Each week day I have radio treatment. No set time, they give me a schedule at the end of the week for when I have to come in for the following week. I have chemo treatment as well, scheduled at the beginning, middle and end of my radio therapy treatments.
I take the #89 bus, which fortunately stops a 1/2 block from our apartment. Usually it’s a 20 minute ride, down Vaugirard, over rue de Rennes, past the Luxembourg Gardens and then stops right in front of the Pantheon. It’s a lovely route and I’m getting to know nearly every shop and restaurant storefront along the way. Luxembourg Garden’s gates are lined with professional photography (they do this every year with a different theme) regarding work around the world. I’m getting to know those images quite well as well.
After the stop I make my way around the Pantheon and follow rue d’Ulm to the Curie Institute. The Institute gets its namesake from Madame Curie, who is actually entombed in the Pantheon that I have to walk by each day. She was quite the woman – the first to win a Nobel Prize, the first person and only woman to win the Nobel prize twice, and the only person to win the Nobel Prize in two different scientific fields. Makes me feel like I’m in good hands.
I walk through the front doors and make my way to a enclosed walkway that takes me over a central courtyard and over to a second building in the rear. From there I take an elevator to floor -1, exit, then sit and wait in reception for my name to be called. The other people waiting are usually different ones from days previous, and from looking at them, they are all at very different stages of dealing with their cancer. Most of the women wear scarfs to hide their hair loss, others shave and go bald.
When I’ll be called I have no idea. They have been right on time but then they also have been more than an hour late, so I bring my phone to listen to a pod cast or read a book.
When it’s my turn I enter and I’m directed to a changing room where I’m to stay until they call my name. I remove my shoes and shirt, and place my phone and wallet in my jacket. Once called they are quite quick. I enter into a room with a machine in it that looks like a large doughnut with a bed running through the middle of the doughnut hole. I lay down and they measure me up to ensure I’m in the right position. I have a black tattoo on my chest that they made to help them with the alignment. Once properly aligned, they place a plastic-material netted mask over my head and neck, quite tightly, and secure it down. I have to ensure my lips don’t get caught and punctured (which happened the first day when they did it rather quickly), so I’ve learned to place my upper teeth over my lip before they lock it down.
It is very important that I cannot move through the whole procedure. The mask was made a week before I started treatment by placing a soft, flexible net over my face to mold to it. I was then placed in a machine that caused the netting material to harden, so that when taken off, I can see myself in it. Perhaps I’ll get to keep it as a souvenir, if that’s what I really want.
Once securely in, the attendants leave the room and the machine starts up. I feel myself being drawn into the machine until my head is fully inside the doughnut hole. It is not noisy, just a high-pitched hum as the machine makes a scan of my throat and tumor. It takes only a few minutes and once done the machine rolls me back out of the hole. There’s a pause for a few more minutes as they, I assume, analyze the images to see what state the tumor is at, and where it is exactly located, so the machine can then begin zapping the tumor with confidence that it is zapping just bad tissue and not the good tissue. Once they’re done the machine slides me automatically back into the hole and then begins a few minutes of what sounds like a train coming from one side and leaving out the other. I can hear the wheels clacking on the tracks and the pumping of the engine’s pistons. This is when the tumor is zapped by the laser. The laser whirls around and then makes a pass – one layer gone I think, or hope.
Once done it delivers back out once again, the attendants come and remove the mask and I return to the change room, change, and leave the hospital. And it’s back on the bus. And tomorrow’s another day.