Wednesday, April 17, 2013
The summer before I entered the fourth grade, my family moved from an urban neighborhood, with all kinds of houses and a shopping street a block away, to a suburban development of post-World War II nearly-identical ticky-tacky houses a mile or so away from…anything. To get to school, I either had to walk along a cornfield, where garter snakes sometimes slithered out from between the rows, or down an overgrown dirt path that bordered some woods, where I was sure unsavory types lurked, just waiting for the perfect victim (me) to come along.
I desperately missed my neighborhood, my school, my library, my friends. Worse, I’d been recognized as one of the best students in my class at my old school, the favored students had been in place since kindergarten. I was nobody.
In time, I made friends with a girl in my class—I’ll call her Cathy. She had shiny brown hair and brown eyes and beautiful olive skin. She lived in a brick house in a real neighborhood not far from our subdivision—a house with a basement, where her mother led our Girl Scout meetings every week. She had her own bedroom, pink, with white, frilly curtains on the windows and stuffed animals piled on her bed. She had nice clothes and her own record player. I adored her.
Every morning, from fourth through seventh grades, I walked to the end of our long block, then down the scary dirt path, turned left, walked to her house and knocked on the back door. Her mom let me in and I’d wait in the kitchen, chatting with her, until Cathy was ready. Then we’d set out for school together. Sometimes I was allowed to stay and play a while after school, or invited to come over on a Saturday.
In the spring of our seventh grade year, Cathy became enamored of a classmate I’ll call Bev, a ferret of a girl, ropy, with thin brown hair and a whole lot of what I now understand was sexual energy. She had breasts and a knowing air. I was still, physically, a child and completely clueless about sex, though I did have an agonizing, secret crush on a boy named Danny. I lived in a perpetual state of mortification. I had no idea how to navigate the dawning world of adolescence.
I still had Cathy to myself every morning, but only because Bev’s house wasn’t on our route. Increasingly, however, she avoided me at school. The two of them endured me at the lunch table; sometimes they invited me to go skating with them on Saturdays or to a sleepover. But I felt more and more awkward when I was with them, more aware that they didn’t really want me along. I invited them both to my birthday party in May, but only Cathy came—and I was pretty sure her mom had made her.
The two of them decided to go to Bev’s church camp that summer—and mentioned, without much enthusiasm, that I might come along. Though I was unhappy at home, I was paranoid about being away from home, especially for a whole week. But it seemed to me that if I didn’t go, it would be the end of my friendship with Cathy. Plus, the boy I liked was going, too, and I thought maybe, maybe he might notice me.
So I signed up, packed a borrowed duffel, and my dad delivered me to the church parking lot, where a school bus waited to take us to camp. Cathy and Bev sat together on the bus; I sat behind them, leaning forward to participate in their conversation as best I could. But soon the motion of the bus began to make me sleepy and a little nauseous. It was hot. Noisy. My head hurt. I leaned back and rested my cheek against the cool glass window, hoping to catch a bit of the breeze coming in from the raised part. I dozed, woke, dozed, woke—each time feeling a little worse. By the time we reached the first rest stop, I knew I was going to throw up—and dashed off the bus and into the smelly bathroom.
The bathroom was crowded when I came out of the stall. Cathy and Bev smiled slyly. They followed me out, teasing, then stopped to join a bunch of kids were congregated around a picnic table. I stood at the edges for a moment, then went on to the bus, where I noticed a folded piece of paper beneath Cathy’s seat—a note that she and Bev had been passing back and forth about all the things they didn’t like about me.
Had they left it there so I would find it?
I leaned against the window again and pretended to be asleep, listening to them talk about me. “P-U,” they said again and again, bursting into peals of laughter. I guess I did finally sleep, because I don’t remember anything else until, finally, we arrived at the camp.
They hurried off the bus, claimed a bunk bed to share—and, from then on, almost completely ignored me. Worse, the boy I liked came up to me about midway through the week, told me he really liked Cathy and asked if I’d try to talk her into liking him, too.
I’d never been that close to him before. He smelled sweaty, like the woods, with maybe a tinge of cigarette smoke. His voice squeaked and deepened as he spoke.
“Sure,” I said. “Yeah. I can do that.”
“Oh,” Cathy said, when I got up the nerve to approach her. “Him. Ugh.” And turned away from me.
We had Bible class every morning, which was at first comforting because it was like school—and school was a place where I knew what to do: be quiet, listen, raise your hand to ask or answer a question. Trouble was, my parents weren’t church people. We never talked about religion at home; I was only vaguely familiar with the Bible stories all the others seemed to know by heart.
I got curious.
Not in the way the camp leaders hoped, however, which would have led to my taking Jesus as my personal savior at the end of the week.
I got curious about how it worked.
As in, “So, were Adam and Eve cave people?”
They were the first people God made, right? And science had proved that the first people on earth were cave people.
It seemed a perfectly reasonable question to me—and a brilliant insight on my part.
It was met with dead silence from the camp leader—and laughter from my fellow campers.
I don’t remember how the leader eventually answered, just that it was in a disapproving tone, as if I had been making a joke. I do remember that I wasn’t stupid enough to ask the second question, the one that interested me the most.
How does heaven work?
Okay, it’s a place where the people you loved and who went before you will greet you at the golden gate and you will all be together forever. But what if you were married and your first husband died and you got married again and really, really loved that person? Which husband would you be with in heaven? And what if you loved someone, but that person didn’t love you and, for sure, didn’t want to be with you through eternity? Or someone loved you and you didn’t love him and didn’t want to be him forever?
Who got to choose?
Funny. It never occurred to me until right now, writing this, that the heaven question was connected to my feelings about Cathy. Or that if anyone had asked me then what heaven would be like for me, I might have said, “Being adopted into Cathy’s family and being best friends with her forever.”
It also hadn’t occurred to me that those unanswerable questions marked an important moment in my understanding of faith. Before they floated into my mind, I believed in God. I believed that good people went to heaven when they died and that, if I were good, I would end up there myself. After they floated into my mind, the whole enterprise began to seem, logistically, very sketchy to me.
Taken to the edge, for example—those basketball players who cross themselves before taking a free throw? Do they really think God is available to help with such things? And if they do, shouldn’t they just take their chances on the free throw so he can concentrate on, say, world peace? Or just feeding a family in the inner city?
It took me years to understand that religious faith is irrational. It’s just there, inside you, as reliable and enduring as the sun. Questions are inevitable—the most common being, “Why?” Some examine their questions about faith more deeply than others. But true faith doesn’t need a logical answer.
Some of the most intelligent people I know are people of faith. I respect and envy them. True faith makes life easier, I think—especially if it ensures a place in heaven.
I am a person of faith myself, just not religious faith. I believe that things happen to us for a reason, that we are meant to cherish the joy we are given and meet life’s challenges with grace and courage. I believe our time on earth matters. I believe heaven is here and now. I believe, for better or worse, we live forever in the bits of ourselves we give to others as we travel our life paths.
I don't discount the possibility of God. But I believe if He/She/It exists, knowing the "logistics" of who He/She/Is it and how He/She/It works is beyond our human capabilities.
Having breast cancer, considering mortality as a result, hasn't changed what I believe at all--which, I guess, is the test of any faith, religious or otherwise.
In any case, I don’t need answers to those logistical questions anymore. I’ve learned that any question worth asking doesn’t have an answer, anyway.
Monday, April 8, 2013
On the bright side:
Great savings on hair care products.
No time wasted in beauty salons.
No bad hair days.
You can shock the shit out of people by simply taking off your hat—
Oh, wait. I’m too embarrassed to do that. The best I’ve done, in terms of public rebellion, is to wear a black head cover that has little white skulls all over it.
I really do hate being bald. Not in the house, alone—I’m quite used to it. In a weird way, I even think it’s kind of cool. But the way I look to others if they catch a glimpse of my bald head—
For example, not long ago, I was sitting at the dining room table, eating eating my breakfast, and I looked up and saw two 20’s-ish guys walking their dog. One looked up and I saw him see me and think: there is a bald woman eating breakfast in there.
I was embarrassed. I felt like I should run out and apologize for making him feel uncomfortable.
Which I realize is totally absurd.
Even more absurd. Some years back, when I was buzzing my own hair, I once forgot to put the attachment on. Standing in front of the mirror, I took the first swipe up the middle of my head with the shaver and—
Crap. I had a freaking reverse Mohawk. I stood there, horrified. Then (what else was there to do?) finished the job. I wasn’t completely bald, but close enough that I felt like I needed to wear a hat everywhere.
(“Hat! Hat!” my then two-year-old granddaughter, Heidi, said, alarmed, whenever I took it off.)
And even with the hat on, one day I was picking out fruit in the produce section at the grocery store and the woman standing next to me glanced over at me and asked, quietly, “Are you undergoing treatment?”
I should have said, yes; accepted her sympathy and, perhaps, commiseration, which she clearly wanted to give—then fled. But, no. I tried to explain what had happened. The more I talked, the stupider I felt.
She was the one who fled, no doubt thinking that it was bad enough to have cancer, but really pathetic to pretend you don’t.
I’d love to be the kind of person who said, “Fine. I’m bald. I’m just going to be bald. If people have a problem with that, so be it.”
I don’t actually know if I believed I would be that sort of person if the occasion arrived, but I’m guessing I did. Or at least hoped I would be. I know I’ve always admired women who have the courage to do it. But it turns out that I am not that kind of person.
I feel a little diminished by this piece of information about myself.
Meanwhile, my hair is growing. If I look in the mirror and squint, I can see a faint halo of hair on the sides and in the back. Not much on top, though—which is making me a little anxious. God. What if I end up with a permanent Bozo effect?
But that’s a whole other story.
Monday, April 1, 2013
I had my final radiation treatment last Tuesday and left with a celebratory pink carnation and the well-wishes of the extraordinarily nice radiation technicians I’d gotten to know over the course of my month of daily visits.
“Congratulations!” they said.
Which seemed odd to me, since congratulations generally have to do with having accomplished something—and all I’d done was go where I was supposed to go and let nurses and technicians do what doctors had decided should be done to make me better.
And, honestly, it wasn’t all that bad. I don’t think having cancer will turn out to have been one of those before/after events for me. It didn’t feel like a challenge met, it didn’t change me or make me want to change my life in any way, it didn’t show me anything about myself that I didn’t already know. It was interesting, in an unpleasant way. It certainly made me think--which, in my view, is always a good thing.
For example, I used to think attitude made a huge difference. Now I think now it may make a difference: the chemistry of the body is changed by stress and fear and maybe it makes the body’s task easier if you don’t feel that.
But how you feel is how you feel.
You can defy feelings by acting against them. Or decide to act exactly how you feel. But either way, it's deciding how you're going to act despite or because of how you feel. Maybe negative feelings can shift in the process of acting against them, maybe not. If you're cheerful and optimistic by nature, lucky you. If not, you shouldn't be blamed for what you can't change. Being of the latter disposition, I've found that cultivating a matter-of-fact, Just Do It, attitude works best for just about everything that comes my way.
In any case, I feel like my body was the one challenged by this experience—and met the challenge very nicely. My body is what fought a battle and survived. Not me. If there is a story to tell about surviving, it’s my body’s story, not mine. My story is about hanging in there while it did its work. Giving up any idea that I could control what was happening to my body and how my body was responding to it. Being curious. Trying to learn what I could about the strange world of illness along the way.
I didn’t become one with my body, didn’t even have a moment of intuition of what that would be like. It’s still it and I’m still me. I feel grateful to my body for saving my self. This is probably a very weird way to be thinking about the experience.
But it explains why the language surrounding cancer just doesn’t work for me. Fighting and winning the battle against cancer. Cancer survivor. My body did that. It survived. Not me.
Not to mention the fact that a whole lot of people have it way, way worse than I did. I’m embarrassed when people use those terms talking about what I’ve gone through.
Plus, like faith, dealing with breast cancer feels private to me. Not that I’m unwilling to talk about it. (Anyone who knows me knows that, for better or worse, I’ll talk about anything.) Just that the experience itself belongs to me, alone. Only I can come close to understanding it. I don’t need or want a “church” of survivors to give it meaning. I don’t need or want “Pink.” (Though I very much respect those who gain strength from that community.)
Of course, you can’t have cancer without wondering if/when it will come back. And then what? But I’m trying not to go there.
Instead, I’m celebrating the fact that, at least for now, it’s over.
And working 24/7 on growing some hair.
Friday, March 22, 2013
From An American Tune
The foreboding she felt as war in Iraq grew closer, more inevitable, deepened her
confusion and despair. Massive peace demonstrations around the world, petitions against the war flooded the internet, claims of faulty intelligence made by imminently trustworthy people did nothing to stop the clock ticking toward the showdown that most believed, for better or worse, had been planned for in the days after September eleventh.
When it finally came, Nora and Tom watched, mesmerized: the president at the podium
in his dark business suit, behind him a long, empty, red-carpeted corridor. Clever planning, they agreed: the image of him framed by the doorway, strong, silent, completely alone. When he spoke, the arrogant, in-your-face tone of the past months was gone and in its place the voice of reason. No smart-ass comments about Freedom Fries, no bragging about shock and awe, no threats about evil empires.
“My fellow citizens,” he said. “Events in Iraq have now reached the final days of
decision.” Then, lying as Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon had done before him, made his case for war.
In the morning Nora turned on the “Today Show,” to find that, though the war had not officially started, a logo had been assigned to it—and, beneath that logo, flanked by a huge map of the Middle East, Katie Couric, in a black suit, interviewed two generals, who touted amazing, “intelligent” bombs and, with obvious difficulty, restrained their enthusiasm describing the M.O.A.B.: “Mother of All Bombs.”
“A last resort,” one said.
“Of course, we hope not to use it,” said the other
They made Nora think of watching “Apocalypse Now” with Tom a few nights before. Robert Duvall crowing, “I love the smell of napalm in the morning!”
The whole broadcast mirrored the surreal quality of that movie as it proceeded. Duvall himself was on the show, teaching Katie how to tango—revealing spike heels and lacy black tights beneath the surprisingly short skirt of the black suit she’d worn in the presence of the generals. There was a feature on Saddam’s luxury bunker, another on arms brokering—dozens of men in a Baghdad gun store testing the heft of shoulder-held weapons, one of them cocking a pistol toward the camera “U.S.A,” he said, grinning. Another on a Chinook-flying grandmother with gray, coiffed hair, an American flag pin on her Army fatigues.
In Rockefeller Plaza, the usual screamers competed for a moment onscreen.
“Hey, Al! I’m twenty-one today!” a kid called.
His friend held up a cardboard Wisconsin Badger.
But Al headed for a woman holding up a baby in a pink snowsuit.
“This is an anti-war baby,” she said into the microphone, and he backed away.
Back in the studio, Elmo reassured the children. “Do you ever feel upset when you see or
hear something scary?” he asked in his sweet, scratchy little voice. “Elmo does, too! Talk to a grown-up! Draw a picture! Tell a story! Or—” He waved his fuzzy red arms wildly and hollered, “Wubawubawuba!”
“Stay calm,” a human citizen of Sesame Street advised parents. “Keep a routine.”
“Give them a big kiss, too!” Elmo said.
Perhaps strangest of all, there were regular updates on a “Today” employee undergoing a
colonoscopy. “She’s under conscious sedation,” the doctor said. “Relaxed, comfortable. But she thinks she’s awake, she wants to talk.” He smiled. “That’s what conscious sedation is.”
Click to Purchase
Thursday, March 21, 2013
"My Song" Marilyn Yanke
I’ve always loved to look at paintings and to write about paintings and painters, but a while back I began to feel that I was missing some fundamental piece of understanding. What does painting feel like? Where do visual ideas come from and how do they evolve? In 2007, I applied for a Creative Renewal Grant through the Indianapolis Arts Council, proposing a project that would allow me to attend Art Workshop International’s workshop for beginning painters in Assisi.
Lucky me: they said yes.
And I’ve been back every year since.
Think of it: two whole weeks in which writers and painters come together, write and paint all day—with a little time off to stroll through the charming town, maybe take a pass through the Basilica with its magnificent Giottos—then gather for a fabulous meal and fabulous conversation on the terrace as the sun sinks behind the mountains beyond.
Art Workshop deserves a post of its own—and I’ll do it. Soon.
But today I want to write about Marilyn Yanke, an amazing painter I met there, who’s become a mentor and friend—and, who, recently, gave me a gift that took my breath away.
She lives on a ranch way out in the middle of the Texas Panhandle and has to schlep herself and her art supplies though numerous airports to make her way to Assisi, where she sets up at one of the dozen or so easels positioned around the spacious painting studio...
...where I could sit and watch her paint forever—especially when she is making a painting of something inspired by an experience we shared.
One year the filmmaker Charles Hobson taught at Art Workshop, and the group spent an evening watching his documentary, “Harlem in Monmartre.” It chronicles the small, but very talented community of African American musicians who settled in Paris after World War II and created a vibrant music scene that introduced jazz to the French and flourished until the Germans occupied the city in 1940.
Marilyn is a quiet, reflective person. I doubt she said much, if anything at all, in the lively discussion that followed the film.
But in the next days, I watched her paint what she had felt.
Here’s one example of the whole series of paintings honoring Hobson's work born of that evening.
"Lost in the Moment"
For others, visit the figures gallery of her website at www.marilynyankee.com
I love all of these paintings, but my very, very favorite is the one you saw when when you clicked to read the blog post: "My Song." I love how the boy is so utterly present, yet also goes beyond the frame. I love the crisp white-blue of his shirt, the blue blur of the world behind him and the shine of his trumpet set on it. I love jazz-like the energy in the visible brushstrokes that made them. The stillness of the moment filled with a song that touches me deeply, even though I can’t hear it.
For me, the painting captures the essence of what it feels like when you’re making art: that paradoxical combination of not being here, in the real world, but at the same time being in touch with every single thing that world has ever taught you in the process of creating a world of your own—a story, a painting, a song.
It’s the part I know (but all too often forget) is the best part of writing, the only part that really matters. Making the “song” is what sustains me, what I need to stay in any kind of balance in the real world.
This is knowledge that Marilyn and I share.
Not long after I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I came home to find a big, flat cardboard box on my porch with Marilyn’s return address on it. I opened it with excitement, unwound the bubble wrap, and found “My Song” inside.
I’m not a crier, but I looked and looked at it and sat down and cried. Because the painting was such an amazing gift, of course, but mainly because Marilyn had understood I needed it. She knew how important it would be for me to remember who I am as I set out on that path—a writer, who needs to write, no matter what. She knew that what I would be going through was just another kind of song—and I would need to sing it.
I hung the painting over my writing desk. I look at it every morning and then, fingers on the keyboard, I begin to play my own song.
Monday, March 18, 2013
Here's Melissa Fraterrigo's take on "The Next Best Thing."
I was tagged by the amazing and prolific Barbara Shoup, the centrifugal force behind the Writer’s Center of Indiana, the author of seven books, a teacher and mentor to many writers in Indiana and beyond.
Meanwhile, here goes with the questions:
What is your working title of your book (or story)?
Where did the idea come from for the book?
I wrote a story, “Teensy’s Daughter,” which storySouth published in 2011, but I found that unlike other stories I had written, these characters were still trolling around in my brain. Gardner is an alcoholic under house arrest for causing the death of his girlfriend, Luann, and when the story opens, Gardner is certain Luann has been visiting him.
Gardner’s girlfriend also happens to be the daughter of his childhood enemy, Teensy. Once I started writing about these characters and their interconnected histories, I couldn’t stop, and my novel-in-stories was born.
What genre does your book fall under?
Literary fiction, unless some other genre would like to claim it.
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
The book encompasses four decades, so I’d need a youthful and strung-out Jeff Bridges for Gardner, Gary Oldman could probably play both a young and older Teensy, and a rough-looking Michelle Williams would electrify Luann.
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Teensy’s Daughter follows the inhabitants of Ingleside, Indiana, for four decades as their livelihood shifts from farming to tourism when an amusement park, Glory Days, is erected, amidst change and malice.
Do you have a publisher for your book yet?
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
I am still working on the manuscript but I am close.
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
The town of Ingleside is an agrarian community, but hard times come a knocking, and an amusement park is erected in the middle of town.
The Quickening by Michelle Hoover offered insight into the mindset of farmers, and if I can somehow strike even a close approximation to the carnival life depicted in Cathy Day’s A Circus in Winter, I will be beyond pleased.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
I’m one of those folks who has great intentions of writing a novel. I love to read novels—shouldn’t I be able to write one? Alas, I’ve tried, and time and again I have discovered that stories are my thing. The novel-in-stories has provided a framework to explore character and immerse myself in small-town life.
If the book is read in the order that it is arranged, in reverse chronology, readers will have the opportunity to understand how each occurrence in a character’s life has ramifications for other characters so that all of the stories in Teensy’s Daughter ultimately build on each other and at the end, offer resolution similar to that of a novel.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
Teensy’s Daughter follows a group of characters whose lives intersect, beginning in 2000, but then the book rewinds backward in subsequent stories to an earlier time to reveal a moment of crisis to explain why these same characters make the choices that they do.
Teensy’s Daughter explores what happens to a small community and its residents when its agrarian livelihood is replaced by the prosperous pageantry of an amusement park.
Check out Melissa's blog: www.melissafraterrigo.com
Friday, March 15, 2013
Okay, not real tattoos—but they do use them for radiation therapy in some cases: tiny freckles are tattooed onto your skin with a long, thin needle to mark the area to be radiated and guide the technicians in placing you on the table so that the radiation beams goes where they’re supposed to go. My “tattoos” were made with a marking pen, each covered with a round, clear Band-Aid to keep them from getting rubbed or washed away. And they’re not tiny freckles but substantial X’s. That particular part of my body looks rather like it’s been attacked by a toddler let loose with a black Magic Marker.
Radiation is every weekday at 3 p.m. I enter the parking lot reserved for radiation patients, check in with the nice lady in the parking hut, park—and walk past the line of emergency vehicles outside the ER, some with rescue dogs, waiting for their next call. Past the hospital entrance, where there are often patients in wheelchairs sitting just inside the glass doors and I wonder if they are waiting for someone or if they desperately needed a hit of the world in which they weren’t sick and hope, in time, to reenter.
There are more sick people in the radiation waiting room, some with an entourage of family members. Some, like me, are wearing hats or scarves or baseball caps to cover up their bald heads. Others look perfectly fine, just…grim. They don’t talk much, though once I heard a man say to his wife, “Well, we need to get it taken care of by turkey season. It’s coming right up, you know.” Yesterday, there was a woman chomping and smacking her gum, talking loudly on her cellphone, oblivious to everyone around her. “I’m at the hospital. I said, I’ll pick it up on my way my home.”
Fortunately, there’s not usually much of a wait before one of a number of very friendly technicians comes to get me and we wind through the gleaming corridors toward the radiation room. Invariably, there’s an exchange about the weather on the way.
“What’s it doing out there?”
B. It’s actually nice out! It’s so great to see the sun!
C. Ugly big dark clouds coming in from the west.
D. No sign of that snow yet.
E. Do you think spring will ever come?
F. Man, weather forecasting has to be the greatest job ever: they pay you to get it wrong.
It’s cold in the radiation room. The walls are dingy gray-white; the floor, institutional green. Shelves along one wall are lined with the molded pillows and pallets of patients currently undergoing treatment. The gray radiation machine sits on the far end of the room; a bed-shaped table, covered with a white sheet, my own pillow placed at the top.
There’s a small curtained dressing area and, there, I remove the clothing from the top part of my body and drape it with a towel. Then I lie on the table, position my head correctly on the pillow, raise my arms above my head, elbows bent, hands touching. The technicians position my body, tugging at the sheet beneath me to line up my “tattoos” with the red laser beams that emerge from the walls on either side of where I lie. When I’m perfectly positioned, they raise the table, then leave, closing the thick, heavy door behind them.
The motor starts; the huge disc at the top of the machine lowers, twists, and settles with the flat part facing my left side. My head is turned to the left on my pillow, and what I see looks like a small television screen with the shape my right breast reflected hazily in the glass. A closer look reveals that the screen is filled with narrow gray bars placed very close together. There’s a buzzing sound and they split horizontally, some moving down, some up to create the black space through which the radiation beams will come. With a second buzzing sound, the top bars begin to move down at different speeds until they meet the row of bars at the bottom. Then the bars reposition themselves and the buzzing occurs again as the machine delivers the second shot. It doesn’t hurt; in fact, I feel nothing at all.
Now the disc rises, pivots above me, and repositions itself on my right side to blast the area from which the lymph nodes were taken. Same thing: buzzing, two hits. I can’t see the screen this time because of my head placement, but now I can see the video monitor with my chart on it: my name and rows of numbers. As the machine does its job, the rows are highlighted orange, one-by-one.
It’s over in fewer than five minutes. The technicians return, lower the table.
I dress, we say, “Have a great evening/weekend/whatever,” and I head back out into the world.
Before starting my treatment, I talked to numerous people who’d gone through radiation therapy themselves. Those who experienced it ten years ago or more said it was like having a horrible sunburn for weeks; plus, it absolutely exhausted them. “I felt like I was walking in deep water all the time,” one friend said. Those with more recent experiences said that radiation had had little effect on them at all. One person said it energized her. “My house was never as clean as it was when I was undergoing radiation,” she told me. Wow, I thought. That would be nice. But it seemed way too much to hope for.
I’m more than halfway through my course of radiation now. I was right: “energized” was too much to hope for. But I feel fine, maybe a little tired—though nothing that a good nap can’t remedy. I’ve had none of the unpleasant “sunburn” effects that some radiation patients experience. (Maybe because of the green tea that my doctor instructed me to spritz on the radiation area four times daily—interesting, I think in light of how herbs and other natural substances were used to treat cancer before we had “real” drugs. Though I also apply a steroid cream every day.)
Plan for the worst, hope for the best. That’s my motto in dicey situations of all types, and it’s always served me well. Sometimes, though, the worst turns out to be something you didn’t imagine—and how can you plan for that? What I hadn’t imagined, hadn’t prepared for was that going to the hospital for radiation treatments five days a week for four and half weeks would remind me that I have cancer for at least an hour every single day. Which, I’ve got to say, is a little depressing.
I know. If this is the worst thing that’s happened to me throughout this whole ordeal I can hardly complain. And I’m not complaining. Just saying: radiation has had an effect on me that chemo, which I knew enough to be able prepare myself for, didn’t have.
Just seven more sessions after the one today.
By then, please let it be spring.