Another Brief History of Radiation Therapy

-Day 8-

Toady there is a new nurse in radiation therapy. Normally I have two female nurses, Wendy and Susan, but Susan is gone this week and she has been replaced by Don. 

As a result, Wendy makes a big show of attempting to protect my privacy… which means to say she tosses a pillow-case over my breasts. 

This strikes me as odd… since no less than 11 complete strangers, (both men and women) have seen me topless on the radiation table over the course of the last two weeks. But rather than point out the inconsistency of her concern, I simply say: 

” Woman, please.  I’ve been to Burning Man.” 

As I’m being prepped for my treatment, Don’s ID badge keeps swinging close to my face as he leans over me. The picture features him with a big-ass cheesy grin on his face…. the kind where the photographer has almost psychotic enthusiasm as they tell you to “smile”… so you just kind of flash a maniacal grin at them. 

The picture makes me kind of like Don.

As Don and Wendy begin with marking up my shoulders and chest, I ask Don if he will draw a little unicorn galloping across my clavicle. 

“Ummmmm….” he stutters a bit. Making me think this is the first time anyone has ever 

asked him to do such a thing…. which makes me all but certain that Don and Wendy have and even more depressing job than I do. 

“Come on, man! Do it!” I tell him.

“Okay… I’ll try.”

Don doesn’t sound too confident. But as he’s outlining my fields, I can feel him doodling something on my right clavicle. He squints at it critically for a moment and then shrugs.

“Is it a unicorn?” I ask him.

“Kinda…” he says hesitantly.

“Fuck yeah!” I hoot.

Wendy walks over to take a look at it and declares that the drawing doesn’t look a thing like a unicorn. So a few minutes later, while I’m face-down and the two of them are mapping out my back fields, I notice that Wendy takes some extra time on my left shoulder.

 Don walks over and takes a look.

 Yeah, that’s pretty good.” he says.

There’s a small cat on my shoulder


I notice that my sense of taste has continued to deteriorate. Everything tastes like I have a dirty penny hidden under my tongue.

 That night… or rather the following morning at about 4 a.m…. I awake coughing uncontrollably.  My throat feels as though there is a knife jammed into it.  It’s all so dry that I can barely swallow.  Radiation damages the salivary glands and now my mouth and throat parch out while I’m sleeping due to the lack of lubrication.  But there’s something more… I can feel something viscous and salty in my mouth.

 I stumble over to the bathroom sink to find that I have a raging nosebleed.  Apparently radiation dries out the nasal mucosa too…


-DAY 9- 

I’m developing painful sores in my mouth.  It appears this results from the cell damage that is both the target goal and a side effect of radiation therapy. On the upside, radiation kills the cancer cells, which is great… those little bastards have been squatting in my skin for over 5 years now… leaving their trash everywhere and tagging the walls.  On the downside, the cells in your mouth can’t replenish themselves as quickly as usual, which means that sores form and won’t go away until after radiation is over… long over

 The real-life implications are nothing less than hell made flesh.

 It hurts to eat.  Every bite of food I take feels like sandpaper inside of my mouth.

 The morning of my 9th session, it takes me half an hour to eat 3 slices of apple.

 Don and Wendy are their usual selves, all polite distance and professional courtesy, the sterility of which I find truly disturbing.

 So while Don is marking out my fields, I ask him to try his hand at a dolphin.

 Don looks at me like I just asked him to pull my fingernails out with pliers.  But he shrugs and  I feel an outline being scrawled out on my right clavicle again.

 Wendy wanders over and laughs.

 “That doesn’t look ANYTHING like a dolphin!” she giggles.

 Don grins and they carry on until later, when I once again am laying face-down and I can feel Wendy scrawling away on my left shoulder.  Don leans over and states authoritatively.

“THAT is DEFINITELY a walrus!”

Then we all laugh.

 … and for a minute, it wasn’t so bad anymore.

 Forever, let the 9th day of treatment be known as “Dueling Dolphin Day”


In between day 8 and 9, I throw a serious hissy fit… I mean class-A, unadulterated temper tamtrum.  The phrase “kicking and screaming” is not a euphemism here.  I actually shut myself up in my bathroom and proceeded to beat the shit out of the door, the toilet, the walls… all the while, I cuss like Yosemite Sam on meth.   

What is the cause of my tizzy, you may be asking?

 Well, in truth I was horrifically pissed off about frozen yogurt.

 So, NOW i bet you’re asking how someone can be so upset by frozen yogurt?

 First of all, I’d like to point out that people are driven insane at fast-food drive through windows all the damn time.  I’ve seen security camera footage in which a McDonald’s customer is flipping out because they couldn’t get a chicken sandwich before 11 a.m.  It happens.  We Americans take our culinary vices very seriously.

 I had stopped by at one of my favorite self-serve frozen yogurt places with the intention of buying a bowl of yummy-treat-ness for both my husband and myself.  I selected the salted caramel flavor for me and opted to get husband a heaping bowl of cheesecake flavored fro-yo.  Unfortunately, in the bowl, these two flavors looked exactly alike- they’re both white.  So when I went to the front counter to heap toppings on my two bowls of yogurt, I couldn’t remember which one was which.

 Normally the remedy for such a situation would be to taste one of the yogurts and thereby determine the identity of each, and I attempted to do just that…. Alas, to no avail.

In the last few days I noticed that all my food had started tasting very much the same.  Oh, sure… some basic flavors were uninterrupted, things like salty or sour.  But, overwhelmingly, all of my food had tasted…. off.  Everything had a markedly metallic flavor.  And when I attempted to taste my yogurts, they both tasted exactly the same to me.  They tasted like cold, sweet…. rust.

I stood in the middle of the yogurt shop in confusion for a moment, staring down at the bowls in my hands.  I tasted them again… and again.  Nothing…. absolutely no difference.  I felt myself tearing up.  I couldn’t put the wrong toppings on them…. Butterfinger pieces on cheesecake instead of caramel might taste fine… but the raspberries had to go on the cheesecake flavor… they HAD to, that’s the way husband liked it.  And what kind of shitty, disabled, malfunctioning wife was I if I couldn’t get this right? Jesus! How sick was I?  What the hell was radiation DOING to me!?! 

“I’m not gonna cry over my yogurt.”  I silently seethed at myself.  “I am NOT going to CRY over YOGURT!” 

I stepped up to the counter.

“Hey…um… I’m wondering if you could help me out…” I smiled as winningly as I could at the hollow-eyed teenage girl behind the counter.  She visibly flinched at the radiation burns on my face as she looked me over and then met my eyes with a guarded stare.  Her expression made it clear that she suspected I was either going to ask her to participate in a scientific experiment or I was going to try and lure her out to my kidnapper van.

“Look, I forgotten which of these is which and they taste the same to me… could you tell me which one is caramel and which one is cheesecake?  I offered her the two bowls.

She cautiously leaned forward and smelled one of them without taking it from my hand.  She plucked a plastic spoon out of a jar on the counter and scooped a dainty sliver of yogurt out for herself, then she carefully licked it… as though I had somehow managed to sprinkle the yogurt with roofies or something.

“That’s cheesecake.”  she said, matter-of-factly. 

I thanked her, spooned out the toppings, paid for the yogurt, went home… and after stuffing the yogurt in the freezer, proceeded to the bathroom where I completely lost my shit.  I had barely said anything to husband on my way in and who knew what he thought was going on.  I slammed my fists into the walls, kicked the toilet, the door, the bathtub, all while screaming profanity at the top of my lungs.  I was at it for a good 5 minutes or so (which is no small feat- let me tell you- screaming for 5 solid minutes is not for ametures… that’s why so many metal-core songs are only 3 minutes long)

By the time I exhausted myself, my hands ached from the repeated impact and there were several black scuff-marks decorating the bathroom at about knee-height.  Unfortunately, as I surveyed the damage, I also noted that the bathroom door was hanging a bit askew and when I tried to open it, it stuck fast.  In my fury I had managed to jam the door so completely into the door-frame that, now, it wouldn’t budge.  In humiliated outrage, I yelled for husband who had chosen to remain in the living room and let the storm blow itself out.  It took him a few minutes, but after some solid shoulder-heaves, he managed to free me from the prison of my rage.  When he finally did get the door open, I smiled sheepishly at him and said

“I brought you some frozen yogurt…”





2 thoughts on “Another Brief History of Radiation Therapy

  1. I was praying for u while I read that, I didn’t know…I haven’t been keeping up. I will pray a lot more n more intensely. Train switch…I love reading your writing…um yeah, I will start keeping up. You’re one of the funnest most awesomest people ever.

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