Early last Friday, long before the rising sun, you would have found us waiting in line for canned hams. We had a tip-off that a new shipment had arrived from Voroshilovgrad and I wanted to make sure that old bitch Burundukov didn’t buy them all before any other comrades had a chance. As I stamped my feet in the dirty snow Echo Golf turned to me, looked closely at my face and said –
“OMG you are getting the rash! The rash from the Cetuximab. It’s working.”
Developing a rash is indicative of the chemo working well. Over the weekend the affected area enlarged and I got more spotty. It looks like I got sunburned and then rubbed poison ivy or nettles all over my face. My scalp itches and when I scratch it gets very tender. Forget about shaving. Apparently I will have the rash for the duration of the treatment. Part way thru it is meant to calm down and hopefully, upon cessation of treatment, go away. It says here…
Today was my second round of chemo and my first round of radiation. I slept like crap last night but don’t feel too bad. We head off to the U.T.S.W. Stemmons Center. In the lobby is a giant, orange, glass sculpture by Dale Chihuly. I’m not very fond of his work but this piece is pretty impressive rising over two stories high. A friend of ours had treatment for breast cancer here and grew to loathe the piece. I can imagine that happening. It’s too fucking whimsical for cancer. They should get Damien Hirst’s The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living. To wit a 15′ long Tiger Shark immersed in formaldehyde – now you’re making a statement.
We’re about the first in the waiting room upstairs. Jerry and another nurse walk in and call out peoples’ names. They usually call two at a time. This goes on all morning. There are a lot of sick people in this room. Jerry draws blood for my lab work. He’s quiet today. A chaplain as well as a minister, he had to visit two families last weekend who had lost loved ones.
Back in the waiting room. Some people look very poorly, so near death you wonder how the hell they keep going. Some have given up on how they look and are in sweats or t-shirts and work-out shorts. Some women have scarves on their heads. Occasionally a couple will walk in and you wonder who is sick and who is caring. Some people come in on their own. I imagine some are there to get on with it get well and move on. Some are people who appear lost, fragile, alone. A beautiful old lady came in this morning with a great white and red outfit on. She looked marvelous. She wasn’t going with a whimper.
We are called into a chemo treatment room. This time the infusion part will be only an hour. But it always takes longer. The nurse doesn’t mess about and slams the IV in my wrist. Here comes my saline, then my happy Benadryl and finally Cetuximab. I nod in and out of sleep. No big deal – we’re old hands at this now. Moving on.
We go to Dennys to eat. I have a Santa Fe skillet which is chorizo with jalapenos, peppers, mushrooms and potatoes. Two eggs, whatever way you want them, are on top. It is good, maybe my sense of smell is returning. I like places like Dennys. To me they are so innately American. The diner, the hot rods, girls with letterman jackets, packs of cigarettes rolled in t-shirt sleeves. The imaginary home of my youth. i.e. American Graffiti meets Taxi Driver.
We head back for my radiation appointment which is in another building. I don’t know why but the waiting area for radiation is pretty small and because they were closed for Labor Day it’s getting pretty full with people catching up on treatment. One woman has had her last session and leaves awkwardly holding her restraint mask in one hand.
Another man has a hole in his neck and can’t really speak. An Asian woman and her daughter arrive. The mother is dressed in a pink robe. The daughter is in a very smart black dress. The mother looks like she would rather be anywhere else. Why did she just appear in her robe? The daughter is trying to care for the mother but you can sense that the mother doesn’t want to be cared for, or maybe not cared for in public. No room for airs and graces here. Cancer – a great equalizer.
I am called in for treatment. I walk past a veritable Mission Control of monitors, dials, switches. The radiation room has a door about three inches thick. It is very heavy. I lie down on the very narrow positioning table. A machine that costs many millions of dollars lurks nearby, its green laser guides cut the dimness of the room. Robotic surgery, restraining masks for radiation. Science fiction stuff this – science fiction.
They put on my restraining mask and because it is my first time we have to perform some measurements to check the mask, relative position etc. I have about three inches of table either side of my body to place my arms. You must not move. They place a white foam lollipop in my mouth – it keeps my tongue in the right place.
Radiation starts. The lights dim in the room, massive toroids bursting with death-ray rotate about my head. They start the music. New York, New York percolates through the pinging of alarms, the shuttling of stepper motors and the rising whine of generated energy.
Like the Gimp I lie immobile, a foam lollipop in my mouth trying to figure out how the hell I got here.
Start spreading the news, I’m leaving today