Story by Tom Austin Written by Tom Austin Revised by Meg Sorick
A few days later we made the trip to Lindsay and the hospital. Dr. Willowby, a kind-looking fellow with wisps of gray hair, outlined the treatment schedule Peter would have to adhere to.
“You have a type-two cancer. That means you’re only going to get radiation treatments. However, they will be six times per week for seven weeks. Once on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays. But on Wednesdays, you get it twice so those will be early morning appointments. The weekends will be your own. I don’t want you to push yourself once the treatments begin. You’ll need your all your strength for the week. I’m not going to sugar coat this for you. You’re going to feel pretty lousy for a few weeks.”
The doctor gave me a pointed look when he said “pushing yourself.” I piped up and said, “I’ll make sure he behaves himself.”
With a nod, Dr. Willowby continued, “If you can’t make it for some reason, any at all I want you to phone my office as soon as you know. Radiation has a number of nasty side effects. It can affect your memory, so don’t be too upset if you can’t remember something. It is usually something simple, almost trivial. We call it brain fog. Since the area being treated is your neck, I want to start wearing loose fitting shirts. You may have trouble swallowing. If you do, make a note of it and tell me. If you find you can’t swallow, we may have to insert a feeding tube into your stomach.”
I looked at Peter. This was news to him. He went a little green around the gills.
The doctor droned on and on for a bit, but he eventually looked at me with such intensity that I knew what he was about to say was gravely important. He faced me directly and said, “This last part is really important. Since you’re the primary caregiver, Miss Carter, I want you to make it your life’s mission to make sure Peter does not lose any weight during treatment. His life may very well depend on it. He can’t lose a kilo.”
Primary caregiver? What? Evidently, the doctor had made some assumptions about our relationship. Even more surprising —Peter didn’t correct him. I decided not to say anything. Doctor Willowby went to his desk and pulled out a three-ring binder with the title “Cancer Journal – Patients Copy.” In it was everything Peter had to know ahead of time. It also had suggestions for meals that would be easy to swallow. There was a DVD that explained that lasers would be involved. Dr. Willowby wanted Peter back in a months time so he could be fitted for a resin mask. The mask would hold his head and neck absolutely still during the treatments. The mask would also be screwed down to the treatment table so tightly that Peter would have the impression of a small “x” on the end of the nose. The “x” would disappear within a few hours after each treatment. Dr. Willowby asked Peter if he had any questions.
“How long is each session?” he croaked.
“Each session is only fifteen minutes. The lasers are going to be firing from different angles. You’ve already had the surgery but you should know we may have to do the surgery/radiation combo three or four times.”
Peter blew out the breath he’d been holding and cursed.
“This is a particularly rare form of throat cancer. You see, most people who get throat cancer are usually heavy smokers. You don’t smoke at all. Which is good. Did anybody in your immediate family smoke?”
“My mother smoked like a chimney. I also had a brother who used to smoke unfiltered French crud. He passed away a few years ago. His appendix burst.”
The doctor made a note of this on Peter’s chart then placed it back on the counter.
“Since you don’t smoke, I’ll have to presume the cause of your cancer is second-hand smoke and possible environmental factors like air pollution. Now, do you have any questions for me?”
“Not right now but give me time. I’ll think of a few dozen”.
“Alright. Your treatment room is two floors below this one. You’ll be in treatment room five. If you have any favorite music, burn it onto a CD and bring it with you. I’m sure the nurses in charge of Room Five will play it for you while you’re undergoing treatment. Well… If there aren’t any more questions, I’ll see you in a month’s time for the mask and a possible CT scan.”