Thursday, 24 September 2015

This is what radiation therapy is all about.

They put you on a table like a fish about to be gutted on a narrow cutting board. There is no room for your arms so  they hang down, fins that don't fit nor have any purpose. Your head slips into a plastic form and they smooth your hair down, if you have any, so it doesn't get caught when they strap down your face. Your personalized plastic face frame is lowered down until every millimetre slides into place over your eyes, nose, cheeks and chin. 
You can't move. You can speak but only just enough to issue grunts of agreement, perhaps a barely understood word or two. 

'Are you comfortable?' 
'Mm hm'. 
'We're going to get started.'

That means they are going to leave the room after they take their measurements. You've been tattooed with small dots that map benchmarks for the machine to be lined up over your body. One between the breasts, one anterior to the umbilicus, one on each hip marking the edge of each ilium. These are the marks that the giant machine will use to locate the areas requiring radiation.

The people leave, the patient remains, the machine begins to move. First it takes an x-ray, confirming the body's position. Then it moves into place for the first treatment, a low metallic drum beats as it stops and focuses on the target area. A hum and then a high pitched squeal as the radiation is released.

In her head she plays video games. Space Invaders, the aliens are cancer cells, the little ship is the radiation and it is taking shots at the cancer, killing some, maiming others but always destroying. 

The machine stops and the people return. They remove the mask and she can breathe easier, instead of through a mesh fog. They take more measurements and leave again. Treatment number  two in another area of the spine.

This time she plays Asteroids. Shooting more cancer cells, causing widespread destruction. They shatter into pieces and she grins as they die. Die cancer, die.

One more visit from the people, the patient remains still. Her arms are tired but they have put a strap over them to keep them secure or they would fall off the table and interfere with the movement of the machine. She opens her eyes as the people measure and she notices that she is up high, at least four and a half feet off the ground. The shortest nurse's chin barely clears the cutting board. She would never be able to gut a fish at this height.

The people leave and treatment number three begins. The radiation beam cuts a delicate path around the spinal cord. No margin for error here.

The woman decides to imagine something different. She fires a phaser at the cancer cells clinging to her bones and they dissolve with a blood-curdling scream. It feels good to kill. She launches hand grenades into the spaces the cancer has left in her and the explosions demolish every cancer cell inside the lytic lesions left behind by the cancer's digestive actions.

Suddenly it is over. The table lowers and the people return. She is human again. The only dissection performed was necessary and has left the host alive. But the cancer is dead and more cells will die as the radiation continues to interrupt their ability to reproduce. She is lifted from the table with slow, strong arms, the nurses are happy with their work. She is put  back together, no horses or King's men required, her hair put back into a pony tail,  her neck brace back on as a choking reminder that she is diseased, her clothes in place, glasses on face rather than a mask. No more mask, this is her own face.

And it is smiling.

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