The Cancer Diaries, Part 24


Finish line aheadMy final week of radiation treatment is here. I should have felt elated that I would no longer be required to drive every day for an hour or more each way as I have for the past six weeks. Everyone told me it would go by in a flash, but it seems to have dragged on and on. I felt curiously empty when the new week dawned and the end was in sight.

It’s been a difficult time — almost a year since my PSA test showed something was seriously wrong, and seven months since my surgery. While most of the time, I’m optimistic, some days it’s hard to be upbeat. I guess that’s in part because there are still a lot of unknowables about my condition; I don’t know yet what my future holds. There is still more hormone treatment coming, and a likelihood of further treatment, like chemotherapy. Not looking forward to that.

Yet man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward.
Job 5:7

Emotionally, physically, and mentally this treatment process has sometimes been draining. A lot like walking uphill in knee-deep snow: you have to keep pushing yourself forward, one step at a time. Some days I feel fine; others I drag myself out of bed, stumble through my ablutions, and fall into the car to drive for treatment. All without any enthusiasm or optimism.

It’s been modestly expensive for a retiree, too. The cost of drugs, diapers, and pads, coupled with the daily cost of driving and parking have added up. I keep reminding myself that if we lived in the USA and had to pay the full costs of everything rather than have most of it covered by our healthcare system, we would either have become bankrupt, or I would have died without treatment. Probably the latter, since I would not want to put Susan into poverty. The number of Americans who claim bankruptcy because of medical bills is staggering. I am glad to live in Canada.

During the past year, I’ve not engaged in several of the activities I have previously enjoyed, because I was either in a frail, post-operative state, encumbered with a catheter and urine bag, or simply feeling listless and sore. I can’t recall the last time I made bread or pasta, two things I used to love to do. I missed a lot of long walks around town with Susan and our dog, too. I didn’t exercise — the rowing machine in the basement went unused. At least I’ve kept up my reading. Perhaps come spring I will be back to a more ‘normal’ life and recovered enough so that I can do everything as I did in the past.

I can take heart that my fears about bad weather have not materialized this winter. It’s been unseasonably dry and warm these past few weeks. Were I a religious man, I would thank whatever weather god(s) I followed for the lack of snow — Wikipedia lists dozens of weather deities, including Thor, Jupiter, Raijin, K’awiil, Horus, Marduk, and many more, but none listed specifically as a snow (or no-snow) god. However, different searches gave me Chione (Khione), Ullr, Frau Holle, Morana, Skadi, Boreas, Hoder, Iokul Frosti, Morozko, Polivah, and a few others who controlled the snow. Who knew there were so many? I suppose I should just thank them all. Isn’t it usual to sacrifice a politician at an altar for this?

But, I remind myself, as Dr. David Orenstein recently asked in a piece at the, “Doesn’t rational truth sustain us better than magical thinking?” He also asks,

Are we so stymied by the present that we neglect learning about the past? Or are we so consumed by the present that we cannot collectively imagine a positive future? And why, for instance, is science and expertise viewed by many with suspicion or as a threat?

Traditional winter weather will come later in the month, starting a day or two after my treatment is over. I take heart that spring is only seven weeks away (cue the laugh track). The next big, province-wide lockdown also gets put in place this week.

Radiation treatment, 30th session: Monday.

Cancer treatmentStill doing the new “boost” treatment that blasts the protons at a smaller, more compact region of my abdomen where my prostate once hung out. I can’t tell the difference, myself.

Had some online conversations with some American friends on social media about the difference between our healthcare system and their for-profit-screw-the-people system. As I’ve said in the past, had I been living in the USA and been diagnosed with cancer, I would have died because the costs of surgery, drugs, consultations, and treatment would have been beyond our reach.

It was an easy, clear drive, except for the asshole in the white pickup truck who clung to my rear bumper all the way from Collingwood to Barrie. The traffic was moving relatively quickly (90-95 km/h) most of the way; I couldn’t go faster because the traffic ahead was many cars deep. The density of oncoming traffic made it impossible for anyone to pass, and even if he did, he wouldn’t get past the long line of cars in front of me. So he tailgated me all the way, Once we got to the four-lane highway in Barrie, he roared past loudly with one of those puerile, loud pipes that show him even more of an asshole. But I suppose calling a pickup driver an asshole is pretty much a redundant term.

After treatment, I saw the nurse, then the oncologist for my final review. After this week, I have to monitor my own symptoms and hope my complaints improve. That won’t happen, they told me, for two to four months. If ever: the doctor warned me some people suffer permanent damage from radiation, particularly in their bowels and bladder. Not very encouraging.

A local friend who has a prostatectomy a couple of years back told me recently it took him a year for his bowels to get back to being “almost normal.”

I’ll see the urologist in a few weeks. After that, my oncologist told me, I’ll get blood tests and consultations with either him or her every six months. I’m not sure for how long, but will ask the urologist.

On the way there and back I listened to a couple of podcasts about Shin Godzilla, and really enjoyed the Godzilla vs. Podcast Zero one. It’s also nice to hear others (who are much more knowledgeable) praise a movie I thought was good. And it made me want to watch the film again (if you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it!), which I did when I got home.

Godzilla for me isn’t just a fun movie franchise any longer: it’s a metaphor for my cancer.  Ever notice how often radiation is part of a Godzilla film? There’s a personal aspect to this.

Radiation treatment, 31sth session: Tuesday.

Another earlier session today, an hour more than my usual time. Although there was a little ice on the roads and windshield this morning, the drive to Barrie was fairly quick and without problems. I listened to another Godzilla review podcast on the way there and back, this one about Invasion of Astro-Monster (1965). It’s fun, but the speakers say “like” too often for my taste, making it a jarring experience for me. But it’s about Godzilla, so I put up with it. I saw the film most recently early last year, but now I want to watch it again.

This morning I also listened to some West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band during my treatment. Only got to hear two of their songs, but I liked to hear them even so. Nothing like a bit of 60s’ psychedalia.

Another thought: I always read obituaries that talk about people losing their “battle” with cancer. It’s not a battle. People with cancer have no armies, no weapons to bring against it. We suffer through treatment regimens, we sometimes survive, and we sometimes die. It’s mostly out of our hands. My contribution to my “battle” is to drive to and from the treatment centre. That’s like being the cook in an army, not a general.

This week I decided not to shave, and let my beard grow in. In part, I want to find out if the hormones have affected my hair growth and this is an easy way to learn. And simply because I got bored shaving for now. I can resume later, maybe in the spring. But I may change my mind once I have more time in the morning for my ablutions.

Radiation treatment, 32nd session: Wednesday.

Why do people coming to the hospital to drop off or pick up patients insist on stopping on the pedestrian walkway, right in front of the doors? They force pedestrians to walk around them, between cars whose drivers may not be paying attention (I see far too many looking down at their phones while stopped there). This lack of basic consideration for others really annoys me. It’s like when people here park their vehicles on the sidewalk and block pedestrian traffic — especially in winter when snowbanks force pedestrians to walk into the road to get around the vehicles.

And why won’t so many adults use the hand sanitizing stations? Four people ahead of me simply walked in and past them despite a large sign that asks people to “Stop! Wash Your Hands.”

And again I see people coming in with a mask pulled down under their nose, not covering it (one man even had his mask on inside out), as if face masks were some hugely complex technology they couldn’t figure out.  Little wonder we need another, more stringent lockdown. People are not paying attention, or maybe they gave up caring about others. They sure as hell have given up paying attention to directional arrows for supermarket aisles.

Got to listen to some Bonzo Dog Band songs from the late ’60s or early ’70s this morning during treatment, and told Patrick, one of the radiation therapists, a bit about their history and how member Neil Innes had gone on to work with Monty Python.

One the way there and back, I listened to more episodes of Godzilla vs Podcast Zero, this time about the 2019 Godzilla: King of the Monsters film and another about the original 1954 Godzilla film. Really enjoying these because I’m learning lots of detail about the films from some really hardcore fans, and what to look for in future viewings. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to hear them all in the car, since my weekday trips end this week. But I will try to listen to them at home on a computer during our lockdown.

Radiation treatment, 33rd session: Thursday.

That’s it for me: seven weeks of radiation treatment have gone by. Despite what some people said, it didn’t just fly by. It crawled. The daily two-plus-hours drive was the biggest culprit. 

One thing I’ve noticed, and suspect it’s mostly the result of the hormones, is that I feel sexless. Not un-masculine, and not feminine, not even androgynous; I simply have no sexual inclination or urges. I feel neutral. I’m not sure if that will change once the hormone therapy ends, but I am scheduled for another injection next month, so it won’t happen any time soon.

The traffic on the drive today was moderate, but in Barrie you couldn’t tell from the number of vehicles on the road there was a provincial lockdown in effect. The only incident was another asshole in a white pickup who had to tailgate closely until he could pass and get another 20-30 metres ahead of me.

The lineup at the hospital was long; it should have gone outside the revolving door, but impatient people kept coming in rather than waiting for the line to move, so the group at the end of the line was bunched up far closer than the guideline of 2 m apart, and no staff person was there to control the influx. And again I saw most of them walk by the hand sanitizer without bothering to use it.

I was waiting in the line to enter the cancer centre when every cell phone in the building rang with an amber alert message. It was loud and startling to hear it. The province broadcast a lockdown/stay-at-home message to every cell phone. I can only hope that at least some people heed the warning.

I barely had time to read a page of my Shakespeare biography when I was called. In my final treatment, I listened to a little Mozart. Then I thanked the therapists for their time and effort, and left.

Near the reception desk in the radiation treatment area is a large gong with a message inviting patients to ring the gong when they have finished treatment. In all my time there, I only heard (saw) one person tap it, and lightly: she did it with apparent reluctance. The sound didn’t exactly ring through the floor. I suspect many people don’t want to attract more attention to themselves and their illness. Perhaps for many of us, it doesn’t feel like a victory, as much as a stalemate that has taken a long time to arrive. I didn’t ring the gong when I left. It reminded me a bit too much of a Dilbert cartoon:


In the car I finished listening to the podcast review of the 1954 Godzilla film, then began one about the 2014 Legendary Godzilla movie.

After today, I get a couple of weeks to recover. Then I have to get more blood tests, another hormone shot, and a visit to my urologist. How much I actually recover post-radiation I can’t tell in advance, but I sure hope my bowels get noticeably better soon. I will ask my care providers about getting my COVID-19 vaccine, too, although I don’t expect to be able to get one until late summer at the earliest, but probably not until fall given the clumsiness of the province’s vaccine distribution.

And that’s it for now: not much more to write until I have my conversations with the urologist and oncologist about what happens next. I’ll do a followup next month once I have something to add unless it arises in the meantime. Since there’s little I can actually do aside from wait, I’ll just continue on as I have been. As Edward Fitzgerald translated the 51st stanza in the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam (one of my favourite works of poetry*):

The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.

* This is a lovely site about the Rubaiyat by a very talented woman who is deeply passionate about both the poetry and the publications.

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One comment


    “I’m starting treatment and will keep you posted on my recovery,” he continued, adding that he was “profoundly grateful for the love and support from my family and friends.”

    I can empathize. I hadn’t realized before this that Bridges also had cancer. The Big Lebowski is one of my favourite films, too.

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