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Dear First-Time Radiation Friend


Dear First-Time Radiation Friend,

I noticed you as you walked into the waiting area — unsure whether to look at me or not. You chose the latter and sat in the chair as you waited for your name to be called. You didn’t dare look at anything but the hands on your lap, as I’m sure your mind was wandering.

You jumped as they (the radiation techs) called you in and greeted the girls with a big smile and some friendly small talk. That’s what you do for the next few weeks — lots of small talk. I hear you from behind the door as you happily yell, “That’s it? I’m all done.”

Ahh yes, the innocence.

I, too, was that happy patient at week one. I thought radiation would be a breeze. A few images, some breath holding and you leave none the wearier. Oh my new friend, I wish I could tell you the next 30 visits are just as easy.

But you see, you will start to drag your sore-skinned body in every day, dreading the flash of the beams. Your fatigue (that you may or may not have left behind from chemo) will soon start to set in.

You will hit a wall.

You will be so tired you cannot even begin to imagine these beams that are hopefully saving your life are causing you so much anguish. You were not warned nearly enough that this would be exhausting — physically.

My first time friend, you need to know that Aquaphor and Calendula lotion will be your best friends. You will apply diligently and often because the soreness, redness, rawness, burning and stinging sensation that you are about to endure will require you to do so.

If you are as lucky as I was, they will be radiating your lymph node area under your armpit and you will wail as you start to try to stretch your arm any which way because the tugging feeling of your skin being stretched is gut-wrenching.

You may shed a few tears and you may bitch and complain to anyone who will listen that cancer really sucks and you will continually repeat that you had no idea radiation would be this hard. And maybe it wont be for you because clearly not everyone is experiencing the pain — we may be one of the (un)fortunate few.

Yes, cancer really is the gift that keeps on giving.

Your days will turn into weeks.

You will get so sick of the sight of the hospital entrance sign and the ticket machine to pay for daily parking that you curse as you drive up.

You may stop at the little snack center on the way out for some bottled water (and of course the grahams if you’re not sick of the sight of them just yet) and will venture out — back into your life — until 24 hours later where you will do it all over again.

At some point you will near the end. It may seem like the day will never come, but just as your days of chemo and surgery come and go — you will be there. You will get to an end point.

I pray for you, my new friend, that your outcome looks promising.

I hope you are sitting there, like I am, looking out into the sunshine and thinking a year from now, you will be tucking your newly grown hair behind your ear, that graham crackers are no longer a part of your diet (and possibly the reason you have gained 10 pounds from this stinking disease), and that you are feeling strong  again — physically, yet more importantly, emotionally.

Some day, my new radiation friend, we will remember these raw, painful days are what made us stronger. They are what made us reappreciate things. What made us smile and love a bit more, yell and argue a bit less.

I wish you well.

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Thinkstock photo by yukihipo