Tuesday, July 24, 2012

On being irradiated

Yesterday I started my second round of cancer radiation—a “palliative” treatment, in this case, to relieve the pain in my right hip. Zell Miller, the former governor and senator from Georgia, describes himself as an “80-year-old man with 100-year-old legs.” That pretty much captures the feeling in my right leg. Can I have Miller’s extra twenty years?

The worst part of radiation is not the side effects, including a fatigue that leaves you too listless to go for a cup of coffee. The worst part is the daily interruption, the small daily indignity of traveling to a windowless chamber in which you are asked to pull your pants below your knees and lie perfectly still, around which you must organize your schedule and thinking and expectations. I clamber onto a hard metal table (a nurse must lift my right leg onto it, since I no longer have the strength to do so). My feet are slotted into plastic stirrups; I am given a blue rubber ring to grip, asked what music I’d like to hear (“Do we have time for all six Brandenburg concertos?”), and then I try to float my mind elsewhere while the nurses mark up my skin with Sharpies and line me up in the linear accelerator’s crosshairs.

The radiation itself is painless. It’s the dread that hurts. In last night’s episode of The Closer (my wife’s favorite TV show and mine too), a drug-company representative who scammed oncologists by selling them saline instead of medicine for chemotherapy defended himself by saying that he was merely helping cancer patients to enjoy their last few months as human beings, rather than “dried-up husks.” The cancer patient never feels like a husk, though. He feels like a ghost within the husk.

Nothing makes you feel more ghostly than the knowledge that the same thing that killed Madame Curie, Harry K. Daghlian, and Louis Slotin is being beamed through your body—that part of you is being killed so the rest of you might live. The ghost is more precious than the husk, although it is sometimes a struggle to get the ghost to appear.

7 comments:

Susan Messer said...

My thoughts are with you. Thanks for sharing this is such an open way.

ghostofelberry said...

And he said unto me, Son of man, can these bones live? And I answered, O Lord GOD, thou knowest.

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr. Myers, I see no one has commented here, and I feel inadequate to do so. But I really enjoy your work and look for your entries at literary commentary and here on a regular basis. I wish you well, and will pray for your complete remission and returned health. I want to say you better get healthy because you and Patrick Kurp are my favorite internet stops, but that would be selfish of me. All the best. Edward Bauer

Shelley said...

Nothing but literature can even begin to comprehend such a burden.

And your own words participate in that. Best of luck to you.

Portia said...

I wish you well, Mr Myers. My husband went through radiation a few years ago, so I have some understanding of what you are going through. Wishing you the best, so enjoy your writing.

Anonymous said...

Oh David my heart is breaking. I wish you well my long time friend.

Fondly,
Lee Ellen Bornstein Scharhon

kspence said...

Dr. Myers--
Great blog, lousy news. I am, however, so very happy to hear of your family life. And I suspect you moved from Texas to Ohio to make your vote count.
I'm an associate professor at Drury now, and am on sabbatical finally writing on theory in architecture. I had to look up Stephen Daniel for something, so I looked you up just for balance. :)
Wish you all the best,
Karen Cordes Spence