Every weekday morning, I walk into Roper Hospital, drop my pants, lie down on a table and listen as a big whirring, purring machine zaps my body with radiation.
One year after being diagnosed with prostate cancer, the battle continues.
But mine is a skirmish compared with others. At least I can walk into the hospital.
The radiation oncology waiting room is a humbling place. All you have to do is talk to your fellow patients to understand the terrible toll cancer takes on our families, our community.
There’s no way you can go through this process without finding someone who has been through more than you ever thought possible. Surgery. Chemo. Radiation. The room is full of stories that break and fill your heart with pain, sympathy, empathy and a few other feelings you can’t quite describe.
Today, I’m receiving my 18th radiation treatment in a series of 33. Almost every day, someone you have come to know reaches the magic number and rings the bell on the wall on their way out. Everybody celebrates. The nurses. The doctors. The patients.
Then we sit back down and wait our turn under the big whirring, purring machine.
It was a year ago this week that my urologist told me I had prostate cancer. It seems like a lifetime.
Since then, I’ve had surgery to remove the gland and the nastiness that attached itself to me. That was last April. It was no fun, but it was manageable. I recovered within a few weeks, then waited for the results.
Naturally, we hoped that would be the end of it, that they got it all.
For those who speak prostate, my PSA (prostate specific antigen) was 0.07 a few months after surgery. Then it rose to 0.1. Then it rose again to 0.4.
Prostate cancer comes in various strengths. Some are more aggressive than others.
They measure that with something called the Gleason Score (2-10). It’s a numbers game like everything else in modern medicine. Low is good. High is bad. My Gleason score is 8.
That’s why they sent me straight to radiation therapy. The idea is to nuke my pelvic area with saturating doses of radiation, then target the rays down to the prostate bed where the gland used to reside.
The goal is to reduce my PSA to 0.0 and stop the cancer before it gets going again. If that happens, I’ll be among the success stories. If it doesn’t, well, we move on to the next level of treatment.
Radiation therapy, by the way, doesn’t hurt. Yet.
They warned me about some yucky side effects — diarrhea, incontinence, weariness — but so far, so good.
Treatment, in fact, has become part of my social life. Every day I visit with my new friends in the waiting room. We’re all in the same boat. Paddling.
Then I go back into a big room where there’s a waterfall babbling, soft music playing and recordings of birds chirping.
Joe and Kathy are my radiation therapists, and we’ve all become one big happy family. How was your weekend? Fine, and yours?
The entire staff at Roper is phenomenal. They understand, as we all come to know, that attitude is half the battle. It’s the other half that’s tough.
My treatment takes about five minutes as the big machine spins slowly around, shooting invisible rays at my body from four different positions. When it’s over, I pull up my pants and walk out. See you tomorrow.
It’s very serene. Actually surreal.
Mary Decker, my radiologist, says I’m receiving a couple of rads (centigrays), which means nothing to me. When I asked for layman’s terms, she says, “It’s like getting 400 chest X-rays a day.”
Next week: Personal matters.