You go for radiation 35 times over seven weeks. After one week you actually smile and thank the technicians. Another week and you zip off your blouse and bra, climb on the table, remove the pillowslip, lift your arm, wait for the buzz to start and stop and the technicians to return and release you. Still, each five-minute radiation session seems like hours. Away, time races, and it is more like 20 minutes than 24 hours until I am back. Time is strangely altered. I am either stuck in place or spinning with speed.
The brown-eyed doctor is quick, impersonal, his how-are-you? asked with the same interest as a supermarket checkout cashier. You silently chastise yourself for your anger. His focus, after all, is professional; he is trying to save your life. Anyway, you hope so. He checks you out once a week, instructing you to sit up on the examining table as he stares intently at your exposed breasts. Sitting there, you don’t know if your feeling of humiliation is from your naked breasts being regarded merely as cancer, or from the picture you suddenly have of this doctor staring at the breasts of Playboy centerfolds from the age of twelve. This white-coated doctor is definitely not a leg man.
Around the fourth week of radiation all your energy gets sucked up into the radiation machine. You forgot — or didn’t want to know — that the radiation zaps your good cells along with the bad and you become dazed with exhaustion. The student technician helps you off the table or you would fall. The fatigue is in your brain, your legs, your back, your heart. It is as if your bones are made of cotton. At home you’re not sure you’ll make it as you wobble to the bathroom. You stop talking. The telephone’s ring resonates like a scream in your tired ears but you let it ring because you have run out of words. So you watch old movies on TV, drag yourself daily to the radiation table, listen politely to the student technician talk about her career plans and her boyfriend in Buda, Texas.…
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