The Cancer Diaries, Part 19


I was fortunate in being able to get my tooth fixed within 48 hours of losing a portion of it. I hadn’t expected to be able to see my dentist for at least a week, maybe even more, but there was an opening, a cancellation, and I grabbed it. I had a vision of having to spend a week or more eschewing tough or crunchy foods to avoid having another piece of enamel break away from around the old filling. No morning muesli, no peanuts or crunchy peanut butter, nothing too chewy or crusty like the sort of bread I prefer, no olives in case one had a fragment of pit in it. Sigh. Thinking about that on top of my daily drive to treatment made me rather tetchy. But I was spared the distress and now have a repaired tooth. Tip of my hat to Dr. Kemp and his staff.

Still, I was feeling a bit low, over the weekend. Not depressed; just off my feed. Sluggish, tired, lacking my usual oomph. Not sure if it’s a side effect of treatment, the grey, dreary weather, or my general lack of deep sleep. I am missing our usual morning walks, our cups of tea together, and our chatting. Susan and I normally walk our dog 2-4 km every morning after breakfast, often into the parks or along our trails, but since I’m off for early treatment, I don’t get to join her. It’s not just the exercise I miss, but the enjoyment of being with her, and the calming effect of walking in the woods or by the water, or just the pleasure of walking around my small home town. And I regularly play online games with a friend out of province, often daily (when time and circumstances permit), but of late he’s been recovering from eye surgery and unable to play, so even the fun of that stress relief has been missing. At least I still have my books to read.

To top it all off, I’ve had a bit of upset stomach/bowels this weekend, possibly a side effect of the radiation, although it seems a bit early for that. Might be food, or stress-related, too.

Controlling one’s bladder and bowels is the first step we make towards independence as a human; a significant milestone in our development. It is the moment we, as a species, can metaphorically start to leave the nest, and not be entirely dependent on others. Anything affecting that control later in life, let alone losing it, has a deep psychological effect. It feels like we’ve fallen back a step, become dependent again.  That only adds to the stress and anxiety of having cancer.

And now I begin my second week of daily radiation treatments.

Radiation treatment, 7th session

Easy drive there and back today. Got my schedule for the following week: similar morning times as before. I was seen almost as soon as I arrived, which meant little time to read. Before treatment, I asked to hear some Vivaldi, which was done via their computer music service. I got a bit of the Four Seasons, followed by another piece which I couldn’t hear very well, but believe it was Bach. I suspect it came from someone’s mixed-music playlist. What little experience I’ve had with streaming music services suggests this sort of mash-up is the way it goes: you ask for one artist or composer and get others in the mix. It’s hard to argue with a free service, but it would drive me crazy if I paid for it.

After my session, I had a 10-15 minute wait to read until the nurse collected me to discuss my treatment to date. Again, I had little to offer since I’ve only had a week’s treatment and still have six more to come. As far as I’ve been told, the most noticeable side effects don’t happen until later. Still, we did discuss issues around bladder and bowel problems that might occur. I mentioned that my bowels might be a bit unsteady, but am not sure if the radiation is the culprit.
We also chatted about the Acorn streaming TV and movie service, which I consider superior to Netflix because it has so many good British, Australian, and New Zealand shows. And we chatted about reading and books, always a subject I like to discuss.

Am on disc 18 of the Don Quixote audiobook, starting the second part.

Radiation treatment, 8th session

One disturbing thing I’ve noticed of late is how few people use the hand-cleaning stations at the hospital when they arrive. There are two stations with multiple outlets for sanitizer in the entrance. Everyone who comes in has to pass by them both before they get to the screeners. Yet yesterday and today I was one of only two of perhaps 24 people total who actually used them. Little wonder we’re having such a difficult time containing COVID-19: far too many people are ignoring basic protocols and precautions.

Another thing I noticed in increasing numbers, although I’ve seen it in local stores more often, is people wearing a mask pulled down and not covering their noses. It’s as if they didn’t understand how masks or breathing work, even though neither is complex or difficult. That sort of ignorance is also very disturbing and contributes to the continued spread of the virus.

But as for today’s treatment: all went well. An easy drive, fast in and out; I hardly had time to open one of my books this morning. Got to hear some Pink Martini music during my brief treatment. And I’ve started disc 20.

Radiation treatment, 9th session

Pretty much the same as yesterday. Still seeing more people NOT cleaning their hands at the entrance than using the sanitizer stations. Why doesn’t the hospital have a staff person to speak to incoming patients and remind them that they should CLEAN THEIR HANDS? These are adults, not children, but they ignore the protocols like they were 6 years old. I even saw a woman enter without a mask, although she got one from the screener and wore it.

I’m able to ask for my choice in music, too, which allows me a few brief moments to listen to something I like as opposed to the generic music that I often hear on most FM stations (we listen almost exclusively to Classical FM these days because the other local FM stations either play the same old top-40 tunes — even when it’s “classic” rock — or the modern, derivative pablum, that they bore us). Today I listened to John Coltrane.

I was in and out of the treatment room so quickly I didn’t have a chance to read more than a few paragraphs of one of my books. I got a small coffee from the atrium coffee shop and watched people wandering around the open spaces ignoring distancing rules as they approached too close to people — myself included — sipping their coffees, maskless, at the scattered tables.

Radiation treatment, 10th session

Forgot my water bottle, and had to turn around and go back for it. Only lost a few minutes, though, and still arrived on time. I have to drink water during the drive to make sure I arrive with a full bladder, but can’t leave with one because it’s too long a drive for comfort with a full bladder.

Minor problem with the hospital’s parking machines: it wouldn’t read my pass card, and it seems to be an issue with the hardware rather than my card.

A man in front of me — somewhat older than I — at the entrance lineup was actually reading his book as he waited to be screened. An Ian Rankin novel. I was impressed: I see so few people reading while they wait for anything here. I thought I was the exception. Nice to know there are some more of us readers left, although unfortunately, none seem to be on our local municipal council. But I digress.

My bowels are still giving me some issues, although nothing serious (yet), and I’m starting to get those hot flashes I was warned about; not quite volcanic, yet, but uncomfortable. Wakes me up at night, tossing covers off, and I already get too little sleep. 

Managed to read two whole pages of the latest Murakami novel (Killing Commendatore) before I was taken into the treatment room. I had also brought along the Holland translation of The Histories by Herodotus, but I never got the chance to open it (I am about halfway through it, but keep getting distracted by other tomes; I had hoped the waiting room might be a place without such distractions). Skipped the coffee this morning and drove right home.

Almost reached the end of disc 22.

(Thursday evening was lightened up by Susan attending a virtual seminar on women, finance, and investing, hosted by Step Fitzgerald of Scotiabank. Very informative for both of us. It was followed by a virtual wine tasting hosted by Robert Ketchin of Georgian Hills Vineyards, showing off his company’s excellent Maréchal Foch red and Seyval Blanc white wines. And he explained all about northern climate wines, sugars, and acidity in an entertaining way. If you haven’t had a chance to sample these wines, I recommend you try them. Plus he introduced us to two excellent Ontario cheeses from the local Dags and Willow storeLindsay Bandaged Goat Cheddar and a Five Brothers hard cow milk cheese; both highly enjoyable).

Radiation treatment, 11th session

The drive there and back is becoming habitual in that even though I am alert when doing it, it’s become so familiar I can’t recall much if any of it once I get to my destination. Managed to listen to part of disc 24 in the audiobook today.

Once again I noted people entering the hospital and ignoring the hand sanitizers. it’s a good thing I’ve already lost any faith in humanity’s collective common sense, let alone wisdom (the election and continued support for Donald Trump and his Repugnicans killed whatever faith I had left…).

Had a chance to chat briefly with another man awaiting treatment this morning. He had surgery in July, same time as I did, and has the same lengthy period of treatment, so we compared notes. He said he’s “excreting more” as a side effect, and I was thinking the same of myself (t’s one of the side effects they warn you about). I didn’t mention the extra mucous in the stool, but plan to discuss it with the nurse, Monday. Hoping it doesn’t get much worse, and the cure becomes worse than the disease.

He also noted he had stopped wearing his underwear pad a week ago, and only this week I told Susan I would stop wearing mine this weekend. See how that goes. Funny the personal, even intimate things you talk about with strangers in the cancer care centre, isn’t it?

I’ve also noted I feel more tired of late, but not fatigued, just draggy and slow. Might be from the radiation, or just lack of long, deep sleep.

I wasn’t able to read anything more than a paragraph before I was called in for treatment because I had been chatting during my brief wait. I had brought only two books this morning, including the Murakami and Holland, but will have to wait to read them until it’s bedtime tonight.

Listened to a bit of Mahler while I was being irradiated; nice piece, familiar, although I’m not sure which symphony was called up. I have a CD set of all Mahler symphonies I should listen to this weekend to figure out what I heard. 

I’ve gotten to recognize both staff and returning patients, and nod or say hello to them when we meet or cross paths. Funny how the weekday schedule puts me back into looking forward to weekends, even though being retired every day should be the same. Two days off just seems like such a treat.

Five more weeks of treatment to go. I won’t be done with this stage until mid-January.

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Ian Chadwick
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