I walked out of of the moon-beam chamber, a free parking ticket in hand. What a bargain. They're just giving stuff away at the Clinic.
Renee, the very pregnant radiation tech, smiled at me and said, “The tumor is pretty much gone.”
The techs working The Big Machine get an advance look at how treatment is progressing. A fellow Phish fan, Renee has been with me from the start of radiation.
“They might be able to cut short your treatment,” she added optimistically.
That's not likely, I said, and explained how the existence of the non-small cell cancer meant Dr. Greskovich would keep blasting away.
As I normally do, I stopped by the coffee machine on my way out to get a cup of something labeled “cafe mocha.” It tastes more like hot chocolate, but it's warm and sweet and free and is my reward for being the target of 1.21 gigawatts each day.
I look forward to the day when I never see that machine again.
A woman sat in a wheelchair near the coffee machine, IV bags hanging from a pole. She was in obvious distress. I heard a nurse tell her in a sympathetic voice that someone would be coming for her soon.
I got my coffee and decided to see if I could help.
“Hey, I know it's hard,” I said to her quietly. “ Cancer sucks.”
I told her I’d just gotten out of Clinic the week before. She mumbled something about “the size of a tennis ball,” and said she had been hospitalized for the last two weeks. I discovered the source of her distress: two small children laughing and playing in the waiting area. I understood. Laughter can be painful.
We spoke quietly for another minute before an attendant arrived to take her away. She thanked me and extended her arms. She needed powerful medicine -- a hug -- which I was more than happy to supply. In a place that spends billions dispensing high-tech treatment, sometimes the best medicine is the human touch.
I'm glad I could help her in some small way. I felt less like a "victim." I began treatment just over a month ago for a disease that, depending on who is keeping score, kills between 72 and 83 percent of the people who get it.
A couple hours later, sitting in my living room, snowflakes harmlessly floating past our windows, I'm scared. I might in fact be "cured" of lung cancer, but it hasn't dissolved the fear inside me.
A week from tomorrow I have another PET scan, a diagnostic test where you are injected with a radioactive sugar solution and then slid into a chamber that will tell the doctors whether any cancer cells remain inside of me.
I've done everything I can to make sure the outcome is positive, that perhaps I will be one of those folks who kick lung cancer to the curb and go on to live a long, productive life.
While cautious optimism is in order, Mary Lou assured me that it's normal to remain afraid. I'm not expecting anyone to tell me I'm cured quite yet. But I also can't shake the fearful prospect of being told the cancer has returned or has spread elsewhere.
As I type this, Jerry Garcia's voice flows through through my headphones. I'm listening to a download from a Grateful Dead show I attended at the Richfield Coliseum on March 14, 1993. Jerry was, at least for him, in great voice that night. It was the best – and last – of the half-dozen Dead shows I had the privilege to attend.
Jerry is singing "Touch of Grey," which I've adopted as my anthem. His voice, ravaged by drugs and cigarettes, sends stinging tears down my chemo-smoothed cheeks.
I will get by. I will get by.
I will survive.