Wednesday 6 August
I usually feel just like a plate of meat as these young women hover about the bunk as I pull my trousers and pants down so that they can ‘find the spot’ on my lower belly to line up the machine. They cover me up with that cloth but it’s not nice, not at all. But it’s nothing to the indignities suffered by women whose most intimate parts are stared at in close-up by gaggle of male doctors when they are having babies. We blokes hardly ever think of such matters.
But today there’s a surprise as for once there’s a male radiographer – a tall, friendly man who calls me by my first name as we chat amicably before the process begins. ‘I haven’t seen you here before,’ I say.
‘No,’ he replies, ‘I’ve been working with other machines.’
‘So they don’t keep you on the same one all the time?’
‘No.’ He smiles. ‘Might be better if they did, but that’s not possible.’
The other radiographer attending me is a fair-haired woman, equally pleasant. Together they make the business as agreeable as possible.
I chat with her briefly afterwards, having made myself respectable and put on my shoes. She tells me she’s been doing this job for twenty years, working part-time now.
‘I suppose it’s changed a lot in that time?’ I say. ‘I mean, the machines …’
‘Oh yes.’ She explains how the ways in which they are far more accurate now. It’s all very comforting.
These few words take up no time at all. They are exchanged as we walk out of the treatment room and don’t delay the next appointment in the least.
I feel better for meeting these two. They introduce a note of humanity which isn’t always present.
Thursday 7th August
The waiting room is more pleasant than I originally thought. There’s a long painting of a beach on the wall behind the receptionist, and other bright pictures hanging up here and there. The easy chairs that we sit on are attractive and comfortable. There’s a buffet bar selling tea and coffee and soft drinks, but liquids of any kind are the last thing I want, for obvious reasons. All the same, I find it depressing. That’s because of the reason we’re all here – cancer. There’s an element of the Last Chance Saloon about it. Everyone here has the same look – at best, resignation. This is something to be got through. From the moment I came here, I’ve been counting the days. Eight down. Twenty-nine to go.
But hey, the treatment’s bang on time for the second day running! The appointment card said 3 p.m., and 3 p.m. it is. It’s two young women today (no, I’m not going to call them ‘girls’), and they’re nice as nice can be. They find the spot with no trouble, and off we go!
What do I think about as I stare at up the ceiling and those eternal fish swimming nowhere? No great thoughts, that’s for sure. How many sessions to go after this one. Whether it’s going to work. What those powerful rays are doing to my innards. And – stupidly – whether I’m covered up properly. Who cares? I do.
They come back in. All over. They lower the bunk – it’s raised every day after I settle into position – and I step off.
‘Can’t go home yet, I don’t suppose?’ I say breezily, as I put my shoes on.
‘No. Got to keep going till 5 o’clock,’ they smile.
Dorothy’s in the waiting area, as usual. ‘Cheerio. See you tomorrow,’ I say as we pass the reception desk. They answer me cheerfully. They’re all doing their best.
Nine down. Twenty-eight to go.
Friday 8th August
We are getting to know the other regulars here, if only by sight. We smile at one or two, and they smile back. Few words are exchanged, but one chap becomes quite animated as he waits for his wife to emerge from the treatment room. He’s had a full life indeed – several years in the army, before helping his Dad in the fuit and veg business. ‘I was up at half-past three every day. No, I didn’t mind a bit.’ Then he went in for training racehorses – did it for years. Did he have any big winners? ‘Yes, two.’ He details them, but they don’t mean a thing to me. What then, retirement? He grins. ‘No, I went in for farming – did it for years. But it didn’t pay.’ Now he plays golf. A nice man. Shame his wife has to come here.
Monday 11th August
A bad weekend. I had trouble with the old bowels again. Old bowels? Are they older than I am? Hardly. I woke up wondering again if all this treatment is worthwile. Could it be making me worse rather than better? I’ve never really liked the thought of all that radiation pounding me. I go so far as to ring a male urology nurse listed in the hospital handbook. He listens to me, answers me quietly but effectively. ‘The radiation is killing your cancer. If you stop it now, you won’t get the benefit of the treatment. No, it can’t be making you worse.’ I decide to carry on – as I always knew I would. But it’s not easy. Cancer isn’t easy though, is it?
I think of all the far worse cases than myself, but it doesn’t help much. We are all locked inside ourselves, unable to escape.
© Herbert Williams