Tuesday, May 07, 2013

to the lighthouse: radiation therapy and you

And to think, it used to just look like a phallic symbol.
This morning I had my first radiation appointment. No actual radiation was involved—they put some waterproof stickers on me and took pictures to make sure they don’t radiate the wrong person or the wrong body part (is this an issue?), and ran me through that big medical donut, the CT scanner.

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.

Q: 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* 
  • Cancer**
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.


Kat said...

This is hilarious, you sicko! I shouldn't be laughing, but I am.....
(BTW, did you see Parks & Rec and the consequences of reading brochures?)

Cheryl said...

No, what episode? I love that show.

Claire said...

Wow, they don't give you much of a reprieve between crazy treatments.

Hang in there, baby! (Picture kitten hanging from branch.)

Is that reference too old? I haven't seen one of those posters in ages.

Sounds like you're ready to start a pamphlet writing career. You've certainly got the lingo down. Made me laugh because I know it's true. :)

Kat said...

It's a recent episode. We're behind a few. You'll know when you see it, and when you do, I want to know what you think! Your post made me laugh out loud. Which was a problem because everyone at work thinks I'm crazy-focused writing interactive about bees.

Meehan said...

Couldn't read past first paragraph with Google image searching the La Puente Donut Hole. Now my new symbol for modern medical care. "It's the quality."

Meehan said...

*without* searching, that is. grr.

Cheryl said...

K: Bees are hilarious.

M: Yes, as in "City of Hope has a basket of candy at the front desk because...it's the quality."*

*Candy may cause cancer.