|And to think, it used to just look like a phallic symbol.|
Before my appointment, I finally cracked Radiation Therapy and You, a pamphlet I grabbed at my consultation with Dr. Chen back in January. It has a picture of a lighthouse on the cover, with a beam of white light aimed at the horizon. This picture is both serene and disturbingly accurate.
Here’s what’s inside. (I’m paraphrasing.)
Hi! You’re reading this because you have cancer. Just wanted to remind you. In this guide, you’ll find many facts that will help you through your treatment.
Q: What is radiation therapy?
A: Radiation therapy is a cancer treatment that uses radiation to do therapy. Against cancer.
Q: Who gets radiation therapy?
A: You do. Because you have cancer.
Q: What does radiation do to healthy cells?
A: Nothing good. It’s fucking radiation.
Q: What type of radiation will my doctor prescribe?
A: Your doctor will prescribe the type that he or she feels will work. Sorry, we don’t want to get all science-y here.
Q: What side effects will I experience?
A: You will experience the type of side effects that you will experience. Remember, every patient is different, and we don’t want to get sued. Also, your psychotherapist is discouraging you from having expectations.
Q: But really, what side effects will I experience?
A: Diarrhea, fatigue, hair loss, mouth changes, nausea, vomiting, sexual and fertility changes, skin changes, throat changes, urinary and bladder changes, and other.
A: Have you seen Spider Man?
Q: How should I take care of myself during my treatment?
- Don’t wear lotion or deodorant to your radiation therapy session.
- Don’t use sunscreen.
- But don’t get any sun, either.
- So, just stay inside. It’s not like you’re the life of the party these days anyway.
- Stay away from children, as you are basically a walking Superfund site, not to mention depressing to small innocent people who don’t yet know about all the shit life has in store.
- To combat fatigue, try not to do anything.
- But make sure to exercise, cook healthy food, floss, quit smoking, bathe frequently and grow your own aloe vera.
Q: Are there any extra humiliating things I should do?
A: Use a saliva substitute to moisten your mouth, wear a wig, clean your rectal area via something called a “sitz bath” and purchase some adult diapers.
Q: Are there any permanent side effects of radiation?
A: Permanent and long-term side effects include:
- Skin that looks like Megan Brockelsby’s mom’s—-you know, who used to chain smoke in her tennis skirt and cracked bare feet while waiting for Megan after school?
- Super powers*
Q: What happens after I’m finished with radiation?
A: You will need to meet with your radiation oncologist for the rest of your life to check for cancer—-the one you were treated for and new, ironic cancers caused by cancer treatment. Oh, you’re in the system, honey.
Q: Um, this is all kind of terrifying. Is there anything I can do to cope with the emotional effects of cancer treatment?
A: Try taking a walk or closing your eyes and imagining a peaceful meadow.
**Not as rare as you’d like.