Friday, January 5, 1996
A new year, thank God. On New Year’s Eve, my husband and I gathered every 1995 calendar we could find and placed them on a plastic chair on our patio. Then he threw together a chemical cocktail of saltpeter and sugar, and the calendars went up in a blinding flash of light and white smoke. Unfortunately, so did the plastic chair, but I guess that’s the price you pay for symbolism.
So far, I’ve seen the radiation oncologist twice, and I’m surprised at how much I dislike starting a new kind of therapy. This morning, I lay flat on my back in a freezing room while three technicians and the radiologist drew so many marks on my left breast I felt like a rib roast.
According to Dr. S, the radiation oncologist, I’m getting radiated because the tumor in my left breast was only a millimeter from my chest wall. A millimeter? Once I heard that, I wished I hadn’t. It’s like thinking about my three positive nodes, which I always picture as vile and moldy-looking and rancid, with flies buzzing around them.
Friday, January 19
Radiation is now part of my schedule. My car could drive to Baylor Hospital without me, I’m sure. Every morning, I drive slowly and I usually play my tape deck full-blast. On days when it’s clear and sunny and I feel good, I wail along with the music and pretend I’m Patsy Cline.
Once I’m at the cancer center, I barrel into the waiting room and wave at everybody I know. I head to the changing room and pull on a blue or green gown. Then I sit down and talk to whoever’s there.
It’s an incongruous group of patients. Almost all the men have prostate cancer and they’re in their 60s or 70s. The women are almost all younger, like me, and they’re breast cancer patients.
When my name is called, I make my grand entrance into the treatment room. I climb on the table and lay my head back and move in whatever direction they tell me to. They measure me here and there until I’m perfect. Then they leave.
“We’ll be back,” one of them always says.
“I think I’ll wait here,” I say sometimes. It seems to amuse them.
There’s a big controversy on the breast cancer bulletin board on the Internet. Something like, New Age Treatments: Are They Hoaxes or Miracles?
One woman writes glowingly about going to Mexico to get shark cartilage injections and coffee enemas. (Frankly, I don’t think this is a market Starbucks will want to get into.) Another hints at promises of immediate cures if you’ll contact her at her email address, so she can tell you about some surefire vitamin supplements that saved her best friend’s life.
Then, the doctor who regularly answers medical questions lets Vitamin Woman have it. She’s a charlatan, he says. She’s peddling useless, unproven remedies for profit. She’s preying on our fears.
Exactly! I think. I’m contemptuous of all this new-age bullshit and women on the bulletin boards who sign their names “Love and Light” and those sad, cringing cases who journey to Mexico so they can feed on false hopes and apricot pits. Contemptuous!
So why am I hanging on to Vitamin Woman’s email address?
Because I’m like everybody else on that bulletin board. I’m scared and hopeless and out of control. I’m sick of medicine. I want magic.
(Copyright 2010 by Ruth Pennebaker)
Read Part 5 of this series.
Read about what it’s like to sit on the other side of the table when the news is bad