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This is part of the full text of the medical memoir "Cancer Patient" written by Hugh Cook. The full text has been published online on a free-to-read-online basis. This autobiographical non-fiction account deals with the author's initial health problems, diagnosis, and treatment with chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

The complete text of "Cancer Patient" is here on this web site but is also available for purchase from amazon.com as a proper printed paperback book. The full text may also be purchased as a download (a PDF file) from lulu.com for US $5. Go to lulu.com/hughcook

For a chapter-by-chapter breakdown of what's in the book (in its online version, in the PDF version and in the paperback version), see:-

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diary       site contents       essays       stories       flash fiction       poems       novels

CANCER PATIENT is a medical memoir which deals with the author's autobiographical experiences which involve, amongst other things, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, a brain biopsy, a lumbar puncture (and then some more lumbar punctures), treatment with Ara-C, treatment with vincristine, treatment with methotrexate, treatment with radiation from a linear accelerator, and a vitrectomy (an operation to remove the jelly from an eye). This is a non-fiction account but it does contain a couple of fictional stories, clearly identified as such, and it also includes some poetry.

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Chapter Forty-Seven


In preparation for radiation therapy, a mold is made of the author's face. Mood? Disgruntled. Out of sorts. As treatment drags on, mood control has become an issue.

        Wednesday 25 May 2005
        Chemotherapy is over and radiotherapy lies ahead. The initial steps involve the following:-
        (i) Tomorrow Thursday 26 May, a mold room appointment so a mold of my face can be made. (This mold will later be used in my absence for positioning a linear accelerator so it is correctly lined up to administer radiation. The theory is, I believe, that the mask possesses an infinite patience which the patient lacks.)
        (ii) Friday 27 May, an orientation lecture on radiotherapy. These orientation sessions are currently offered to radiotherapy patients at the Cancer Society's Domain Lodge on Boyle Crescent, off Park Road, near Auckland Hospital, at 11:00 on Fridays.
        (iii) Monday 30 May, a return to the mold room to check the fitting of the mask, and then a CT scan. I think the purpose of the CT scan will be to figure out how the mask relates to the innards of my head.
        (iv) Tuesday 31 May, an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scan, presumably of my brain, which I think is aimed at gathering data to help the oncology team figure out what the state of play is at the moment with my case of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma of the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord).
        I don't know exactly when the actual administration of the radiation will start, but I think there's a gap of perhaps four to six weeks between chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
        At this stage of the game I feel, I'm sorry to say, disgruntled and out of sorts. Objectively, I've a lot to be thankful for. Since diagnosis in December, treatment has been swift and effective and has been competently managed by a friendly team. And I've been optimally supported by my family.
        If this was a musical comedy then at this stage we'd have the Song of Triumphant Happiness or something like that, accompanied by animated bluebirds. But it's not a musical comedy. It's just real life grinding along in slow gear, and the truth is that I feel scratchy rather than bluebirdish, even though the plot development so far has taken us along the bluebird highway. (Only one mouth ulcer, for example.)
        My life (this is my ungrateful thought) needs a fast forward button, but it doesn't have one.
        The next big milestone will be the day after tomorrow, Friday, when I finally finish taking dexamethasone, the oral steroid that I started taking back in January. I've been tapering off the dose for some time now, under the supervision of my doctors, and on Friday I'll be able to quit for good.

* * *

        Thursday 26 May 2005
        Today I went to the radiotherapy department ("radiation therapy" says the signage) to have a mold made of my face. After a very friendly greeting at the reception desk I sat for a while reading TIME magazine. The reception area was cool to cold and was bright with natural light.
        I felt (for no reason that I could pin down) curiously desolate. Unplugged. Disconnected. Remembered, now and then, fragments of last night's dreams. Traveling in a huge metallic subway system in a big city. And looking at a big map of Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" world and explaining (I can't remember the details) how my own work related to this.
        After I had waited for a while I was collected by a guy named Carl who took me to the mold room. On the way I mentioned that tomorrow I'll stop taking steroids and that my face, which has gotten a bit puffy, may shrink a little over the next few weeks. Carl indicated to me that this would not be an issue.
        The mold room was a small room where there was a narrow table, a bit reminiscent of an operating table. I took off my spectacles and laid myself down on the table, and the two guys who formed the mold room team did their stuff.
        They had a red laser mounted on the wall which put out a laser beam which they used to make sure my body was lined up in exactly the right place on the table. They put some floppy plastic film over my face, the kind of stuff you might use to wrap sandwiches in, this to create an interface between my skin and the plaster.
        They then used short strips of cloth that were saturated with plaster -- the kind of thing you would use to build a plaster cast. They put the wet plaster strips on top of the plastic film, someone's fingers molding the plaster down into my eye sockets. The plaster felt a bit warm but not hot. By this method they made a plaster mold of my face, which they then removed as a unit. I think the floppy plastic film fell clear from the plaster mold at this stage.
        The whole mold room procedure only took about ten minutes. I was told that was about how long it would take and, by my watch, that's about how long it did in fact take.
        The result was a mold of my face made from strips of plaster bandage. The next step will be to fill this hollow mold with plaster to make a solid bust of my face. After that, the solid plaster bust will be coated with some kind of hard clear plastic.
        The result will be a hard clear plastic mold which reproduces the outlines of my face, and which can be marked up with lines and dots so it can be used for positioning X-ray machines.
        After leaving the hospital I got the bus to the Britomart area, near the ferry terminal. I was almost out of time to catch the twelve noon ferry so I tried to run, but all I could manage was a kind of awkward accelerated shuffle. However, the ferry departed a couple of minutes later than I had expected, so I caught it with time to spare.
        And so began my very low-key introduction to the world of radiotherapy (or, following the signage, "radiation therapy"). I've identified my most important task at this stage of my treatment as being mood control, pure and simple. Deal with that unmotivated sense of emptiness, of desolation.

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The text on this page is part of the cancer memoir "Cancer Patient" which has been posted online. All the chapters of this book are on this website and can be read for free online. However, the text is copyright - all rights reserved. For permission to use this text or any portion of it contact Hugh Cook.


        This personal memoir of the writer's encounter with cancer (non-Hodgkin's lymphoma of the large B-cell type) attempts to cleave to the truth. However, the text may contain information that is wrong, outdated, incomplete or otherwise misleading.
        This memoir has been written in a time of illness by a cancer patient who, though he feels sharp enough, must admit to sometimes misinterpreting things, forgetting things, or, on occasion, quite simply not hearing things.
        This memoir is designed to communicate the writer's personal experience and is not intended as a source of medical information. Got a medical question? Ask your doctor.

Cancer Patient Copyright © 2005 Hugh Cook.

Hugh Cook