Friday, July 3, 2009

10 - After the Radiation

Week 9

The doctors warn me that the worst happens after the radiation stops. Who would guess. The radiation is nothing one dose at a time. But the cumulative effect of all the dosages together is huge. My total dosage is not all that large compared with some more resistant tumors in the head, neck, lungs. But large enough to be debilitating.

Week 10

I told almost no one until it was nearly over. Not even my brother. I didn't tell him until week six or so. We didn't tell our best friends here until after the first week of chemo and radiation. Another friend from out of town was coming in for an annual event, the Texas Book Fair that happens in Austin every November 1st, give or take. I kept putting him off about whether I would be able to participate in the activities, which I have always done enthusiastically. So I had to tell him. Even the rest of the family was kept out of the picture until it was 90% over. My wife had to tell her mother and siblings because it interfered with her plans to visit her aging mother, who is recovering from breast cancer. It was probably a mistake to keep family and friends in the dark, but that's in the past.

Through all this, I have to say, the company that I work for was great. No pressure, help with very understanding insurance, setting up medical leave. And incredibly luckily, it was a slack period at work when my absence for several months was not an actual disaster for my job. Come late December, January, I can pick up after a long hiatus and yet be not awfully behind.

After the skin comes back more or less to normal, and after I get back some energy, I find that I am horribly atrophied and weak. Almost four months of total slothitude, lying in pain- and drug-induced catatonia for days at a time. I have to exercise regularly, gradually increasing. Start with a slow jaunt on the treadmill. Takes weeks to build up to a mile of hard marching; three months up to three miles, marching almost every day. And some specific muscle movements. And some work with free weights.

It is weeks before I can even open the laptop and move the mouse around to browse the web. My companion for the weeks of enervation is a TV with a remote. Thank God for midday Law & Order reruns. And a DVD player.

One friend generously inflicts two dozen DVDs on me. His taste in movies is a trifle grim, but they help to pass the time. When I say grim, I mean that, for instance, he supplies plot summaries and ratings for all the movies, and the ratings are in razor blades, not stars. Yes, the razor blades represent how suicidal watching the movie will make you feel.

For much of the time, it is all that I can do to hold the remote and push the buttons. BTW, we have to go out and get a new DVD player because our old cheap one won't play some of his disks. Specifically, it won't fast forward some of them. So we get a new, high tech one, on sale at Fry's for $100; no, actually, it's on weekly special for $60; no, actually, it's marked down further at the cash register to $50. How can I resist? Very high tech, plays everything, even plays at 140% with the sound faster but pitch-preserved. Some disks it can play at 200%. And a good remote, too. Fifty bucks, can't beat it.

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