I've kept this blog, on and off, since 2006. In 2015 I used it to chart daily encounters, images, thoughts and feelings about volcanic basalt/bluestone in Melbourne and Victoria, especially in the first part of the year. I plan to write a book provisionally titled Bluestone: An Emotional History, about human uses of and feelings for bluestone. But I am also working on quite a few other projects and a big grant application, especially now I am on research leave. I'm working mostly from home, then, for six months, and will need online sociability for company!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The day I finally get the point about the chocolates...

Three posts ago I was noting the custom of leaving little chocolates in the lockers where we keep our gowns at the radiotherapy clinic, on the last day of treatment. The same day the assistants apologised for taking so long to get the machinery and the flat bed into place. It takes two or three of them to position me and the machinery properly: I have to lie flat with my arms outstretched behind my head grasping a bar, while also relaxing my right arm so it doesn't get in the way of the machine as it beams its rays up at me from below my right side. Sometimes I have to let go and bring my arm back then rotate it again with their help until I am positioned correctly. They then move the bed back and up and check and double-check the height and placing of the rays, reading the measurements back to each other and checking the infra-red grid on my body. The machine has to be programmed for its two positions before it can begin. (I guess they treat the breast from either side in this way to avoid a daily blast of radiation directly into the lungs and rib cage: this way it kind of passes through the breast. I'll never breast-feed again on that side, but hey...) Sometimes it takes a while to get all these measurements and co-ordinates perfect, and Sue apologised for the time it was taking. That's fine, I said, in my cheery good-patient voice: take your time and get it right. It's just that sometimes patients are feeling a little frail, they explained, and don't like being jerked around. I couldn't understand why you would mind waiting for these people to do their job properly on your behalf.

But now, I get it! I'm a third of the way through my treatments (12 down, 21 to go), and yesterday the thought of getting my cramping menstrual body up into this position was pretty forbidding. I asked if they could possibly treat me while I lay in the foetal position, and they very sympathetically said no and helped me up on the bed anyway, with just the right amount of understanding that acknowledged my unwillingness without letting me spiral into self-pity. So I understood that day that sometimes you don't want to be jerked around on the machine. And that some days a piece of cheap chocolate left by someone who's gone through it and come through is exactly what you want.

I'm very conscious that my case is a minor one, and that my residual good health is seeing me through this process with minimal damage. So far: a slightly re-shaped breast; two long scars that are healing well; some residual numbness under my arm that may or may not heal; a little rash from the radiotherapy that is irritating but treatable, and which will start to heal after January 17th. There are some more serious hormonal side-effects that will kick in after the new year, but really, nothing exceptional. I know that in comparison to a thousand other possibilities and conjunctions of illness, treatment, side-effects, social and emotional and financial contexts, my situation is excellent.

All the same, there's no doubt that emotions and impressions are heightened; and that I am experiencing an unaccustomed fragility that is sometimes emotional, sometimes social, sometimes intellectual. I can write, now, of a moment over a month ago, when I finally looked at myself in the mirror before a shower, with all the bandages and surgical tape removed for the first time. All I could see were the two long black lines of my surgical scars. Images from Caroline Walker Bynum's essays on the wounded, perforated and open bodies of Christ and the saints flashed through my mind and I started to black out; and caught hold of the bathroom bench just in time. I looked carefully at one of the scars today and was surprised to find it much shorter than I'd remembered it. How long is a scar? How deep is a wound?

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