Bells, Bloopers, and Moving On, (amended)

After five weeks of treatments, five days a week, Gaye rang the bell. The completion of radiation therapy is a joyous event for patients and staff. It signifies the end of a journey for the staff who brings the patient through the treatment. It signifies the end of a “leg” of the journey for the patient. 


Yes, ringing the bell is a wonderful, joyous event. We relished that day and celebrated with Tex-Mex and laughter. Mostly the laughter was based in the real idea that anything can—and often did—go wrong. 

Who, what, where…?

As I’ve written before, the day of confirmed diagnosis was stressful for everyone. Gaye’s life was turned upside-down. I still struggle for recall of events as I intellectually blacked out and recall only bits and pieces. 

Even our OB/GYN struggled on that day. A dedicated, true physician, Dr. T is well into her 70s. Ours was one of her last consultations prior to retirement. She was loathe to give us the confirmation of diagnosis, loathe to give Gaye the dreaded name for her malady: cancer.

Still, Dr. T pushed forward. She broached the option of M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, (internationally renowned) but she pounced on Gaye’s question about Dr. B. “Oh, she’s the gold standard,” Dr. T proclaimed. “I have her cell number.” 

And away we go!

Just that quickly, Dr. T called Dr. B gave her the fast facts on Gaye’s diagnosis, and elicited a work-in appointment for that day. Dr. T saw us out, passing along a post-it note with the office address. And merrily we went.

About an hour-an-annoyed-call-from-Dr. B’s-office later, we realized that 1) Dr. B has two offices and 2) in her haste to help, Dr. T gave us the address to the wrong one. 

Medical and dental, on surgery day

The morning of our surgery, I awoke well before our 4AM alarm. Nerved up, I rose to put the coffee on…and found a sharp, scaly object in the bed. I freaked out. Then Gaye freaked out. Then we realized it was a cat-tooth. With nary a tooth fairy in sight. After three days of guilt and convalescence, I stole away to take the old man to the vet only to be told that our old boy, Sneaky, has feline tooth resorption, (common in elder-babies) and neglected to tell us before cuddling up next to Gaye. Or, in clinical terms, “chill, this is normal.” Seriously, I dropped two bills for that diagnosis. 

When it rains…the ceiling caves in

Two days (which seemed like two hours) after the tooth fiasco—and five days after surgery—I noticed a water stain on the living-room ceiling. Pretty sure it was the air conditioner drip pan leaking, I spread a tarp over our furniture and put a plastic bin under the now-leaking ceiling with the intent of unclogging the drain when clear of head and unlikely to reenact a Chevy Chase performance. Before I got good and asleep, an eight-foot-by-five-foot section of sheetrock and insulation, along with clumps of soggy schmutz slammed to the floor. I could only hope that Gaye would buy my story about the noise being stomach gas and stay in the bedroom for safety sake.

Perspective and pals

Of course that didn’t happen. But cancer puts everything in perspective. As I mentioned in previous articles, we were blessed by people we never expected to show up. Mr. Garza was just such a person. I called him the first thing the next morning and he was at my door within an hour. Hasan, a former coworker who went into HVAC business (but was booked up with the booming “summer in Texas hell” economy) walked me through clearing the AC drain line. In 12 hours, I had a new ceiling, a cleared AC drain, and I had to chase Mr. Garza to pay him. 

Houston is a subtropical climate after all.

A few weeks later, after surgery and surgical recovery, Gaye began radiation therapy. After some hiccups, anyway. During the second week, Gaye arrived at the center, changed into her gown, and, when called, disrobed to climb on to the positioning molds on the table. 

Then she felt a light breeze. Immediately the staff rushed in, yelling, “Get it off of her, get it off of her!” and “Get her up, get her up!” All while fervently brushing at Gaye’s chest as if she were on fire. When she failed to smell smoke, or bacon, Gaye instantly figured out the issue. “Roach or spider?” she asked “Roach or spider?”

“Un-uh, I ain’t telling you,” the nurse replied.

“Come on,” Gaye said. “I’m in the business, too. Roach or spider?”

“Spider,” the nurse said with a shudder. “We saw it on the monitor.” Followed with profuse apologies. More creeped out than she was, the staff cleaned Gaye down with baby wipes. They were apparently unwilling to replicate the Spider Man experiment. 

Imagination and opposable thumbs.

Then there was the third weekly consultation. It was after an equipment breakdown and everyone was stressed. Gaye brought in cupcakes for the staff and then girded herself for consultation with the doctor. For context, oncology radiologists are more physicist than physician. Lots of gray matter, not a lot of warmth.

So, yeah, formidable and Gaye was ready for Dr. Reptile to pop in and ask if she had caught fire yet. Instead the doc comes into the room licking his fingers. “Sorry I’m late,” he said. “Someone brought cupcakes and I had to have one.” 

Nurse Lauren apprised Dr. Reptile that someone was Gaye. Suddenly, Dr. Reptile warmed up and became forthright, even chatty. Rather than questions and answers, they had a nice, conversational visit.

The patient/doctor rapport is imperative to recovery.

Gaye sailed through radiation therapy. She started the Letrozole, (different article, different time) and began to ease back into her life. Then came the first follow up with the surgical oncologist.

Purr-C did what?!

Gaye felt confident enough to drive herself to the follow-up appointment—especially since she could resume using deodorant. But while setting out her clothes for the day, Gaye forgot that we have a cat who defies the laws of physics. 

Purr-C finds talcum powder when we have NEVER bought talcum powder. He finds shiny ribbon packed in the gift-wrap closet, behind the winter wardrobe, (we are in a sub-tropical climate) and on the other side of the electronics we can’t find remotes for and/or for which they no longer make batteries. Oh, and he LOVES to lay on Gaye’s clothes, (mostly cashmere, silk, or linen).    

“What kinda freaky sh—tuff have you been doing?”

So, Gaye arrived at her appointment. She disrobed, and awaited the doctor. But during the exam, the doctor brushed Gaye’s incision site. Then she got her examination glasses, (think Johnny Depp in Sleepy Hollow) a piece of gauze, and went to town. Shocked to attention, Gaye feared an open suture line, then she thought the doctor might have felt another lump. After several seconds, Dr. B looked up and said, “Gaye, why is there glitter on your breast?”

Imagining a “Your cat got into glitter? The source of which you don’t know? And then onto your clothes?” Line of follow up questions, Gaye ignored her. Undeterred, the doctor laughed it off.

Happiness is a full belly… even if it is someone else’

Gaye laughs about those incidents…now. But in the depths of radiation therapy it was stress, stress, and more stress. However there were beautiful moments as well. Like when we discovered a litter of feral kittens living in the massive live oak behind the radiation center. We began taking food for the mom and the feral kittens. It made us happy to watch mom scarf down the food and then the kittens scuffling and tumbling all around her. 

It became Gaye’s happy place during the bad days.

Key takeaways:

  • The dark days do pass
  • It is imperative to stay positive
  • A sense of humor helps
  • Sometimes you are your cat’s joke
  • A happy place is indispensable

Stay positive, stay strong.

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