Day 36: Side Effects Include…
Anyone who’s had any kind of medical treatment or surgery knows from firsthand experience that doctors are by law obligated to explain to you every horrible, terri-fucking-fying way that what they’re about to do to you could possibly maim, mutilate, incapacitate or flat out kill you. And as you’re sitting there, letting awful scenarios of what life would be like if you were blind or unable to speak or unable control your bowels, they make you sign a piece of paper that says, “Oh, and by the way, if we fuck up, it’s your fault for letting us do it.”
Luckily, doctors like to attach probabilities to scary things they tell you. Despite having a tumor in my head, pushing on my brain, nerves and carotid artery, everything I’ve been through so far has been low risk. My surgery had a less than 10% chance of minor complications (facial numbness, double vision, loss of smell; you know, the usual), and a less than 1% chance of killing me (about the same risk you take getting in your car). For anyone that’s seen me since my surgery and has been shocked to see my face unmutilated, you know that it went very well.
Proton therapy is a different beast than surgery, though, and some of the side effects may not become apparent for years to come.
First, there’s this whole “chance of recurrence” thing. Though my tumor was quite rare, my radio-oncologist has treated 480 cases over the past 30+ years. Of those 480 patients, less than 1% have had the tumor come back.
Next, there’s the risk that exposure to radiation brings. Even though the chances of me becoming a badass crime fighting mutant are practically zero (I’m still holding onto hope!), enough radiation can mutate your once healthy cells into microscopic super villains bent on bringing you down. Luckily in my case, the risk of this is also around 1%.
A bit more unnerving is that my pituitary gland is taking a subatomic beating through all of this treatment. My doc says in a few years it is almost guaranteed that I won’t be able to produce hormones normally. No need to worry, though. Apparently I’ll just have to pop a few pills every day and that should balance me out.
More immediately, there’s fatigue, which I’ve complained plenty about already.
They also warned me about dryness in my throat, mouth and eyes. I’m starting to feel those, but what they left out was that I’d be developing Armageddon-asteroid-sized snots in the back of my sinuses that force their way down my throat without warning.
My appetite’s changing too. I get very intense cravings for things I normally don’t care for, like carrots, and very strong aversions to some tastes that I normally love. Thinking about coffee or chocolate makes me nauseous these days. I still have plenty of both, but it grosses me out.
Finally, they mentioned that I might lose some hair in the treatment areas. I guess I just didn’t realize how quickly it would go once it started.
It might be time to cue-ball it up.
Twenty-five treatments down, TEN TO GO!!!! (For those of you keeping track at home, I skipped Friday)