Thursday, March 26, 2009

Graduation Day

Radiation treatment session No. 33 finally arrived on Wednesday, and not a moment too soon.

My body has really begun to show signs of wear. Loss of hair on my scalp was followed by irregular growth of my beard and then the skin on my neck and face became flaky, reddened and itchy.

Trumping all of these side effects has been steadily rising fatigue. Fatigue was worst on the last few days of each week throughout my treatments, but really packed a wallop during the past 10 days.

Respiratory discomfort settled in around the middle of my treatments, and my tongue has become even more inflamed.

I'm told that these side effects are going to hang around for a while, but now that daily exposure to radiation is over, I hope that the symptoms will gradually ease.

I need a break.

A few things made radiation easier to bear than it otherwise would have been.

  • My stuffed toy frog

    My friend Shirley brought the frog to me when I was recovering in the hospital in mid-January. I anointed it my cancer mascot.

    I held my frog on my stomach at each and every radiation session except the first one, and I dressed it up with a Rolling Stones tongue, a Mickey Mouse pin, a souvenir from the finish line of the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure and the prayer card from my mom's funeral in 2007.

    Someday, maybe my tongue's performance will match a frog's in agility and speed. I'll settle for much less.

    Now my frog will stay with me at home.

  • Music

    Once I got permission to play my own CDs during the treatment sessions, I felt more in control of what happened in the radiation room. The radiation rays that targeted my head were controlled by an unseen lab tech, but the sound waves that traveled from the CD player to my ears were directed by me.

    I started out by playing a CD I grabbed at random from a stack at the office in the middle of the second week of treatment. After that, I invested a lot of thought into what I plucked from my collection to bring to treatment each day.

    My playlist, in alphabetical order:

    The Beach Boys ("Pet Sounds"), Belle and Sebastian ("The Life Pursuit"), David Bowie ("Low"), Johnny Cash ("Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison"), Elvis Costello and the Attractions ("The Very Best of Elvis Costello and the Attractions"), Bob Dylan (the middle disc of a career-spanning compilation), Crystal Gayle and Tom Waits ("One from the Heart" soundtrack), Graham Central Station ("Graham Central Station"), Grateful Dead ("American Beauty"), Led Zeppelin ("Physical Graffiti"), Love ("Forever Changes"), Magnetic Fields ("69 Love Songs, Vol. 1"), Paul McCartney & Wings ("Red Rose Speedway"), Joni Mitchell ("Hejira"), Mott the Hoople ("Greatest Hits"), Pet Shop Boys ("Art"), Radiohead ("OK Computer), the Rolling Stones ("Exile on Main Street"), Sparks ("Number One in Heaven"), Dusty Springfield ("Dusty in Memphis"), Talking Heads ("Sand in the Vaseline, Vol. 1"), the Temptations ("My Girl: The Very Best of the Temptations"), Stevie Wonder ("Original Musiquarium, Vol. 1"), Stew ("Guest Host") and Wilco ("A Ghost is Born").

    Some of these are my favorite albums and some of these are albums that I link to someone meaningful in my life. All of them are albums I wish I could sing along to, if I could.

    When Wednesday's radiation session was over, I was imagining that I was singing along to the Beach Boys' "Sloop John B," with its lyric "I feel so broke up, I wanna go home."

  • Friends and family

    The third thing that pulled me through radiation treatment was all of the people who are supporting me in this struggle.

    That includes people who have done things for me; people who have encouraged me to give this fight all I've got; other people who have faced cancer and other life-threatening diseases; and everyone who reads this blog. You all helped me through.

At the end of the session on Wednesday, the two lab techs on duty surprised me with the certificate you see at the top of today's blog entry.

One of them, a young man named José, handed the diploma to me, shook my hand and wished me well.

I felt like I should have been honoring them, rather than the other way around. They were the ones who did all of the heavy lifting over my weeks in the Radiation Oncology Department. All I did was show up on time, and lay on the treatment bed like a schlub.

I won't be going back to the Radiation Oncology Department until April 20. Between now and then, I'll be seeing both Dr. B1 and Dr. B2.

If you've been following this blog, I hope you'll stick with me a little longer.

I can't guarantee a happy ending to this story, but I am sure going to try.


  1. Congratulations Paul!

  2. Now let the healing begin!!!

    Okay, you did not have a Beatles CD, so I will share the words to one of my favorites ...

    "When I find myself in times of trouble Mother Mary comes to me. Speaking words of wisdom, let it be.

    And, when the night is cloudy, there is still a light that shines on me, Shine until tomorrow, let it be.

    There will be an answer ... let it be!"

    I love you Paul and am so sorry I was not with you through this. You are amazingly strong and will "lick" this cancer thing!!!

    Mike (the brother)

  3. Although I know this is the worst trip you have ever been on, the strength and courage you have shown just blows my mind. If I could muster half that strength if I'm ever feeling so broke up, I will be a better man than I think I am.
    And from now on, whenever I hear Sloop John B I will probably paraphrase the lyrics to "and I get so chocked up", because that is exactly what happened when I read today's blog.