The Cancer Diaries, Part 20


A weekend off from the long, daily drive and the treatment certainly seems like a treat these days. On weekends, I get to have an easy morning, leisurely cups of tea, do some writing, play some computer games, take a long walk with Susan and Bella (weather permitting), then enjoy a quiet afternoon of reading, more tea, and maybe some online gaming with a friend. The prospect of spending another five or more weeks driving back and forth, suffering increasing side effects while missing my leisurely mornings, doesn’t thrill me.

What choice do I have? That’s one of the things about cancer: it reduces the number of choices you have in life. You really can’t do anything or go anywhere without thinking about it. But at least on weekends, I think about it less.

I’m now experiencing more hot flashes, particularly at night. Susan even changed the duvet for a lighter cover because we both suffer them now. I still usually have a small dog and a cat or two sleeping against me, though, so I sometimes get hot quickly. A thrash of covers usually follows. Then the inevitable cooldown comes and I wrap myself up again.

I took a chance on the weekend and stopped putting a pad in my underwear. I had been wearing one ever since I had my catheter removed, back in mid-July. I started with the full diaper, but only for a day or so, then moved to a heavy-duty pad. I quickly was able to use a thin pad, though. And I’ve continued to do my Kegel exercises to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles because I don’t have a prostate to control my urine flow. I seem to have gained sufficient control, and not had any leak, even a tiny one, for the past couple of weeks. I’ve hesitated to stop using a pad before this “just in case,” but decided I’d had enough of them. And so far, it’s been fine.

However, since I began radiation treatment, my urine flow has reduced, which I suspect has something to do with the radiation scarring or hardening my urethra. Not sure what this bodes for my urinary future.

(As an aside, over the weekend I ordered some books from the UK, which I don’t expect to see until January, including the collected essays of George Orwell (the Everyman edition, which contains material not found in any of my current books), and a Hannah Arendt reader.)

Radiation treatment, 12th session

I was surprised to find a long lineup at the hospital entrance, leading outside the doors and a dozen or so people on the sidewalk waiting to get in. I joined the queue and slowly shuffled through the door, into the queue, and up to the screeners with the rest of the patients. But when I got to the waiting room for my treatment, I had another 30 minutes past my scheduled time to sit and read; with a full bladder, that’s not very easy. Although that distracted me, I managed to read a few pages from Alanna Collen’s 10% Human, and a few from Sy Montgomery’s fascinating book, Soul of an Octopus (I’m slowly penning a blog post about animal intelligence, consciousness, and sentience). Both are highly recommended.

Treatment went quickly once I was in. I asked to hear some Gregorian chants this morning. Although I’m not religious, I find some liturgical music like this very relaxing and enjoyable. But it proved a poor choice: the audio volume in the room is low and the fine vocal tones get lost in the humming of the machinery. Plus, my tinnitus doesn’t make it any better. 

I got my schedule for next week — Xmas is a day off, but I go back again the following Monday; no more than three days off are allowed. I met with the nurse after treatment and another wait, then finally met the oncologist I had spoken to on the phone previously. Nothing much to report to either: I’m still in the early stage of treatment and the side effects I’ve experienced so far have been light, but nonetheless annoying: mostly affecting my bowels, but also my urine flow.

Both nurse and doctor offered me options to take Flomax to improve urine flow, and other medicine to mitigate the hot flashes. I declined. I tend to avoid medication unless it’s really necessary or critical. If things get worse, I can always ask for them, but I’d rather just let it play itself out and see how it develops. Besides, Susan would chide me mercilessly if I took something for those flashes while she didn’t.

At least there was good news today to mitigate the ceasless stream of bad news: a COVID-19 vaccine has arrived in Canada, and the US Electoral College certified Biden’s win. As a surprise delight, on eBay I found the soundtracks of the Toho Godzilla films on two CD albums (one 1954-75, the other 1984-1999), and I’ve ordered both. (Sadly, I’ll have to rip the music to MP3 to hear it in the car because Toyota no longer provides vehicles with a CD player or an audio/aux jack to plug a portable one into. All I have is an AM/FM player with mediocre reception, or a USB port if I go to the trouble of ripping my music. It’s the least functional audio system I’ve had since the 1970s. Very driver-hostile decision, Toyota.)

Radiation treatment, 13th session

It snowed overnight and was -4C this morning, but with a windchill that made it feel like -12C. I decided to leave early, taking several minutes to clean the snow and ice off the car first. Roads were clear and the trip took no longer than normal. While Barrie was sunny and bright, Collingwood continued to see snow until later afternoon, well after I returned home.

There was another lineup at the entrance to the hospital, although not extending outside when I arrived. I counted 23 people shuffling up to the screeners who did NOT use the hand sanitizer stations. I despair for humanity when people are that stupid or selfish.

Arrived a bit earlier today, but was seen a few minutes earlier, too. Same as before: quick and easy. Listened to more Mahler today. Spoke to a couple of other patients in the waiting room. Had a small coffee before I left. Got into disc 27 of the audiobook on the way home. I’m not enjoying part two of Don Quixote as much as part one, but it’s still entertaining.

Hot flashes are more frequent now, even a few in the daytime, but usually of short duration.

I finally ordered Godzilla vs Biollante on Blu-Ray from an eBay seller. It has long been the only Godzilla film of the 32 in the franchise not in my collection (1989 release in Japan; licensed to HBO in 1992 for viewing in North America. It was released on DVD and Blu-Ray by Miramax in 2012, and by Lionsgate in 2014, but although Toho took back the rights after that, it doesn’t feature in any of the collections of films I have). I just couldn’t resist any longer. PS: Popular as they may be, I don’t consider the three anime Godzilla films worth collecting, but they are on Netflix should I care to watch.

Radiation treatment, 14th session

Quick trip in and out today, not even stopping for a small coffee before I headed home. Got back around 11:30 a.m., slightly more than two-and-a-half hours after I left.

I took my treatment today in a different room, with different therapists. Same service from RVH’s friendly staff, but somewhat different equipment. Room B has older hardware than Room A, and it shows. The machinery is bulkier, darker, moves more slowly, and makes ominous creaking noises as the arms rotate. The same sort of noises you hear in movies about submarines trapped at great depths while the hull plates start to collapse. With every creak my mind replayed scenes from Das Boot…)

Still, the process was the same, perhaps a few minutes longer, but I left none the worse for wear. I tried to listen to a classical playlist, but the machinery hum was a bit loud, although I recognized Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata in the background. Got partway into disc 28 in the audiobook on the way home.

NB: I saw Das Boot at a Toronto theatre with friends in the early 1980s, when it premiered in Canada. Powerful film.

Radiation treatment, 15th session

Treatment was scheduled 30 minutes earlier today, and back in the first room in which I had most of my treatments. As usual, of the patients queuing for the screeners, only three of about a dozen used the hand sanitizers. I even saw three people together, none of them wearing masks. WTF is wrong with people these days?

There was also a lineup at the entrance to the cancer centre, inside the main entrance. One gentleman in line told me Mondays and Thursdays were their busiest days, but the line moved reasonably quickly and I was downstairs to stand in another line to register for radiation. I didn’t have long until I was seen: in the waiting room, I barely managed to read about three pages of The Simulation Hypothesis by Rizwan Virk, about how we may all be living in a computer simulation. A thought-provoking idea, that.

I let the Xmas music being piped in continue through my treatment rather than ask for something else. It was more big-band style than the usual musical pablum you hear in our box and grocery stores, so it wasn’t nearly as offensive and numbing.

I was back home by 11, an hour earlier than usual, and just getting started on disc 30. 

Radiation treatment, 16th session

My drive today was easy and, at least going there was actually quite pretty: the sky was cloudless, the sun bright. It glinted off the ice and snow trapped in the trees and on the fields like a million diamonds. It made me want to stop and just look, enjoying the view. The moment reminded me of a story in one of my favourite books, Zen Flesh, Zen Bones, by Paul Reps:

A man traveling across a field encountered a tiger. He fled, the tiger after him. Coming to a precipice, he caught hold of the root of a wild vine and swung himself down over the edge. The tiger sniffed at him from above. Trembling, the man looked down to where, far below, another tiger was waiting to eat him. Only the vine sustained him. Two mice, one white and one black, little by little started to gnaw away at the vine. The man saw a luscious strawberry near him. Grasping the vine with one hand, he plucked the strawberry with the other. How sweet it tasted!

I’ve had a copy or two of that book ever since I first discovered it, back in 1968. I still have that copy, too; rather old and battered these days, but very well read.

There was another lineup at the hospital entrance, with patients filling the foyer, slowly shuffling forward to the screeners. Once in the cancer centre, I had to wait about 15 minutes longer for my appointment, giving me a chance to read some more of Virk’s challenging book. I was treated with the older machine, the same one I had had on Wednesday; creaking and groaning as it rotated. Didn’t bother with selecting music because it’s hard to hear over this machine.

Am mid-way through disc 31.

And now I am back, facing a weekend off, during which I can relax, drink tea, read, play computer games, and enjoy the company of my best friend. And, of course, our dog and cats. Looking forward to a shorter week coming up.

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