Cancer Column: Trick or Treatment

Two weeks into treatment. Life has become a series of evenings spent listening to awful American country music in a Proton machine and people making me feel like a human kebab with the amount of needles stuck me. Just the usual, y’know?

America is certainly an oddity. Between Trump winning the election Jacksonville has started feeling like home, kind of. I have settled into treatment, settled into the apartment, got my bearings of where the good coffee in this city is and where the not so good politics are, made a concrete group of friends and fallen in love with pancakes a little too much. I’ve attended drag shows here, tried attending Obama speeches (but almost passed out in the queue), scarred my mother with a Rocky Horror Picture Show screening, and make such a good connection with my care team. So much so, in fact, that next weekend I’m going to a drag queen restaurant with two of the radiographers who work tirelessly late at night everyday to try and save my life (though they didn’t look too comfortable when I joked how my tumour would be the kind of person to vote Trump).

Some days and nights get very lonely though. As I write this, I am 150 days into my diagnosis (though they said I had cancer for ten months before that date).. Life has become a frustrating perpetuation of fed-upness, putting on brave faces and bad news. Some nights I find myself triumphing for trying to make the most of this mess, for the people I’ve met, things I’ve still managed to do and little changed I’ve made. Other nights seem to be filled with ill dwellings, constant relivings of previous happenings, the needles in my neck, the broken lines in my arm, the hospital readmittances, the days spent at home too sick to go out but too healthy to not care. Some nights I find it so hard to not scream “I just miss my boyfriend so much” or “why the fuck do I still have cancer” and coping with both with grace is not as easy as I hoped it would be.

I’m now nine rounds down of Proton Therapy with god knows how many left to go (for those wondering what the hell PBT actually is, I explain in my previous blog post here). The biggest side effects of this treatment are fatigue are skin burning. As of yet, there is no evidence of burning, though my skin around the tumour site is becoming progressively more sensitive and sore. It is the tiredness I have noticed the most, evenings are considerably weaker than usual and walking tires me more.

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You settle into the routine pretty fast though. Day one and before I know it, I’m being blasted with radiation at multiple angles while Natalie Imbruglia’s ‘Torn’ ironically plays throughout the treatment room. And as Miss Imbruglia belts out a killer chorus about laying naked on the floor, you can’t help but think to yourself “what the hell is happening to my life”. This has to be the oddest curveball I’ve ever experienced.

No matter how long I spent in the proton machine, it never fails to take my breath away with it’s million curiosities. The treatment (that involves me laying on a table with my arms bolted above my head while I’m just in underwear) usually lasts between 40 minutes and an hour everyday with most of my appointments being past 9pm. Panels shoot themselves out at varying angles for imaging before lasers line me up and the proton beamer (lets just call it that to save me googling what it’s actually called) does its business and destroys my tumour. For me, I have three prescribed rays, all targeted at differing angles and distances away from me, with personalised metal cutouts to guide the radiation.

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A cutout of my fat-ass tumour

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My body is covered in crosses, markings and various drawings that make me look like an embarrassing Picasso painting he didn’t want anyone seeing. It’s ever so glamorous and couture.

My new chemotherapy makes me feel a lot more nauseous but is kinder in a way that the side effects seem to be shorter lived than before. This is also the second ever time my body hasn’t had a bad reaction from the chemo, where my immune system decides to disappear and I end up in hospital. Not having that frustration, pain and upset has done me a world of good.

Yet here I am, coping and managing the best I can, with the end of this drawing to a close every day.

Words // Dean Eastmond