Saturday, January 9, 2016

Phase one done: what next?

Late in the afternoon of New Year's Eve, I walked out the doors of the Juravinski Cancer Centre atop the mountain in Hamilton, wished Gus the security guy a happy new year, climbed into the car, smiled at Debi and we headed home. We had a three-day break and we needed it. Driving in to Hamilton is hard, getting zapped by radiation beams and being pumped with chemicals is tiring. What made the three-day break even sweeter is that we could see the end of this, even if not yet the end. 

Before the end of the first week of 2016, I am done with phase one of dealing with this Cancer thing. By Thursday the 7th of January I have had 25 radiation sessions and 4 rounds of chemotherapy. In the radiation suites there is a bell and the tradition is that when you are finished you ring the bell three times. Trust me, I rang the bell so hard you could hear it where-ever you were on the floor.

For the most part, and I am knocking on wood here, the impact has been minimal. Fatigue, at times deep fatigue, but otherwise few serious side effects. I know all kinds of people have been laid low by the sheer impact of chemotherapy or radiation or a combination of both. But me, I have for the most part skated. My doctors tell me that it is sometimes the case that people sail through and then at the very end get whacked. I am OK if that happens, I'd prefer it not to happen but if needs be, let me wrestle with it at home in bed without the daily commute to Hamilton.

I have watched people having to cope with the knock-out punch that chemo/radiation therapy can throw at you. One day I was travelling from the lobby of the centre to the floor below where the radiation suites are. A woman was heading for the elevator and I held the door for her. She slowly shuffled in. She was bald, wrapped in many layers as if freezing ( and the temperature that day was balmy) and once past the doors she thanked me and leaned against the elevator walls. In the short time it takes the elevator to go down one floor...we are talking a handful of seconds....she was sound asleep and I had to wake her when the elevator announcement, " Floor Zero" didn't. She thanked me, shuffled out and headed for the radiation suites. Being tired can wear you out...watching someone so tired and knowing why can make you tear up.

So phase one is done. Now it is 3,4,6, maybe 8 weeks of rest and rebuilding the immune system. Chemo did knock the stuffing out of my immune system. I am prepping for surgery, which everyone (meaning the medical team, Debi, Jane and me) assumes will take sometime in February. The idea is that having zapped, attacked and brutalized the tumour with radiation and chemo, it is shrunk and dying and cutting out what is left is the next stage. Part of the reason for waiting and resting is so that my esophagus can heal from the havoc that radiation wrecks on cells and tissue. The doctors all speak as if the surgery will happen though everyone acknowledges that there is a small percentage of people in my position who for some reason can't do the surgery but we are told we will deal with that if that contingency proves true.

Strangely enough, this phase might prove to be tougher than phase one. Not seeming to do something to battle the disease is anxiety inducing...shouldn't we be doing something? Can you really beat a fast moving disease by sitting still?

One more shot, I guess, at learning to worry about the things I can change and not worrying about the things I can't.



  1. Thank you always with your writing...I am mesmerized. Cancer is a terrible word that paralyses people with first. Then you get mad as hell and start fighting. The Nerve of Cancer to enter "your space"!!And you sure are fighting back! Soon it will be running from the wrath of Peter Kavanaugh...never to return!
    Cathy Clark-Agnew

  2. Your ability to write so objectively about what you are going through is amazing. You are in our thoughts as you continue this journey.
    Joe McReynolds