The Cancer Diaries, Part 22


Three days off over Xmas from the daily drive felt like a longer holiday, although it wasn’t enough time for my bowels to heal properly. So far an irritable bowel, reduced urine stream, and my hot “flashes” (or surges) are the only side effects I’ve noticed. They are, however, enough to make me less than comfortable at times.

I was warned I might feel fatigued, too; not just the normal state of being tired from too little sleep (what with pets and hot “flashes”), but deep fatigue. Not yet, but I still have three weeks of treatment to go, so perhaps it will come in the future.

For anyone wishing a “white Christmas” this year, we certainly got it. Starting Friday, Dec. 25, it snowed continually for three days and I shovelled or blew snow from the front walk and driveway numerous times. The snow and cold curtailled our dogwalking somewhat since Bella is a small, shorthaired dog and gets cold feet easily. Most walks were a mere circle around two or three blocks (800-1,300 m). We did manage one nice, long walk through Harbourview Park on Sunday, the only real outing we had. But it was a pretty weekend: I spent my time indoors: blogging, and playing World of Tanks and some other computer games when not reading. Outside, I shovelled.

And while it’s not cancer-related, as my Xmas present to myself, I ordered an ASUS gaming monitor (on sale) for my laptop, in large part to be able to both play games and to watch movies (the former on my laptop, the later through a Blu-ray/DVD player). I like the B-films from my large collection of scifi and monster B-films. Susan doesn’t care to watch, so I have to see them by myself. The gaming monitor has a headphone jack that will let me watch them without disturbing her with the sounds of some rubber-suited monster stomping on papier mâché cities.

What worries me is the weather forecast for the coming week: snow, wind, and cold. That doesn’t bode well for traffic conditions. But perhaps the weather will be mild enough it doesn’t stay around for very long.

Radiation treatment, 21st session

Warmer temperatures brought rain that has begun to wash away the snow. The ski hills at Blue Mountain would be weeping over the warm weather, if it weren’t for the fact they are closed for the COVID lockdown. The drive to Barrie was quick, dry,  and painless. The treatment was quick, and painless, too.

The hospital coffee shops, gift shops, and a lot of the medical and social services were shut down for Boxing Day. The cancer care treatment centre remained open. No big lineup was at the entrance waiting to get in, today, and almost everyone ahead of me was headed for the cancer centre, as I was. The atrium was eerily empty of people.

Today, it seemed the waiting rooms held mostly people in poor condition, suffering, and perhaps in pain. It felt more like a place where people wait to die rather than come to get treatment. Compared to most of the people I saw in my short time there, I am very much alive. Still, it is somewhat depressing to again be reminded that everyone in this room is here for one reason: we all have cancer.

I didn’t have too long to wait for my treatment, but I did manage to get a few pages further into Edward Humes’ Door to Door: The Magnificent, Maddening, Mysterious World of Transportation. it’s a fascinating book that gives me a whole new insight into shipping, consumer goods, transportation, cargo containers, and all things related. Got my schedule for next week, and spoke to the nurse to briefly review my treatment, as we usually do every Monday.

This week I also get New Year’s Day (Friday) off, so only four days of treatment. Another three-day break awaits me. Maybe the weather will prove more amenable to walking.

I spent a frustrating hour or two trying to set up the new monitor when I got home. It works fine with a direct connection to my gaming rig or a DVD player, but shows no signal when I hook it up through either of my two HDMI switch boxes. Sigh… I don’t know if it’s the switches or the monitor that’s not playing well. I will continue to tinker, but I suspect I need a bi-directional HDMI splitter cable. Sigh.

Radiation treatment, 22nd session

Today’s session marked two-thirds of my journey through radiation treatment. I’ve been reading Wade Davis’s superb telling of the early expeditions to explore and climb Everest — Into the Silence — and there are moments in the story when the party struggling up the slopes reaches a point that marks a first, a new plateau or ridge, or a new height. Today, with this session ended, I reached my own plateau.

Seems like it’s been even longer than 22 sessions. I sometimes feel like I’ve been going to treatment for many months. If you asked me if I noticed anything different (aside, that is, from my previously mentioned side effects), I’d have to say no. I didn’t feel anything (much) when I was diagnosed with cancer, and I don’t feel anything now. Of course, having my prostate removed means I lack one of the organs that might have felt something.

It was another quick session, although I waited longer to get in because I arrived a little early. The coffee shop was open and I got a small coffee before I left for home.

Sometimes driving on Highway 26 is scary, especially when big transport trucks race toward me, their outer wheels in the middle of the road, spraying slush over the windshield and causing a temporary lack of vision. So many vehicles speed on the highway that doing 90 km/h in an 80 zone feels like I’m a snail holding everyone else up. And every pickup truck driver in the county seems to ride a metre or less behind me, looking for the opportunity to pass at 120 km/h. Hwy 26 gets lots of traffic, and has long been in need to widening and upgrades, but successive provincial governments have ignored it.

Today I started to listen to an audiobook of Michael Crichton’s novel, Next. I used to really like Crichton but felt that since his Jurassic Park his novels have had a reactionary morality about them. Nonetheless, it’s a good story: well read, and it keeps me entertained.

Radiation treatment, 23rd session

Today is the 38th anniversary of the day Susan and I met. It was actually in a pub, The Unicorn, in Toronto, that we met and started talking. We seemed to hit it off, so I asked to see her again, she said yes. We’ve been together ever since. First date, about a week later, we went to Toronto’s first and, at the time, only Japanese restaurant: Nikko Gardens on Dundas Street. Like the pub where we met, it has long since gone. But we both have fond memories of that dinner.

We usually celebrate by going out for dinner on New Year’s Eve to combine events, but, of course, that’s not happening this year. Instead, we plan to order a meal from a local restaurant and dine in front of the TV, probably watching some British show on Acorn TV (a streaming service we think is much better than Netflix because 1) it has great British, Australian, New Zealand, and other international shows, and 2) it’s cheaper by about half). But maybe we have an unwatched movie I can dig out Susan might agree to watch (not, unfortunately, a Godzilla film).

I know what you’re thinking: how could she stand being with that bozo all this time? All the trials and tribulations I have brought to her: why has she put up with me? I’ve often asked myself that, but am happy simply to know she has stayed with me through all our ups and downs. She’s my shoulder to lean on when this whole cancer thing gets to me.

The road was wet, but traffic was light going to Barrie, with no issues. I got in a bit early, and was delighted that the receptionist at the centre greeted me by name as I registered. First time that has happened since I started going there. I suppose it shows how many times I’ve been there: I’m now a familiar mask-covered face.

In the waiting room, I spoke briefly to a woman who I’ve chatted with before, but had no time to read (my Essays of George Orwell) before I was taken into the treatment room. Unfortunately for me, the music system piped a couple of country music songs through the system during my treatment. Despite a strong urge to get up and treat the speakers out of the ceiling, I remained still and suffered in silence.

Portable Hannah Arendt ReaderComing back, it rained all the way from Barrie to past Wasaga Beach, where it began to snow. The traffic was heavier and the speeding transport trucks threw up walls of slush to blind oncoming drivers. I was surprised there were no accidents, myself included. A couple of adrenaline moments, but I got home safely. And I discovered I received a copy of the Portable Hannah Arendt Reader in the mail. I’ve read some of her work, but wanted to read more. This seemed a good selection of her overall writing.

Most days I think I handle my cancer pretty well: I may not be upbeat all the time, but I’m seldom anxious and never depressed. I try to be pragmatic and Stoic. After all, it’s like the weather: all the moaning and griping doesn’t change anything, so why bother? But sometimes the reality of having cancer and the weight of my own mortality rest more heavily on my shoulders. The side effects I am suffering seem to be more bothersome; constant reminders of my illness.

Some nights I awaken and lie in the dark thinking about it, bleak, dark thoughts that make it harder to get back to sleep. I am ever grateful for having Susan to come home to and give me a hug when I enter the house. She can make me smile again.

Radiation treatment, 24th session

Today, in the final day of 2020 — a difficult year for so many of us, but perhaps the worst year of my own life — I started my “boost” sessions. These are the same process and time for me, but the radiation therapists tighten the beam so it is more focused on the cancerous area. I’m not sure why they’re called “boost” but such it is. My next ten sessions will be these “boost” events.

This is a landmark day for me, if perhaps not quite the “still point of the turning world” as T.S. Eliot wrote about. It represents the start of the second phase of this segment of treatment, with only two more weeks ahead of me. It lends me hope that in a few weeks, my suffering intestines, and the marvellous flora and fauna that inhabit them, may start their recovery.

This morning I finished my Saugeen County kefir, my Iogo yogurt, and my Dorset Cereals’ muesli. Symbolic: I get to open new containers of each on the first day of the next year. And when I got home, we finished the last of our Tetley tea. We’ll open our box of Barry’s tea tomorrow, too.

Travel we relatively easy, although slower in town where the streets are icier than the highway. The therapists were running a little behind today, so I got to spend a half-hour reading from my collection of Orwell’s essays. I’m already well into disc 6 of the 11-CD Crichton audiobook.

I am off for another three days, but back again on Monday. This will be a sedate New year’s Eve for us and, we hope, for all of us. We can only keep this coronavirus at bay if we stop gathering, wear masks, wash our hands frequently, and stay apart. I hope there are very few selfish, inconsiderate folk who disobey these rules tonight.

I’ll be back with you in 2021.

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