There are eight buildings in this complex, but I haven’t figured out where they put the numbers. I drive the wide arc from one end to the other, looking for #2, squinting at each building, but when I arrive at #8—the only well-signed one in the bunch—it’s time to turn around and backtrack. With surgery scheduled Monday, I can’t afford to miss this hard-fought appointment. Finally, I spot a sign for Building 3 and park by it, possibly legally, figuring I must be close. I run under a pedestrian bridge, and lo and behold, there it is, Building #2—and a vast field of parking besides.
After checking in, I’m handed a “one size fits none” pair of drawstring pants and gown to change into. The pants are so huge that I hold them up to the mirror and snap a picture. The waistline hits my chin and they’re so wide, I could fit my whole body into each leg. There’s no rolling them up since they’re made from the same fabric as cheap sheets. They collapse into a deep puddle at my feet.
In the hallway, I hold the pants up with one hand, and the gap over my bare breasts with the other. A tall solidly built woman leads me to a chair where I’ll be given an IV. Did she order the gowns?
The IV is used to inject dye to make it easier to see the images. Then it’s time to enter the machine, face down, with my breasts dangling through a gap in the bed. This is comfortable compared to maneuvering down the hall in a Sumo wrestler’s warm-up garb.
I’m cranked into the cylinder of the machine, feet first, cautioned not to move, and then the technician exits to safety. The next part is rather peaceful at least by this week’s standards. All I do is lie there.
A few hours later, on the other side of my icy, slushy town, I meet Dr. Grant, my very young-looking radiation oncologist, who already has the images from my MRI on his screen. They aren’t pretty. I’m small-breasted enough to have escaped droopy breasts in my 50s, but when dangling from a horizontal position, I appear to have small water balloons (think Ziplock’s snack size). The tumor, estimated to be 1.3 cm, shows up plainly near my right breast’s nipple.
After having a look at the live, vertical version of me, (cloaked in a far less enormous gown) Dr. Grant explains that he will start my radiation treatment after chemo if I have it, or after I recover from surgery, if I don’t.
He then explains the procedures used to make radiation safe—angling the beams and using blocks and wedges in the machine, or in the path of the beams, to protect normal tissue as much as possible.
Even with these precautions, some radiation will reach a sliver of my lung. I think about what a doctor friend said, “You have to hate the cancer.” Which I take to mean, “Kill the cancer; worry about the rest later.” It’s fortunate that my heart won’t be in the path, since the tumor is in my right breast.
I’ve read all three of the breast cancer books I’d ordered, so I know that a shortened course of radiation is now available—four weeks rather than eight.
Dr. Grant confirms this. My course will be three weeks of whole breast radiation, and a final week, “boost,” which will target the tumor bed alone.
He then goes on to explain the side effects—I’ll feel jet-lagged and sunburned—which sounds like a return from a beach vacation in Australia. Compared to what I’ve read about chemo, it does sound like a vacation.