Dying/broken/forgiven.... now I begin

Born: 17-06-56....gemini.... monkey
re-born: 3-09-80
born again\found: 14-04-08
other notable dates: 10-03-68; 03-09-87; 23-03-96;
1-05-98; 31-01-02; 5-04-04

Interests: movement, stressed/transgressive embodiment, lived experience (body\space\time\relation)
expression ( word, dance, text, image, story, music, poetics)
learning, yielding......

Hopes for the blog:
offer up the wild intersectedness of lived experience and engage others in creative, expressive, perhaps irreverant, hopefully playful, and respectful encounters....
enact kindness
create moments of pause for disclosure, discovery, stillness

Friday, December 7, 2012

..... I was a little spectacle.

A few years back, this phrase turned up in one of my student's papers.  I am a big advocate of "experiential learning"; since the students with whom I work will one day ply their craft with actual people, I think it's a good idea  for them to work with some real people before they graduate and are unleashed on an unsuspecting public. Anyway, one of my assignments is a journal of their placement and then an analysis of that journal. So, one of them writes: when I heard we had to do a placement, I was a little spectacle.
I think he meant he was a little skeptical.
Regardless, that "little spectacle" line came back to me full force a few weeks ago when I was in the midst of my first radiation treatment. Some context: my earlier posts give a bit of history on my surgery and its aftermath. Following an appropriate  amount of healing time post surgery, the other treatments for cancer kick in. I was slated for three radiation treatments, delivered internally. Brachytherapy is the medical term for this specifically targeted form of radiation delivery. What it does is minimize the area that is irradiated so the area affected is limited to the target area. Externally delivered radiation is much less focused and can  involve parts of the body that may not be the actual site of the cancer. There are also other forms of internal delivery that are longer and more intense duration. So on a grander scale, my type of radiation is the least nasty. That being said, radiation is still radiation.
I have to say, before I provide any pithy, absurd and/or humourous description, that my radiation team are amazing. Informative, supportive, professional (this will be more important as the description unfolds), engaged, nurturing, calm, efficient.... and I appreciate the skill and humanity they bring to an experience that has the potential to be quite unnerving.
So, to the description. Treatment #1. I arrive an hour early. It's a 45 minute drive from my house to the cancer center.  A friend drives me in. We get ourselves settled in the waiting room of the radiation theatre  and then I wait for my name to be called. My radiation oncologist calls me in for a little visit before the adventure begins. She asks if I have any questions or concerns. I tell her that I have heard some mixed reviews on the size  and discomfort of the applicator. She tells me that for other types of cancer there is often some discomfort  associated with getting the applicator positioned, but since I have nothing left  back there (full radical hysterectomy plus lymph nodes), my applicator  positioning will be relatively straight forward. I am not sure if she meant that literally or figuratively, but it works either way.
[ side bar: my brother in law, a surgical nurse, had described for me the process of brachytherapy for men with prostrate cancer and it sounded absolutely barbaric..... numerous needles have to be inserted so that the radiation catheters can then be threaded through them for delivery..... he said it looked like a porcupine hanging out of someone's ass..... of course, women have a delivery advantage in this regard, but the applicator must still be inserted before the catheters can be threaded through... I was expecting the worst]
Ok, enough of digression. I was much relieved following this conversation. I go to the next room where the nurse wraps me up in a nice warm blanket and does a prep interview and then I meet my radiation therapist, a real pro who has been doing this for decades and has seen treatments improve over time. She is quite a character and she describes what is going to happen in great detail without treating me like an object or minimizing the overall procedure. It is obvious that she has respect for the power and danger of radiation. I get changed out of my regular clothes and get into the typical hospital gown that covers everything except the body parts that I would like to have covered.  No matter, it is a short walk and then I am being helped up onto the bed and bundled in another warm blanket and introduced to the throng of people in the theatre with me. Understand that the cancer  centre is a research and teaching hospital so every treatment is a wonderful experiential learning opportunity. (BTW, this irony is not lost on me....) The oncologist greets me, she then introduces her resident, a tall nervous looking fella who will be mostly observing today but who will get a chance to try his hand at speculum measurement. Hooray. Then I meet the student nurse and the student radiation therapist, who are there to observe and participate as well as the two nurses who are already there and the radiation therapist who I had already met earlier. I meet the radiation assistant, another busy and quiet fella  and the physicist, a calm man who will monitor the levels and make sure no one is radioactive after the treatment.
The nurses and radiation therapists begin to attach the VERY large stirrups to the bed. Did I mention these suckers are BIG? not just for the feet, no sirree,  the whole leg is in there and they are nicely padded. I get my legs in there and then I am strapped in. I am a curious person by nature, so I am trying to lift my head to see what's going on, but the blankets are high and all I can see are heads and shoulders wandering around at the foot of the bed. Lots of action going on as other things are attached to the bed and the selection of the best sized applicator  begins. Resident tries his hand at a speculum, makes his suggestion to the oncologist and she says "hand me that other speculum over there... the one that looks like a duck."  Needless to say, I have to get a look at this thing and I have to admit, it does look like a duck's bill. Great,  I think,  an oncologist with a sense of metaphor. This gadget fits much tighter than the earlier one.  "Ok," she says " this one is better"  and then she chooses an applicator from the array of choices on the table beside the bed.  She holds up the applicator,  "kind of looks like a popsicle, doesn't it?" she asks. She is holding it by a long stick on one end and it kinda does look like a popsicle.  A really big popsicle. The metaphoric theme continues. Consistency is good. Speculum out, popsicle in. It needs to be as tight as possible without being too unbearably uncomfortable. We seem to have achieved that. Then an X-ray to make sure it is exactly where it is supposed to be. Then the radiation therapists thread the catheters through the three or four ports on the end of the applicator, attach the rest of the delivery machinery, and then make sure I am as still as possible. All the while, people are chatting with me and each other. It is not cavalier, but it is a comfort. I keep thinking that I cannot believe how many people are wandering around " down there" and I am laying there working on feeling like there is nothing terribly weird about this whole situation. It is a strange and necessary compartmentalization. That or feel completely mortified. That's when I think it.... I am a little spectacle.
Anyway, another digression. Forgive me.
Once everything is where it is supposed to be, I get a pat on the shoulder and  all hands leave the room. They can hear me and see me and they speak to me for the first few minutes while the machinery is warming up. OK. Here we go. I hear the machine and feel the surge of the radiation. This continues for about 7 minutes. And then it is done. People pour back into the room, taps are running, warm water is assured for a nice clean up after. Popsicle out, machine disconnected, straps released, legs out of the stirrups, clang, clang,  here 's a nice little wipe down, all done. Sit up, and good to go. Next time we will be faster because all the measuring has been done this time. I can't wait. 
Surprisingly, I manage quite well. I am slightly sore, but none the worse for wear. Radiation therapist tells me that I will not feel the effects of the radiation until after the last one. We will chat about that the next time. Thursday, Tuesday, Tuesday. Thursday, done.
My job after treatment is to get as hydrated as possible and stay that way. We drive home. I drink tea, water, cranberry juice.... as much liquid as I can stand.
This is not so bad, I think. I can do this.


  1. Ok it got really interesting at the porcupine hanging out of a guys ass...being close to that age and all.

    Your fortune was being in a real medical environment and not an assembly line like they do here for everything. They didn't treat you like just another slab of meat. But none the less I am not sure if the descriptive spectacle was TMI or just about right...and what was with the intern...he didn't ask which spectacle to use? OK though you got through it and didn't stay hydrated with bud tea which would have been my choice.

  2. Aaaargh! I'm squirming just reading your description. I'm such a wuss.

  3. WM-- yes, i am happy to be in a Canadian medical system.and the cancer center i am attending is amazing. good people. i was aiming for being just on the verge of TMI.....so i might have crossed that threshold. ha!! wish i could do the bud tea.... but i have to stick to the old reliables.
    sorry about the porcupine. blame the brother in law. it is a compelling image, yes??
    thanks for the visit. cheers!!
    Mr. C. -- appreciate your angst. but i don't think squirming is an indicator of wussiness. it is a nasty business. i am just glad i don't have a prostate gland.
    thanks for the visit. cheers!!