Today I completed 2 weeks of radiotherapy to my cheek, shoulder and chest wall. To say I feel “fried to a crisp” is an understatement, the lingering burning sensation continues everywhere and there is an aura of habaneros chilli peppers about this that I cannot run away from! Happy Easter everyone, my face is on fire! Radiation-induced burns are the silent killers, the invisible x-rays that creep up on your skin and muscles, painless and defiant in all its vigour and untoward motion. Nothing in its path will remain untouched – my poor flesh and bones. Although engulfed by a painless cloak, it curtains a sense of impending doom. At least, that is how I felt about it. Radiotherapy, like chemotherapy will destroy good normal cells as well as the bad cancer cells. I always feel guilty making these decisions knowing what I risk harming in the process.
Consenting to radiotherapy, one knows ultimately what is sacrificed in becoming the irradiated one, the irradiated me. I am no superhero because there is nothing to hide anymore and there are very few surprises. You say farewell to nature’s wrapping, you know, the one you were blessed to be born into. Your perfectly good skin, healthy flesh, normal bodily functions, a blank canvas, can all be destroyed in these pulsating 10-second repetitive cycles, at its reversible best, you might get back 90% of your original self, if the healing goes well.
The irreversible damage lodges its legacy on you like a patchwork quilt, in tones of melanin. I am blessed of south-east Asian descent so this means my skin heals with darker pigmentation, shifting from tones of Chinese white to my Sri-Lankan roots of a darker brown. Thailand is in there somewhere, in the square patch over my cheek, an oval over my shoulder, perfectly circular over the spot on my chest and two perfectly formed perpendicular oblongs blanket my pelvis. As a result of radiotherapies I have become a patchwork ragdoll, or at least this is how I now view myself. In the intricacies of all the surgeries, all the treatments, all the re-modelling, all the damage, all the healing, my body has been re-mapped in three dimension where every new line documents a journey, a cancer rite of passage like all of my new hair-sprouts. You are permanently changed and don’t you know it. But still, if these radio waves do shrink the tumours, the possibilities are endless, I could gain a lot more mileage in my life timeline and you would hear the echoes reverberating off the miniscule celebrations in me, a mini Mexican wave. Now wouldn’t that be nice, for once in my cancer life.
Over the course of this treatment I have been riding the pain and nausea tide simultaneously, for the first time and BIG time. Possibly due to the messing about of my mouth senses in a way I would much less prefer. This is no one-stop hangover reminiscent of university days. Apparently radiotherapy waves need an exit plan and for me as the radiologist explained to me today. My mouth provides the perfect, logical navigation route as the waves coarse through my cheek tumour to find an exit door, scraping the space they intrude into so naturally and uninvited, and setting everything on fire in the process. Where does this leave my senses? I am finding that out right now. Easter bunny has left a nasty surprise and it does not taste good. If I have not already mentioned, a lot can be said for radiation burns. They have silenced me, quite literally, burning the cave of my mouth, my tongue, the back of my throat, my gums and oh the ulcers peppered across, white like a dusting of icing sugar but hey, if you are going to create something bad, might as well do it right. What is it the radiologist tells you?
“It will get a little worse before it starts getting better”. I suppose that is better than “let’s wait for it to get worse”
I do think that I would like to catch break from all of this, the least to rest my weary soul for longer than a few zappings on a bench. But I am beginning to understand now that I will probably never get one. Fight and recuperate need to co-exist, just as they do in accident and emergency. That is the expectation I need to manage. As my oncologist so vividly reminds me “remember it is not the treatment you are fighting, it is the cancer”.
I still anticipate an impromptu hurdle. I have come to expect a series of them. Wave or no wave, I may have temporarily lost my senses but I do still have my wits about me, just!