Published by pam on Sat, 09/15/2012 - 4:19pm


Even though my cancer is gone, there is a chance a lone cell has survived all the sledge hammers we have thrown at it.  If such a cell exists, it is most likely hiding in my chest.  Chemo doesn't penetrate places where little blood flows. Like the chest wall.


And that, dear readers, is where radiation comes in.  It kills what may lurk in the dark.  Unfortunately, radiation comes with its own risks, particularly for me.  I am quite skinny on top - mostly ribs and skin. My beating heart is plenty visible and right against my skin.  Radiating a heart is not a good thing.  Neither is radiating a lung.  Both are in the field that must be fried.


Before radiation can begin, it must be established how to apply the beam to protect my innards.  To map my internal geography, there are to be a series of CT scans.  During the scans, I will be taught different breathing techniques in the hopes that one of them will adequately depress my heart.  If I hold my breath and demonstrate that I can shove my heart down into my chest cavity, then they may be able to proceed with radiation as planned.  If not, they will have to investigate alternative technologies.  


During the tests I  am measured, tattooed, positioned, and repositioned.  I am told not to move while I breathe in - which I am supposed to do quickly and as deeply as I can.  It is not easy.  I am to use a breathing device, kind of like a snorkel.  My nose is plugged.  The tube measures my intake so each breath is consistent.  I am reminded that even slight variations can cause problems.  I don't ask them to elaborate.  I'm not sure I want to know.


No surprise, I am a dedicated student.  I focus.  I listen to the instructions and I follow them.  I use every meditation technique I've been taught.  And in the end, I am told I am an excellent breather.  


An excellent breather.  


It makes me feel surprisingly proud.


I'm an excellent breather.


Maybe I'll add it to my resume.  


It takes a week for the phone to ring, a week before I find out that I have passed the test.  At my next appointment,  they show me the pictures and tell me I have manipulated my heart better than most.  


I do not point out the poetic irony.  Most people don't seem much interested in the literary threads I have woven throughout this experience to help myself make sense of it all.  It just makes me look weird.  Like the kid on the playground who used to say stupid stuff and make jokes that weren't funny.


As radiation starts for real, I try to remember precisely how I was breathing the day of my CT.   I wonder if I am doing it right.  Exactly right.  There's no way to tell, of course.  It's one of those things you just have to take on faith.  Like chemo.


Marks are made on my chest outlining the field to be radiated.  The lines run from midway up my neck to the bottom of my rib cage.  It's a large region.  Much larger than I expected.  There's no way to tell how my skin will react.  Some people turn black and blue.  Some people blister badly.  Some people barely react at all.  Most get a sunburn.  A bad one.  


Only time will tell what will happen to me.  Mostly, I worry about lymphedema - a swelling that could be with me for the rest of my life.  I do what I can to prevent it.  I exercise.  I stretch.  I do my massage.  I don't gain weight.  I cross my fingers.   A lot.


The process of radiation is much more anonymous than chemo.  I lie on a table with a tube in my mouth.  I can't chat with the technicians. I stare at the illuminated image on the ceiling and imagine what it would be like to be 'locked in' - one of those unfortunate souls who is fully aware but unable to communicate.  I do not move.  I wait for it to be over.  Sometimes I close my eyes and imagine that I am scuba diving with Ryann.  She is leading me towards a school of amazingly beautiful fish.  She is smiling.  


I push my heart down one more time and let her hand take mine.  I smile back.  But not really.  That would involve moving.


Marc says radiation is so much easier than chemo.  I'm not sure I agree.  He is in the waiting room. He is not alone on a table.  There are limited side effects, which is nice, but there is no tribe.


I miss my tribe.  Funny, but I had come to love them.


Imaginary Ryann is nice, but she's nothing like the real thing.


Thinking of you and hoping the radiation is going fine with few side effects.  I am crossing my fingers, too.  Elise

Hope to see you soon.  Maybe even before a February date at Wild Ginger.