Saturday, October 8, 2011

First week of radiation

We made it through the first 4 treatments, with few noticeable effects. After last weekend and the extreme fatigue that Skip experienced after chemo, I was very nervous about how he’d react. But his energy is good and, thanks to herbs and acupuncture, he’s eating well.

The treatment itself only takes about 10 minutes each session. Skip lays on his stomach on a table, the kind you lay on when you’ve broken your leg and need to have an X-ray. A little radiation device is mounted from the ceiling, and once Skip is in place, it comes down and gives him a zap. Actually about 3 different zaps, all from different angles. There’s no pain involved and it’s easy to forget that we’re dealing with measured toxicity.

While he is “inside” having treatment, I sit in the large carpeted waiting room and read. There’s a large picture window at one end of an otherwise upscale, institutional waiting area. (The faux living room style reminds me of what I imagine Harley St. offices to be like). The window looks out on a small sculpture garden, and the three chairs that are thoughtfully arranged there give people like me a quiet, pleasanter place to sit . As Skip acerbically remarked one morning, the greenery and sculptures are all behind glass, “just like another aquarium,” he quipped. But it’s so much better than facing the full-scale large room that I’m grateful for it, glass or no glass.

What I’m reading these days is Balzac—re-reading Père Goriot whose 19th c. Parisian emphasis on class, money and the way these things are inscribed on and in the body seems a perfect corollary to cancer care. Skip’s reading China Miéville’s The City and The City, a sci-fi noir about 2 cities which co-exist in exactly the same physical space. Each city has its own language and customs, and inhabitants of either one have to learn to actively “un-see” the other. It’s been read as an allegory for class relations in contemporary London—but also seems to me to be a good analogue for Skip’s own body. So easy not to see the cancered Skip that occupies the same physical zone as “healthy” Skip; I have to force myself to look for symptoms and signs—to read his body “other-wise.” So, we’re having interesting conversations at dinner time.

Our dear friend, Chris, came over this past week to help us modify the bathroom (taller toilet and support bar) in case Skip has any more intense intestinal episodes; and he helped me to move things around in the den so that it’s more comfortable to sit and watch television/ movies when Skip is sleeping in the living room. The weather has been beautiful here, and the day Chris came over to work, he took a lunch break to sit on the deck with us. Fresh tamales and spinach salad, glorious fall color, pleasant conversation.A “normal” day for us—with the added bonus (for me, anyway) of fewer work pressures.

Emphasis on fewer. Since I’m on family leave, I don’t have any coursework or teaching pressures —but there are still letters of recommendation to write for graduate students (so dispiriting in this job market) and I have administrative duties I’m trying to discharge via laptop from home. Hard to make myself care about the various vagaries that plague the program or department or journal. Every time I get an e-mail, I want to write back—“are you kidding? At least we’re all alive.”

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