The New Radioactive Man, Part 2: In Process

Read part 1 of Jeffrey’s article here.


Lying down on the hard metal bench was its own special form of torture. The metastasis of my lung cancer that had grown in the muscle of my lower back, pressing against my sciatic nerve, caused the most agony when I was prone. But there was no way to treat it if I couldn’t lie still. So here I was, flat on my back, hands clutching handles over my head in an effort to hold my position and let the radiation gun shoot through me.

Sometimes we have to suffer a little more in order to suffer less.

I had already taken about as much discomfort as I could manage by the time my MRI was performed. The time on the bench for that imaging session was excruciating, and the over the counter pain relievers I had loaded up on did virtually nothing to stem the agony that jolted along my left side. Sleep was my biggest concern because I had such a tough time being prone. It did not matter much if I was on my back or my side, though I did everything I could to make a position work long enough for me to close my eyes. Fortunately, after the MRI showed physical cause, my doctor agreed to write me a prescription for a schedule 2 narcotic, commonly known as an opioid. These highly controlled and often maligned drugs are among the few effective means of controlling severe nerve-related pain. But they don’t make it go away.

It was unfathomable to me that I would have to live with this pain. I had gone through enough over the past three years, managing 40 rounds of chemotherapy, living with various pre-existing sources of chronic pain, so that I knew my ability to endure was fairly high — but also that, at some point, there had to be a limit. I did not want to test that limit.

The option to receive radiation made me feel excited, not because I wanted to have yet another treatment, but because I needed so desperately to treat this latest infraction against my physical wellbeing. I wasn’t pleased that it required me to lie flat on my back, even if only for a few minutes each day, but that did not prevent me from embracing the opportunity.

So the gun aimed up through my back, toward the square, plastic and metal box above me designed, I suppose, to capture the waves of radiation that are meant to kill the cancer cells inside me. I grabbed tight to the handles, gritting my teeth, listening to the hum of the machine at work. No tears came this time. The pain, though pronounced, was not quite as sharp as it had been. My breathing came a bit easier.

Starting to Get Some Relief

It was the mid-point of my treatment and, aside from a single moment of vomiting after some sessions (the angle of radiation passed through my intestines), my side-effects from the radiation were minimal. I wasn’t even nauseous, just a little tired. But one thing was clear, from the very first session: the pain was getting better.

As a lung cancer patient, especially with an incurable form of disease, it is easy to question whether the choices made for treatment were the “right” ones. We have more options now than ever, often allowing us to manage our cancers as chronic diseases rather than just trying to eek out a few more units of time. I have wondered about my choices of staying on chemotherapy, switching to a targeted drug, and why I have held off on immunotherapy — all of which have solid rationale behind them in spite of the plethora of “what ifs” that always plague me.

But when it comes to a clear palliative treatment with an obvious resolution, I have no regrets about this path I have chosen. It may hurt to lie down and take it, but this new radioactive man has already seen the glow of success.

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