Super Husband finished his second full week of radiation therapy today, and has five more weeks to go. The treatment is not painful, and so far his side effects have been minimal. Once again, we are looking forward to the end of his (hopefully the last) treatment for his prostate cancer. Today I’m thinking about what I’ll take from this experience, and how it has already changed me. When the doctor pronounces SH Cancer-free, what will remain?
The Low Residue Diet
For the duration of the treatment, SH is on a low residue diet to minimize the amount of gas in his system. This diet is a little mystifying. We normally eat whole grains and have a leafy salad each night at supper. On the low residue diet, only white bread and some cooked vegetables are allowed. Evidently, more resi-doo equals more residue. I always thought high fiber foods that expedited the journey through the plume, so to speak, caused the body to hold on to less of its detritus, but I guess I was wrong. After two weeks, we’re falling into a pattern in which we both recognize foods to eat/not eat. Tomatoes yes, (without seeds and cooked) corn, no, not in any form or fashion. Summer squash, yes. Winter squash, no. This description is a problem, because we live in South Texas, where there is no winter. When you go to the grocery store, there isn’t a sign by the squash that says “This squash is generally grown in the winter.” What about pumpkin? Technically, Thanksgiving, the pumpkin holiday, happens before the winter solstice.
If it’s questionable, we just don’t eat it. Yes, I said we. I’m on the low residue diet with him, because it makes cooking easier, because he’s my husband and I love him, and because this is one thing I can do with him. He has to do the difficult part all alone.
At times it feels like there is very little I can do to make his life easier. However, I’ve been strong enough to sit in the chair at the doctor’s office and ask the hard questions without crying, to sit in the hospital, to stay up all night, and to act swiftly when necessary. Prostate Cancer has tapped an unknown source of strength for both of us, and the knowledge of this strength in crisis will remain with us long after we’ve stopped living our lives around this disease.
The Cyber Knife
The top arm rotates around the patient.
I got to go with SH to his treatment this week, and the techs let me come in to see the machine they use to administer the radiation. I asked if I could take a picture for my blog. The tech said yes, but then hubby piped in, saying “No, you can’t take a picture of me with my pants down!”
The techs and I laughed, and I said, “I don’t want to take a picture of that same old thing. I want a picture of the machine!” We all laughed some more. The techs, who spend their day ushering in one person after another for this exact same task, said it was a conversation for the record books.
The Cyber Knife looks like something George Lucas might have dreamed up. This giant hulk is designed to do a three hundred and sixty degree rotation around the cancer zone and, with pinpoint accuracy, deliver the exact dosage of radiation needed to kill the abnormal cells.
While I am praying that the knife cuts out the offending Cancer, I know that the laughter we shared will stay with us. Hopefully, I can pay forward the compassion and empathy we’ve been shown in the years to come.
What’s Full, What’s Empty
When he gets to the radiation center, SH has to have a full bladder and an empty colon. This has to do with the location of the cancer cells and the doctor’s wish to move the colon and bladder out of the radiation’s path.
This full/empty metaphor can apply to our emotional states as well. Sometimes he is full of nervous energy, and he talks his head off at the doctor’s office, and I get nervous because he’s never nervous, and he never talks his head off and then I think there’s something more wrong that he’s not telling me and then I start poking and prodding, and he’s already been prodded enough and then before you know it we are squabbling and just like that we’re both taking those unspent emotions and spending them on each other like a sentence that’s too long but you just don’t know how to stop it.
When my grandmother was ill and dying, my mother told me something that I’ve carried with me through the year of having Cancer. She said, “When you’re in a crisis, it’s best to have a long fuse and a short memory.” My husband has always been the most patient of souls, with a sunny disposition. It would be easy to hold the aberration of his temper against him for years to come. I could point to it as a beacon when I’m vexed, the shining moment when he wasn’t his optimistic self. But the residue of this experience is that some things are meant to be empty and some full. I’ll empty my memory of the squabbles and fill my fuse with all the love I felt for him as he laid on a space age table about to get Cyber Knifed.
As we pulled into the Cancer treatment center this week, a woman stood on the curb waiting for her husband to park the car. She wore a pink skull cap, and it was obvious her hair was missing. Entering the building, we encountered several people lounging in the lobby in wheelchairs, too weak to walk.
My husband has Cancer, and there isn’t a residue free diet I can follow to eradicate the new way I will forever approach the world. But I’m not complaining. I know my good fortune, and am grateful beyond my ability to express it.
He has Prostate Cancer, but he can still walk, and he has all of his hair, and he isn’t waiting for someone to come and pick him up in the lobby of the Cancer Center. His heart is still beating, he’s still here on earth sharing his life with me, and with our children. He is what remains.