"Your day has come to strike the bell,
Your silent heart has much to tell.
And much to toll this proud new day,
Treatment done, you're on your way."
By, Mary Kathleen Adcock,
who battled stage IV tonsil cancer and is now in remission
Pappy and Monkey Me ringing the Bell - signaling the end of radiation treatment
I am home now, having completed four consecutive days of high dose, internal, radiation treatment at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland.
I have learned that, despite what your grandparents told you, laughter is NOT the best medicine - propofol is. But laughter does ease the humiliation.
It's amazing how quickly I became accustom to popping valium at the crack of dawn, repeating my full name and date of birth after every third breath, freely admitting to my weight (my real weight), being entertained watching my veins stuck and flushed and tracking the pain medication as it dripped, ever so slowly, into my IV, and having vessels, fingers, and rods shoved up my ass.
That's not to say that I was enjoying the ass experience. In defiance, I started eating crackers in bed. And drinking before noon, because I quickly realized that one valium and one glass of wine was better than two valium. And then my dear friend Ricki insisted they start giving me drugs intravenously. And when I told them what Ricki said, they listened. And Ricki was right. It made a world of difference. I still wasn't able to willingly submit to being sodomized, but I was now able to balance bouts of off-color humor between winces of pain.
And everyone, and I mean everyone, laughed at my jokes. Even when they made absolutely no sense because they understood that humor was how I coped.
Towards the end of my treatment, I apologized to the tiny, female, Asian technician that I verbally abused during the MRI situation. She smiled politely, as though she had no memory of my inappropriate behavior.
Even though the radiation treatment did not go as smoothly as I had hoped, not once did I question my decision to receive treatment at Johns Hopkins.
It is important to treat the entire person, not just the cancer. Each cancer is unique, just as each patient is unique and both need to be addressed.
Unfortunately, my vast experience with doctors and hospitals has, in my mind, qualified me to write a medical version of Zagats. Because cold, emotionless, sometimes slimy, FISH FACE is often the norm, especially in large institutions such as Memorial Sloan Kettering, I will use "fish" symbols instead of stars or diamonds for my rating system.
In my medical version of Zagats, you don't want to see a fish by your name. For example, if you were to look up DICDOC (head plastic surgeon at MSK), you would find enough fish to fill an olympic sized swimming pool. You wouldn't have to read the review, you could smell it.
Out of the dozens upon dozens of staff members that I encountered at Johns Hopkins, only one person, a receptionist in a scheduling department, received a two-fish rating and when I complained, she apologized and assured me that I caught her on a bad day.
My radiology oncologist, Dr. Munster, and his attractive (but not annoyingly so) physician's assistant, Marsha Marsha Marsha, were my immediate go to people. Even when they were not physically in the room with me, I knew they were, and remain today, easily accessible. Their devotion, time, talent and willingness to treat my total being brought me comfort, clarity, and most important... HOPE.
I feel it's important to stress this because my last post may have suggested that I was unhappy with my care. Sure, it would have been great to be knocked out cold the minute I entered the hospital lobby, but I suspect this is impractical on many levels.
After my MRI meltdown, I discussed what would have made my situation more tolerable, and what set me over the edge, and both Dr. Munster and Marsha Marsha Marsha, listened attentively.
1. The no iphone docking capability, which destroyed my UP THE ASS playlist coping mechanism, was simply a misunderstanding.
2. The unknowingness of the precise technique and uncomfortableness of the MRI, was primarily the result of my reality break-down. I can only digest so much medical information before I reach a point where I am overwhelmed and mentally shut down.
3. Dr. Munster agreed not to incorporate "dreamy eyes and voice" when trying to get me to agree to something - in this case granting the baby faced residents a front row seat at my probing. But I get it. I get why he wanted them there. This is important work and he is their pioneer. It's also difficult to understand the depth of my vulnerability considering my assertive, often twisted, extraverted, personality.
Some of the things that happened inside the treatment room were traumatic and others were comical, but I will not go into great detail now out of respect for the study and it's importance in treating advanced rectal cancer. My hope is that one day, in the very near future, high dose internal radiation will become standard care.
I will say that, with my situation, a one hour scheduled radiation treatment turned into a three hour ordeal when, despite everyone's best efforts, it became difficult to align the radiation antennas to the "golden seeds" because my tumor, shaped somewhat like a slab of sicilian pizza, reacted to the radiation by folding into itself - creating a thicker mass which made the vessel insertion laborious and, to complicate matters more, the relentless probing (oh the joy) moved the tumor up the rectal wall.
I think it (the tumor) was scared. I think the fucker knew it didn't stand a chance against high dose radiation.
This meant Dr. Munster and/or Marsha, Marsha, Marsh, needed to insert, retract, and reinsert the vessel over a dozen times. And my male Asian technician, who I initially mistook for being meek and mild mannered, was unwilling to proceed until the alignment was "PERFECT."
In between vessel insertions, Dr. Munster attempted to maneuver the tumor back into place with his finger. In an effort to judge the distance from the anal verge to the tumor, Dr. Munster measured his index finger. I now know the exact length of Dr. Munster's fingers (8 inches). I assured Dr. Munster that that's nothing to be ashamed of and that some say the nose is a true penis size predictor (he has a tiny nose).
At one point, Dr. Munster had his finger so far up my ass that his thumb hovered directly above my clitoris. After I informed him of this, in his very best professionally voice he answered, "I am aware of that Ms. Kennedy." I was thrilled to finally see him blush.
With all of this now behind me (pun intended), I am pleased to report that I have stopped eating crackers in bed and drinking before noon. The side effects are tolerable, my energy level is almost normal, and I still don't look sick. A bit tired perhaps, and chubby, but not sick.
My next big step, after a few more tests, is surgery. It is scheduled for September 10th. Until then, I will focus on glorious, fun filled, summer days surrounded by those I love.
Me and Dr. Munster
(Notice that the picture is blurry. Why??? Because a resident took it!)
As part of my cancer treatment Johns Hopkins gave to me....
FIVE... golden seeds,
four days of radiations,
three forms of medication,
too asian technicians,
and a GIANT vessel up my ass....
(I have got to get the Christmas tune out of my head.)
For a complete list of my ridiculous cancer journey see CATSTIR.
For a complete list of my ridiculous cancer journey see CATSTIR.