Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Fasten your selt belts

Something freaky happened while preparing for Tuesday's radiation session.

When the ThermaSplint mask was clamped over my face, my breathing suddenly became labored and I made panicky gestures with my hands to get the radiation technicians to remove it.

When the mask was off, I fished a pen out of my shirt and I scrawled a note explaining that it felt too tight.

In the late afternoon, my tongue usually is not as swollen as it is overnight and in the morning. On Tuesday, however, the swelling never diminished. When I arrived for my treatment on Tuesday, my tongue was as swollen and uncomfortable as it has ever been since this ordeal began, which meant that I had more face to cram inside the ThermaSplint mask.

It felt almost like I was going to black out –or worse.

At least I picked a classy CD to listen to during what I thought might have been my final gasps: Dusty in Memphis, by Dusty Springfield.

The technicians gave me a few minutes alone with Dusty and my frog before they returned to clamp the mask on again.

"If you have trouble breathing again," one of them said, "just wave your hands. We'll stop the treatment and come out."

I gave her my usual thumb's up gesture, but it was less enthusiastic than the others I've made.

I hate being left alone in the radiation room during treatment, lacking even the ability to yell to get someone's attention. I have a fear that an earthquake will strike while I am locked inside the ThermaSplint mask in the basement of 4950 Sunset, and when it does, the first through eighth floors of the building would collapse and crush my head, never mind my cancer.

The rest of the treatment was a struggle, and it was prolonged by the weekly X-rays. But I toughed it out, and made it home.

I have a lot of anxiety about the next two weeks.

Not being able to shake the swollen tongue on Tuesday makes me worry that it will only get worse for the remaining 11 treatments. I also can't get rid of a scratchy throat and nausea that shudders throughout my body after each G-tube feeding.

I never believed that licking cancer would be easy, but I may have underestimated the intensity of its punch.

Pessimism is unbecoming, but I'm not going to lie to you.

Just as I was about to close this blog on that down note, an e-mail from my sister-in-law in Colorado landed in my in box. She was in town again over the past weekend, and saw how the treatments are wearing me down.

"This too shall pass," she wrote. "Think of all your HIV treatments and what you've been able to survive. I know that you can beat this one, too!"

Thanks, sis. I'm slipping that pity card back into the deck.


Loose ends

The CD case for the cast recording of Stew's Passing Strange that I brought to play during radiation therapy on Friday was empty. The CD was in my player at home. Luckily I had Stew's equally fine Guest Host album in my car that day, so I listened to that during treatment instead. In Monday's edition of The New York Times, Stephen Holden reviewed the Stew performance that I could not attend, and the photo accompanying the piece in the print edition was large enough to be seen on Google Earth.

A friend said that he enjoyed seeing Totie Fields' name dropped into this blog on Monday, adding that it made the late comedienne's wonderful voice come alive for him. "But I can't help wonder what percentage of your readers even know her name," he lamented.

YouTube to the rescue!

Thankfully, there are recordings like Dusty in Memphis to keep Dusty Springfield's voice alive. Ten years ago this month, she died in London from breast cancer.


  1. If you ever need company during your radiation treatment ~ just let me know. I can come up and maybe we can go see a movie afterward. Or we could just go back to your place and I could bring a movie with me. What ever! You don't have to be alone - I could be right there with you (or as close as they would let me).

    HUGS my friend ~ you are one step closer to beating this cancer into the ground.


  2. Thank you, Shirley, for all that you say and do. Oh . . . my frog says hello!