It’s five days until I start radiotherapy, which means that it’s three weeks and five days until I have to desperately scrabble through my big, stupid head for something else to write about. With this in mind, I may as well take advantage of being vaguely interesting whilst I still can and quickly update you on the goings on since I was fitted for my mask. The mask looks harrowing by the way, like a cheap fruit bowl that a severed head has been catapulted into at an incredible velocity.
I’ve had to wear it twice in the past two weeks. Firstly, for a CT scan to pinpoint where I’ll be treated and, secondly, for a radiotherapy simulator which basically involves all the fun of radiation therapy but without the hassle of being exposed to perilously high levels of nuclear energy. The latter was my first experience of having any treatment in a cancer-specific ward - all of my chemotherapy took place in a haematology building - which very much shifted the dynamic of how ill I can currently consider myself. I felt like an utter fraudster swaggering around with my hipster haircut as almost everyone else was head-scarved and sobbing.
I was taken through to the simulator room by a very short nurse, a spectacle which reminded me of when Veruca Salt’s father is escorted out of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory by a tiny Oompa-Loompa. Walking in to the place, I was disappointed that the radiotherapy machine wasn’t quite as demonic and intimidating as I imagined it would be. I’d been expecting the exact same contraption that nearly reduced James Bond’s cock and balls to a cinder in Goldfinger, but it’s more like an enlarged version of my grandmother’s sewing machine.
The nursette asked me to take off my t-shirt and sit down whilst they awaited the arrival of my radiologists and, after about ten minutes of sitting down pointlessly semi-naked, two doctors and three nurses came in and I was introduced to each of them. The main outcome of this was the realisation that a handshake doesn’t really work as a friendly gesture when one of the participants doesn‘t have a shirt on, in which case the entire spectacle is really quite demeaning. I lay down on a table with the back of my head in the mask, and the face part was then clipped on top. “Stay still.” said the nurse, as I silently appreciated the irony trapped inside a Perspex prison which was physically bolted to the table.
The lights dimmed, the machine started whirring and an incredibly bright light suddenly shone directly into my shocked face about three centimetres away. Various lines moved across the light, like a crosshair, and then two people came in armed with permanent pens to mark where these lines met - presumably so they can treat the exact same place each time. There’s something very unsettling about two people drawing on your face when you have no way of telling what’s being drawn - mainly because, if I had that job, I’d most likely write ‘bell-end’ all over it. Also, the powerful fumes emitted as the pens scratched off the mask meant I was dangerously close to getting off my mash and hallucinating one thousand tarantulas streaming out of my eyes.
The colouring-in doctors left and I was left alone again, when something quite unexpected happened. The entire machine started to rotate anti-clockwise which moved what had been on the floor to the right and upwards until it was above my head. Now, when you have little variety of leisure activities besides looking upwards by force, your only entertainment is reading what’s on the machine above you so I was quite delighted to have a new view. However, that was only until a sign reading “Do not place machine base above head.” started edging ever-closer to my trapped and worried face, much like a health and safety-savvy instrument of medieval skull-crushing torture.
It mercifully stopped a few centimetres from my face, and maybe that particular bit wasn’t the ‘machine base’ they were warning of, but why on earth would you put a sign like that on a contraption exclusively designed to go above ill people’s heads? It’s a sure-fire recipe for shrieking panic. Anyway, a few more lines were drawn, I was released from my plastic dungeon, a few more degrading exposed-nipple handshakes took place and I scuttled out of hospital traumatised once more.
That was the final bit of radiotherapy preparation. The real thing kicks off on Monday, and I’ll be there every weekday for three terrible, terrible weeks.
P.S. I'd like to stress that that isn't me in the photograph. I do Wii Fit.