Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Dr. Frankenstein's laboratory


There is something unnerving about sitting in a waiting room in a cancer center and making small talk with women who are bald and wearing hospital gowns. It feels slightly Frankenstein-ish. We get called out one by one by the friendly people wearing the green scrubs, and taken away to a darkened room where ungodly amounts of radiation are pumped silently into our bodies. A few minutes later we’re back on our feet, hopefully as slightly improved versions of ourselves. Instead of the radiation giving life to the dead, like in a horror movie, the radiation we get is designed to kill cancer, so that we ultimately can live. That’s not as much fun theatrically, but it’s certainly miraculous in its own way.

If the women with breast cancer haven’t already had their hair burned out by chemo, then the radiation will finish it off. The hair on my head is still more or less intact (the photo is just a bad joke). The gift that radiation has given me instead is a stiff upper leg, caused by fibrosis in the region of my lymph node surgery. A few more treatments and I might actually start walking like a monster.

There are few places in the world where you can talk about cancer with other people and not scare the bejabbers out of them. Once you’ve had surgery, the chemo/interferon, and are now into radiation, there are few inhibitions left. The taboo of talking about the horribleness of it all is lifted. I think this must be why some people go to cancer support groups. Unless you are in the midst of the experience, it’s hard to understand it and harder still to not internalize it. I frequently visit an online bulletin board where people share information about melanoma. It’s both helpful, and terribly sad. As you might expect, the greatest number of people who hang out there are those in the late stages of their cancer. For many of them, baldness is the least of their concerns.

Back at the ranch, I’m getting 200 rads daily. My program is calibrated to minimize the fibrosis, and supposedly lower the risk of lymphedema, while assuring that the radiation will disrupt the DNA of any cancer cells present. That's a precarious balancing act. The linear accelerator zaps me from three angles each session, concentrating the energy where it's likely to do the most good while minimizing the skin dose. The whole process is mechanized, and only takes about 10 minutes. A trip to the dentist should be so easy. Then again, who wants to see the dentist every day for five straight weeks? We’ve all got better things to do than that.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Peter I like your good sense of humor we need that in stressful and difficult times like this.
You really look in the picture not like Frankenstein but more like his cousin ha,ha,ha.(just a bad joke) I glad you have not lost any hair of your head. You still look terrific young with hear.

My friend, I can only imagine how terrifiying must be to be waiting your next turn next to women who are battling cancer like you, waiting there ready to receive their "poison dosis" to kill the cancer. But I think that you are blessed among the women,
full of hope that you like them are wrestling against a monster hoping to beat. My prayer is that you feel like the small David in front the BIB GOLIATH, ready and confident that with God's power you will kill Him. Peter Keep fighting the good Fight the LORD is on your side. Your Hermano Josué.

Wags said...

Peter,
The 'doo' is becoming--you remind me of Christopher Walken in "Hairspray." Thanks for giving me a chuckle and those ladies something to aspire to. On the serious side, I'm sure the whole process must seem a bit surreal to you at times. Keep your sense of humor--it is a good coping mechanism, whether you realize it or not. We continue to lift you up. Persist and look for better things on the horizon that is the end of June.
Take care buddy,
Steve

Carl Pelz said...

Well Peter, I do hope this Friday, the 13th, finds you doing better, somehow. Thanks for breaking taboos and speaking so clearly and with humor. Of course, that is nothing new for you! Lemme know when you're up for some conversation. Until then you're in my conversations with our great, and often unfathomable, God.