Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Part 30 - Simulation Shenanigans

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.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Part 29 - Masking Jape

Is it becoming evident that I’m rapidly losing my dedication to this blog? It’s now been over two weeks since I was given the definitive PET scan results - a piece of information that some people may consider an appropriate stimulus for a blog with the sole intention of tracking the journey of a cancer patient - but I’ve been so busy experimenting with the capabilities of post-chemotherapy liver I’ve barely been able to construct a proper sentence for weeks. This is easily the worst consequence of having cancer, by the way. You can joke about me being a cheap date all you like, but I imagine that would be scant recompense for your date vomiting on your head and flinging his own excrement against a restaurant wall.

The PET results were good, although not mind-blowingly brilliant. Although almost everything has disappeared, there appears to be a tiny sect of stubborn cells in my neck which chemotherapy can’t get rid of and will require some radiotherapy. I’d liken it to when a cat urinates on a carpet. You can attempt to drown it in as much Febreeze as you like, but everyone knows that the only real way to get rid of it is to burn the entire carpet to a lifeless, smouldering cinder. I’ll be receiving fifteen doses of it over three weeks starting on the 25th, after which I can forget about cancer treatments until I’m scanned again in four to six months. I’ll write more about what radiotherapy consists of after I actually know what it involves, outwith cat piss.

In the meantime, there’s a lot of preparation to do. For example, today I had to go and get a mould of my entire head made for my radiotherapy mask - a Perspex skull that clamps you to the table so they can aim the beam precisely and so it won’t set fire to your eyeballs if you sneeze. I was greeted at the door by a man that looked eerily like Heston Blumenthal, complete with the massive glasses that make his big, mad eyes look like two oranges balanced on a grain of rice. Walking in to his workshop was possibly the single most bizarre thing I had ever seen as each wall had three full shelves of ghostly-looking white head casts. It was as if he was an insane serial killer who obsessively surrounded himself with death masks of his thousands of victims, possibly kissing each one goodbye every single night.

After a quick explanation of what was about to happen, he asked me to remove my t-shirt and presented me with a pair of beige tights to put on. At this point, like me, you may have questioned what in the name of the holiest Christ was about the transpire, but it turned out that these tights were for my head to protect my freshly-grown locks of hair. Looking much like a malnourished bank robber, I slinked over to the bed and lay down with my head on a massive bean bag at which point the doctor had to physically readjust the apparatus because, as he rudely proclaimed, I have a “long head”.

What happened next was as exciting as it was absolutely terrifying. He attached a hoover to a port on the beanbag and removed all the air from it to force the polystyrene balls inside to tightly form around my head, neck and shoulders. When I say ‘tightly’, I don’t mean like a pair of jeans you bought a few years ago, I mean I could actually feel my eyes bulging out of face like some disgusting love child of Joan Rivers and a halibut. All the while, lest ye forget, with no t-shirt on, women’s underpants attached to my head and Dr. Blumenthal leering over me like a deranged professor carrying out some form of bizarre Auschwitzesque experiment.

When we were finished, I asked the doctor if I’d be allowed to keep my mask when the radiotherapy is over and done with. The look on his face was as if I had asked him if I could take home and eat his first and only child, but he will kindly allow me to keep it despite the fact that it will ruin his harrowing collection. Today’s appointment just covered the back of my head, and I have to return tomorrow to get a plaster cast of my face done which I quite honestly can‘t wait for. This is, without doubt, my favourite bit of the cancer experience so far. I’ve seen it happen so many times on TV, it’s exactly like I’m in my very own ‘making of’ documentary.

Anyway, I apologise for the lack of entries recently but you have no need to worry - during radiotherapy I’m at hospital for fifteen days out of twenty-one.

I’m sure there will be high-jinks aplenty.