The Ides Of March
“Beware the Ides of March”, Julius Caesar was told by a seer, prior to his assassination on March fifteen, 44 B.C.E.
Those words rang inside my head as I prepared to go to my last appointment of Radiation Therapy. I certainly hoped not to be assassinated, by that brute machine. What if there was a power surge in the treatment room, and the machine sought revenge upon me, zapping out a lethal dose of radiation?
No, I must put away those silly thoughts, which can distort reality. Besides, it was not full moon, like the time of poor Julius’ demise.
The morning regimen to face the world took a little longer in the latter days of treatment. Radiation sickness now controlled me, and my mouth felt mortally wounded. My tongue was black and furry, and the thrush was absolutely disgusting.
I’ve heard Aloe Vera juice taken internally was good for burns, so that was my first swig of the day. Next Panadol tablets dissolved in water to soothe my throat and mouth. Followed by vitamins and Green Barley Grass tablets crushed together, with the pestle and mortar, and added to fruit juice. Then I would force down a food supplement drink, either Sustagen or a calorie boosted banana smoothie I had prepared. Afterwards I rinsed my mouth with bi-carb soda solution, and then brushed my teeth with special toothpaste, designed for the eternally dry mouth (xerostomia). For the thrush I used another lotion which made my teeth hurt, as they were very sensitive now, demineralising I think.
Debilitating fatigue had now set in, a by-product of the radiation treatment, and as I was also taking medication I did not drive to the hospital. Instead I used the local Community Aid Service drivers. A voluntary driver would collect me along with a couple more patients, like a car pool. The driver waited while treatments were given to us all, and then we were delivered home again. I met some lovely drivers and fellow patients, travelling this way. It was interesting hearing how the other patients were dealing with their cancers, different to mine.
My second last session was a particularly long one. I arrived way ahead of my allotted time as we had a full carload, all with different treatment times. When we entered the waiting room, it was quiet, no undercurrent machine noises. The technicians looked harried. Cupboard doors were open, the ones that housed the computers controlling the machines.
“What’s going on?” we asked, “and what’s that smell?” There was a slight smell of death permeating the room. Was it us, or something else, I darkly mused.
“We think a rat has got into the machine.” Great, I thought.
To make matters worse, a nurse kindly blasted the entire room with air freshener, choking the atmosphere, and us!
We had to amuse ourselves somehow, as we didn’t know how long it would take to find the rat. I immersed myself in a trashy Hollywood gossip magazine, the type I never bought, the out-of-date ones usually found in doctor’s waiting rooms, while I kept an eye on their progress.
About an hour later the machines were turned on. Good, not too much of a holdup. Then the technicians looked even more worried and harassed. “The computers are down.” they told us. “They’ve called a guy at the company, who should be here soon. Why don’t you go and have some lunch?” Thanks, a nice thing to say to someone who can’t eat the free sandwiches in the fridge!
While we waited, the hospital maintenance technician came over for a chat. He informed me that the computers were not turned off properly before the shutdown, and now had to be completely re-set, which could take hours. One of the radiation technicians came round later and asked if anyone wanted to leave, as it might take a while for the machines to be back on line. Some left, but I was determined to stay, as my husband had booked a hotel for a few days, away from all of this drama of the past few months.
“No, I’ll stay. I can’t change the hotel booking now.” the truth being that I wanted this all to be over, to be out in the real world, and think. There was still much to absorb, and lots to think about, in my new “normal”.
When you have been diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, everything suddenly changes, your perception of yourself, your perception of others, past experiences, why this has even occurred, what is maybe next. What you look like, with the scars clearly visible on the outside. How will others perceive you, which friends and clients will stay with you? The list goes on.
A couple of more hours passed. Finally, after six hours, I was informed that I could be treated in another room on an older machine, about to be retired next week for a new one. Several other patients had already left, to return tomorrow for the usual waiting game. This older machine could be reconfigured for my type of treatment only, if I was willing to wait another half-hour. After six hours of waiting, another half-hour was nothing!
My last treatment on the following day went as smooth as silk. There was no waiting around, and I was in and out in less than half an hour. The gods were obviously smiling in my direction. I was now free! No more waiting rooms, no more being strapped to the “slab”, no more zaps.
I kept my mask as a souvenir, a reminder of this one-off (I hope!), experience. In a way, I was feeling a little lost after having spent two months with my new friends, the doctors, the nurses, and patients. I felt as if I was leaving home, and I pondered upon how I would fill my days until I returned to work, in my new life as a cancer survivor.