It’s been six years since I wrote this, and I am officially a cancer survivor.
I got through it. You can, too.
What follows is how it was in 2017.
The cancer is that bright blob in these three images. (Click for bigger pictures.)
It has gobbled up the radioactive sugar-water they injected an hour earlier and the PET Scan, Positronic Emission Tomography, shows where the sugar ended up.
Everything else is dimmer because it’s not as voracious. Some organs, the liver and kidneys for example, are squeezing some of the sugar out so they are a little brighter, but not as bright as the tumor.
I think of the malignancy as about the size and character of a big cockroach. That’s also a fair description of the feeling; it just sits there knowing I can’t get at it.
Yeah, it’s not pleasant.
If the cockroach idea seems revolting, then you are properly appreciating my attitude toward the cancer: it is a horrible creature and I want the damn thing out!
So, with the doctors and nurses help, we are poisoning it, and also any little parts that may have broken off.
That’s the Chemotherapy I’ve received over the past five weeks. Chemo’s goal is to kill any cancer cells floating around anywhere in my body. And if it helps kill the cockroach, all the better!)
And burn it to death.
That’s the high-energy beam of protons. I get that five times a week, Monday through Friday, for a total of twenty-five whacks. I don’t see (or smell or taste) a thing, but it’s killing the cockroach.
In the left-most image, you can imagine the stream of particles coming in and up from the bottom left through the black (air in the lung) and passing under the big round pink blob to reach the tumor. The beam passes just above the spine and the protons are powered up to the exact amount of energy so they penetrate skin, bone and whatever, but then stop-come to a complete halt-inside the tumor. The energy in the beam accumulates in the tumor and literally cooks it.
That’s the first half of the radiation treatment.
The bed is then swung around 180 degrees and a second treatment, this time from the right, shoots in and burns the tumor from that side.
Each “zap” is a series of brush strokes that, a line at a time, “paint” the cancer with high-energy particles. The beam is very tightly focused and is directed-stroked-across the tumor until the whole thing, and every level within it, has been exposed.
A Faint Hiss
During treatment, I can hear each stroke. (The sound comes from several feet away-it’s not protons hitting flesh.) The staff Physicist who does the energy calculations was surprised when I correctly reported they do fifty-seven strokes from each side. He didn’t know there was a sound and he was mystified as to its origin. (For safety reasons, no one is in the treatment room except me when the beam is on, so there’s no way he can directly hear what I hear.) Each stroke sounds like someone clearing their throat. The technicians who run the equipment said they’ve never heard it either but, at my description, they nodded and said other patients have given similar reports.
There’s a one-second stroke and then a two-second silence. That repeats fifty-seven times. Then the bed is spun around and the process repeats with another fifty-seven strokes.
The Physicist noted each batch of protons takes about two seconds to accelerate to the correct energy level inside the synchrotron down the hall. That’s the pause between strokes; building up the next batch to fire into and torch the monster.
This coming Tuesday, that cockroach should be dead, dead, dead. No more twitching limbs, no mashing mandibles, no antennae flicking about in my throat.
Cut It Out
All that remains is surgically removing its carcass along with anything it may have pooped on. Restructuring the plumbing is most of what the surgeon will be doing.
Will the cockroach be completely, fully, irredeemably dead? The pathology report during surgery will let the surgeon know.
Did the cockroach poop into the nearby lymph nodes by which cancer cells could then have traveled (metastasized) to other parts of the body? The surgeon will take out any suspects, and again, the Pathology Department will let him know.
Sometime in March.
And then we watch, meticulously, for any returning crawlers.
None came back.