Having radiotherapy treatment is very different to having chemotherapy. On the plus side it doesn’t make me feel like I want to lie down on the floor and vomit. It doesn’t make my hair fall out, nor attack the linings of my mouth and throat. It doesn’t threaten to necessitate a blood transfusion.
A person of sound mind would favour radiotherapy over chemo any day of the week, given the choice.
But there are down sides too. The chemo treatment was only once a week, or once a fortnight. And, strangely, I felt more cared for. The whole chemo unit was set up to make one feel as comfortable as possible. There were the big easy chairs to snuggle into, blankets and pillows and, above all, nurses. The nurses were always there to hold my hand if I got frightened or to make me a cup of tea or just to have a friendly chat.
Radiotherapy is more impersonal. I arrive each afternoon. “Take a seat” says the receptionist. Then five or twenty-five minutes later she calls my name and says, “Please go on down.” I take the stairs to the basement and sit in another small waiting area. It is always hot and stuffy with a distinctly medical smell. My name is called again. Every day I see a different pair of radiographers. They are pleasant and professional but they’re not interested in chatting. They see patients every fifteen minutes all day long. The job requires a high level of concentration. There is no room for mistakes yet they must try to stay on schedule. They don't know me at all. My main interaction is with Bruce or, on one occasion so far, Bruce II. The whole procedure makes one very aware that one is on a cancer conveyor belt.
My radiographers-du-jour are Patti and Laura. I strip to the waist and assume the position on the bench with my arms above my head. They reel off their readings, adjusting the bench until my body is perfectly aligned in the crosshairs of their green laser beams. Then they leave the room. Once again I’m alone with Bruce and the ever-playing Elton John cd. It seems just like groundhog day. “Hello Bruce,” I say. Bruce says nothing, just stares at me with its big eye. Elton, however pipes up. In a concrete and lead lined basement he sings to a woman on a bench and a giant machine. At the top of his lungs he voices what, I am almost certain, Bruce is thinking:
“I want love, just a different kind
I want love, won't break me down
Won't brick me up, won't fence me in
I want a love, that don't mean a thing
That's the love I want, I want love”