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To the Radiation Treatment for My Mom’s Cancer

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Dear Radiation,  

When Mom was diagnosed with stage three liposarcoma cancer, her surgeon had to act fast to prevent it from spreading. Mom was immediately put on a cancer treatment plan. A part of that regimen was post-surgical treatment with you, instead of chemotherapy. Since Mom is diabetic and has high blood pressure, it was believed you would be easier on her system.

The first radiation specialist Mom saw said, “You won’t feel anything for the first two weeks. Then you might feel some moderate nausea, fatigue and diarrhea. But all these symptoms could be easily dealt with with medication.” As uncomfortable as Mom was with starting treatment with you, she knew if she didn’t, her liposarcoma would get worse.

On the fist day of treatment, we all held our breaths, praying you would take it easy on her. At first, she didn’t feel anything. We were optimistic. Then, two hours later, she started to have severe stomach pain and cramping, and her blood pressure rose quickly. She was able to take medication to calm her stomach and blood pressure. Wiped out by her experience, she went to sleep only to wake up with dangerously high blood pressure. Mom had to go to the emergency room.

After that experience, it has been a rollercoaster of pain, suffering and emergency room visits for Mom. She suffered from stomach pain, constant fatigue, crippling cramping, unstable blood pressure and her entire gastric system being inflamed. She could hardly eat or rest. It became so bad that she was rapidly losing weight. Her insides felt drier than the Sahara Desert.

Since the side effects were overwhelming, Mom went to a second radiation specialist for help. He assured her what she was feeling was normal. But after the third week had passed, everything continued to get worse. With her multiple medication allergies and sensitivities, most of the medication recommended to her made her even sicker. She went back to the second specialist, begging for any kind of ideas of how to deal with the side effects — medication, a home remedy, anything. He simply told her, “I can’t recommend anything for you because you probably won’t take it. So no there is nothing I can do.”

Stunned by what the second radiation specialist said, she asked him three times if there was anything he could recommend. Maybe they could lower the radiation and stretch out the treatment over a longer period of time. He just shook his head and said, “You have to understand radiation is a science. It took many years to develop. And so everyone gets the same treatment.” 

Mom still begged for ideas. Instead, he cut her off, almost scolding her: “You have to understand this is a highly specialized and strong treatment, and you have to accept the collateral damage. OK, so you wind up with these problems, but at least you’re alive.”

Mom has a little over a week left of treatment with you. Every time she walks in, you see her a little more worn than before. I know the cure can be more painful than the initial illness, but please take it easy on her. Even though Mom is the strongest person I have ever known, every time I see her after a treatment, she looks more and more weak. At times, I’m even afraid of touching her. I’m afraid if I hug her too hard, she will fall apart in my hands like fragile clay.

Radiation, you are more powerful than you realize. You can destroy life just as easily as you can save it. As difficult as it was seeing Mom suffer after her tumor removal surgery, it’s twice as difficult to watch her suffer now. It’s overwhelming.  

So please ease her suffering if you can. I humbly ask this as a child whose biggest fear is losing her mother to cancer.

The Mighty, in partnership with Fuck Cancer, is asking the following: What was one thing you thought immediately after your diagnosis that you completely changed your mind about? Find out how to email us a story submission here.

Originally published: July 15, 2016
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