhood cancers are treated with radiation. The survival rate is actually pretty good for kids. Still, heartbreaking to see.

  3. Andrea@WellnessNotesJanuary 21, 2014 at 6:01 pm #

    Beautifully written, and cancer in children is so very, very difficult to deal with.

    My oldest sister died of leukemia (I didn’t know her), and I just can’t imagine what my parents went through. My other sister just completed radiation treatment for breast cancer and while I don’t think there were children there, the other patients were difficult for her to deal with at times because they made her feel even more helpless than she already felt. One was a man our father’s age who has the same eye cancer our dad has. It was toward the end of her treatment, and he was quite scared but also looking for hope as our dad is doing okay right now. She said it was nice to try to comfort him a bit but at the same time it was really affecting her.

    Thanks for sharing your experiences!

    • StacieJanuary 21, 2014 at 7:15 pm #

      I’m so sorry about your oldest sister, Andrea. How horrible. I’m glad your other sister is done and hope that she can look back and tell her story 15 years later too. I’m also happy your Dad is doing well. Too much cancer!

  4. Michelle LongoJanuary 21, 2014 at 6:06 pm #

    I can’t even imagine. You can tell me about it, but still, I can’t imagine.

    • StacieJanuary 21, 2014 at 7:16 pm #

      It’s impossible. Even seeing it, it’s still impossible to process.

  5. KarenJanuary 21, 2014 at 6:31 pm #

    Stacie, I really like the perspective you chose for this piece.

    Kids with cancer – so heart-breaking to see.

    My partner and two of my friends have gone through radiation treatments for cancer (endometrial, bone, brain) – the side effects were substantial for all three, and the tattooing and mold-making were freaky – especially the face masks.

    I’m so glad you’re here to tell your story. Thank you for sharing it.

    • StacieJanuary 21, 2014 at 7:21 pm #

      Thanks Karen. I think radiation to the breast is one of the easiest types of radiation treatment, with generally minimal side effects. I know that with other types of cancers, because of location, radiation can have major side effects. It was physically SO much easier for me than chemo but I know that’s not true for everyone. I hope your friends and Mo are doing well now. I didn’t have a face mask – that is freaky!

  6. zoeJanuary 21, 2014 at 6:54 pm #

    A heartbreak every time I see a bald little head. I have played way too many games of connect four and leggos with bald children for one life time… I used to go early for some appointments because one little girl asked if I would come in the next time for another game… love them all… I want them all to be well… and I will play with them all for another eternity if it meant none of them would have to play in a hospital again…

    Tatoos vary I find… mine aren’t really that big a deal but I have seen folks with much larger ones… I also have two under my hairline which helps a lot once your hair grows back!

    Gosh Stacy… hope all of this is over soon… sometimes the collateral stuff is worse than the actual cancer…

    • StacieJanuary 21, 2014 at 7:24 pm #

      It’s been 15 years now Zoe, so I’m long done, fortunately. My tattoos on my chest just look like small moles, although if you look close, they are ink color. You are right in my case – I felt perfectly fine until the treatments started! I’m glad you are doing well too!

      • zoeJanuary 21, 2014 at 7:38 pm #

        Oh yeah…I forgot its been years for you…FABULOUS! CONGRATS!

  7. RobinJanuary 21, 2014 at 7:22 pm #

    I am in tears after reading this. I really like how you told the story – it was like being in your head. (I hope that makes sense.)

    • StacieJanuary 21, 2014 at 7:25 pm #

      Thanks Robin. I don’t usually write that way. It was sort of an experiment but felt right for this one.

  8. TinaJanuary 21, 2014 at 8:31 pm #

    I would have been bawling in the waiting room. Just sayin’.

    • StacieJanuary 21, 2014 at 9:53 pm #

      I was, but silently. The kids were just being kids. They didn’t seem sad at all, which made me even sadder. The parents were spent though. No one should have to go through that.

  9. wcdameronJanuary 21, 2014 at 8:45 pm #

    How heartbreaking and wonderfully told Stacie.

    • StacieJanuary 21, 2014 at 9:54 pm #

      Thanks Bill. Those Angels. I hope most of them still walk this earth.

  10. erinificJanuary 21, 2014 at 9:41 pm #

    I remember going with my mom to one of her oncology appointments, and although there weren’t any kids there at the time, their drawings and pictures were plastered all over the place. I wasn’t prepared for them either. As angry as I was that my mom had cancer and was suffering, I couldn’t imagine what it was like for the children. Just awful.

    • StacieJanuary 21, 2014 at 9:55 pm #

      Yes, I’d do it 1000 times over if it meant no kid had to.

  11. Natalie DeYoungJanuary 21, 2014 at 10:49 pm #

    Thank you for this look inside what having cancer is like. Not in an empirical or overly emotional way, but in a very real way. I’ve lost family to cancer, and reading this helps. I’m so glad you’re here, Stacie, and I’m so glad you write.

    • StacieJanuary 22, 2014 at 7:47 pm #

      Thanks Natalie, me too!

  12. My Muted VoiceJanuary 22, 2014 at 10:17 am #

    Since I’m new to this community I had no idea about your diagnosis. I hope it’s going well and truly appreciate you sharing. I also really liked how you wrote this.

    As a side note: I used to work with those kids. In fact, my very first client was an 11 y/o girl on her 5th relapse. I was honored to spend the last 7 months of her life with her.

    • StacieJanuary 22, 2014 at 7:48 pm #

      Good for you for working with those kids. They were lucky to have you.

  13. MatthewJanuary 22, 2014 at 12:28 pm #

    Woah. This was a hard read. Moving; but hard. Thank you for your courage in sharing it and the fine craft involved in its telling.

    • StacieJanuary 22, 2014 at 7:49 pm #

      Thanks for the nice comment, Matthew!

  14. Samantha SJanuary 22, 2014 at 1:45 pm #

    So hard to imagine what it’s like for those kids and their parents. I’m so glad you’re beyond the therapy now.

    • StacieJanuary 22, 2014 at 7:50 pm #

      Thanks Samantha. I actually felt worse for the parents, being a parent myself. I had an 18 mo old at the time and could not imagine being in their place. It’s so much worse than anything I had to do for my treatment.

  15. Christie TateJanuary 22, 2014 at 3:43 pm #

    Stacie , I really love the structure you chose here. Kids with cancer … So awful. You with cancer… Also awful.

    • StacieJanuary 22, 2014 at 7:51 pm #

      Thanks Christie. I’m fine. Most of the kids were probably fine. But it’s so much worse to think about kids having cancer. The worst!

  16. Adventures w/Riley (@dkotucker)January 22, 2014 at 3:52 pm #

    Just wow. After reading this I am so grateful I didn’t see any kids when I had my radiation. That would have torn at my heart too. Sorry you had to. :(

    • StacieJanuary 22, 2014 at 7:52 pm #

      I think it might be separate now, at Stanford. But 15 years ago, it was all one place. So hard.

  17. TheJackBJanuary 22, 2014 at 4:42 pm #

    Ugh, this had to be so challenging and emotionally rough.

    • StacieJanuary 22, 2014 at 7:53 pm #

      It’s funny because I was coming out of the tunnel, and then to see the kids…

  18. Samantha Brinn MerelJanuary 22, 2014 at 4:52 pm #

    I read this last night and had to wait awhile to comment because I just didn’t know what to say. This was both beautifully written and wrenching to read. There should never be allowed to be sick kids. Ever.

    • StacieJanuary 22, 2014 at 7:54 pm #

      So true. It’s unimaginable.

  19. Joe OwensJanuary 22, 2014 at 5:30 pm #

    I pray you will see a completely clean bill of health soon. It makes me so flustered when I hear people gripe about the small inconveniences of daily life. They have no idea how bad life could truly be for them. I know a young girl in my daughter’s class who had cancer surgery within the last year and is awaiting some follow up surgery when her body stabilizes. She had had to change her routines and limit much of her activities, but still tries to be a part of all she can. I root for her every day.

    • StacieJanuary 22, 2014 at 7:56 pm #

      Thanks Joe, I’m fine. That was 15 years ago. I hope most of those kids are fine too (survival is pretty high in kids). I’m glad you are rooting for your daughter’s classmate!

  20. biz319January 22, 2014 at 5:40 pm #

    Yep, I cannot imagine the kids. I remember when my Dad had his first chemo and he said “I still feel fine!” Well, after the second, third treatment, he got worse and worse. It was so sad to watch.

    I am so happy you are healthy now Stacie!!

    • StacieJanuary 22, 2014 at 7:57 pm #

      Thanks Biz. Chemo was cumulatively worse for me too. Radiation was easy, although that’s not true for everyone. I’m lucky it’s all 15 years in the past for me now!

  21. http://jesterqueen.comJanuary 23, 2014 at 12:51 am #

    Oh wow. How heartbreaking to watch them with their parents, all of whom must be worried sick. And what a strange and wretched feeling it must be to be relieved on your own account that it IS you and not your own child.

    • StacieJanuary 24, 2014 at 12:12 pm #

      It is strange. But I imagine it would be the first thing that comes to any parent’s mind.

  22. Cindy - The Reedster SpeaksJanuary 23, 2014 at 6:58 am #

    Your experiment with structure worked so well. The pacing, the clinical aspects of the treatment, and then the stark emotions.

    • StacieJanuary 24, 2014 at 12:13 pm #

      Thanks Cindy, I’m glad it worked!

  23. Lala RukhJanuary 23, 2014 at 8:33 am #

    Beautifully written piece. I can totally understand the pain as I can relate too.

    • StacieJanuary 24, 2014 at 12:14 pm #

      I’m sorry you can relate, glad you are ok.

  24. jenbrunettJanuary 23, 2014 at 12:14 pm #

    Heartbreaking. :(

  25. That Unique* WeblogJanuary 23, 2014 at 11:31 pm #

    Oh my. The point of view is strong here. And, for me, the “obedience” of the agreements reflects a child-like sense that finds resolution in the final lines. Very well done.

    • StacieJanuary 24, 2014 at 12:14 pm #

      Thanks Kristin!

  26. iasoupmamaJanuary 23, 2014 at 11:35 pm #

    Oh, love… So hard. I feel like you — if it’s me, it’s one thing. But not my babies… Many, many hugs…

    • StacieJanuary 24, 2014 at 12:15 pm #

      I wish it were never the babies.

  27. RobbieJanuary 29, 2014 at 1:50 am #

    I wouldn’t have been able to do the silent cry. Growing up I wanted to be a pediatric nurse and then I realized babies die. This is perfectly written.

    • StacieFebruary 28, 2014 at 4:33 pm #

      Thanks Robbie. I think it would be very tough emotionally to be a pediatric nurse.

  28. jannatwritesFebruary 6, 2014 at 4:39 pm #

    What an emotional experience. I admire your strength, both for enduring the therapies and for not bawling in the waiting room. When my older son was born, he had issues that required us to go to Phoenix Children’s hospital. On our first visit there, I was in tears at what I saw, but it really put things in perspective for me. Things weren’t so bad for my son after all.

    • StacieFebruary 28, 2014 at 4:34 pm #

      Thanks Janna. I’m glad your son was ok! I think having a sick child is so much worse than being sick yourself.

  29. ChristineApril 13, 2015 at 11:52 am #

    Wow, Stacie – I hadn’t read this before. I am finding it hard to believe that I didn’t know you yet when you wrote this. It is beautiful and heart-wrenching and tear-inducing and you are so brave. Oh, the kids.

    • StacieApril 13, 2015 at 8:40 pm #

      You are so sweet. It is hard to believe we didn’t know each other then! It seems like forever (in a good way!)

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