This is the deal. I’ve been undergoing ultraviolet radiation treatment for a rare form of skin cancer. I’ve had approximately nine treatments (every other day for three weeks) and need to make my way through about 18 more.
I was diagnosed with this skin cancer (T-Cell lymphoma) about ten years ago. It is in the “early” stages and there is no cure. But with the right treatments, it can be held at bay for a very long time. Up until the last year I was doing OK. But the stress of my husband’s illness and passing took a toll on me, I guess, and the disease has spread. So the doctor suggested that we try this therapy. (Up until now, we’ve been using a topical steroid ointment on the patches.)
Ultraviolet radiation therapy is given in a box. You step into a box which is completely lined with floor to ceiling light tubes. You shut the door. There are no windows. Just light tubes. You push a button. The nurse comes in and asks you to identify yourself. She calibrates the machine and leaves the room. A very loud fan goes on and the box lights up inside. You are completely nude, except for the bag you get to wear over your head to protect your face. So there I am. Naked person with a bag over her head in a box the size of a phone booth, surrounded in “healing white light “– scared to death.
This is what I didn’t know about myself. I tend to be a teensy bit claustrophobic. Who knew? My mom was very claustrophobic. They used to have to sedate her to give her an MRI. Anyway, back to my story.
The first two visits were miserable. The 13-year old nurse technician has the compassion of a flea (OK, maybe she’s 25 — looks like 13), and her shiny black eyeliner gets in the way of her seeing the terror written all over my face. So there are no explanations or kind words emitted from her perfect little 13-year old mouth while treating this 60-something old lady. (Thanks, I needed to get that off my chest!)
“Excuse me, I was wondering, are there any side effects I should worry about?” She rolls her eyes so hard that her eyeliner cracks. “Nooo!” she says in an exasperated voice. (I can just hear her in the other room whining to the other techs: “Whatever!”) The timer goes off and I am done. My first visit was 55 seconds. It felt exactly like one hour and 55 seconds. I sat in the car and burst into tears.
The second visit, the treatment was 65 seconds. Again, two hours and 65 seconds. I cried in the car. That evening, I had burns all over my torso and called the doctor. Guess what? There IS a side effect. It’s called burning, unless the dosage is just right. The third visit, ratcheted down to 55 seconds again — that’s after several days of “healing” from my previous session. (If only that twit of a technician could have spoken one word of encouragement. If only she could have remembered that for me, this is new and scary.)
The doctor told me I win the prize for over-sensitive skin. Great. I was wondering if the prize could be a different nurse technician, but no such luck.
So, I was telling my girlfriend about the ordeal and explaining that I know it sounds ridiculous, but I get very nervous in the box and as they increase the time for each session, my nerves are not improving. She gave me a wonderful suggestion. She told me her mom had to go through a similar treatment and made her way through it by praying. She started at the top of her list, and said a prayer for each person that came to mind, until the beeper went off. And so that is what I do. I figure God knows each of us, and knows exactly what we need, so all I need is a name. One name per second. I don’t get to take notes in with me, so this is an exercise in memorization, and that helps me to keep my mind occupied!
Today, my treatment will be one minute and 20 seconds. That’s 80 people folks! If anyone needs a prayer let me know. I’ve got loads of time!