I really like this essay from the New York Times. In spite of its light-hearted title and style, it captures important feelings and strategies for coping. I bet we have all told ourselves something similar, and I know that we all (speaking for myself, at least) have done plenty of crying in the car.
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January 31, 2011
A Mantra: No Crying in the CAT Scanner
By ELLEN D. FELD, M.D.
I have not cried. Not once.
O.K., I've come close. I teared up when my gynecologist said she was sending me to a breast surgeon. And again after learning I had cancer, when I told my surgeon I had a 10-year-old daughter and lots of graduations and performances still to attend.
And once more, the morning after my lumpectomy, when, exhausted and anesthesia-addled, I somehow convinced myself the cancer was my fault. (I was not religious about breast exams; I didn't follow up after that episode of mastitis.)
But tears don't count unless they come out and flow down your face. Today, though, if I let them, I know that is exactly what they will do.
I am lying in the CT scanner, whose huge metal doughnut blocks most of my view. I see shirts, waistbands and the hands of those working on me — a radiation oncologist, a physicist, a technician. But no faces.
The table is cold and hard. I have lost track of time (the clock is another thing I cannot see), but I think I've been here almost two hours. Clasped above my head, my hands have fallen asleep.
"Lower!" the oncologist barks at the technician, whose marker is poised to draw on my skin.
"Here?" She repositions.
"No, the other side." Her hand leaves my skin, then alights, like a wary butterfly.
They are working on the hardware that my surgeon implanted in me yesterday. She tunneled it into the empty tumor cavity, then expanded it, ship-in-a-bottle style, to fill the hole.
The catheter resembles a small kitchen whisk with hollow tines. Radioactive pellets will travel through the tines like tiny subway cars, delivering just the right amount of radiation to every inch of my breast tissue.
The whisk's "handle" protrudes through my skin. During my radiation sessions, at the treatment
facility down the road, the handle will be connected to the lead-lined contraption that houses the pellets. Physicists will use today's scans to calculate where and how long each pellet stops on its journey through me.
I am fortunate to qualify for this treatment (my tumor just squeaked in under the size cutoff), which substitutes one intense week of radiation twice a day for the traditional six weeks of once- a-day visits.
The oncologist introduces me to another physicist, the third one today. All I see of him is the glint of his belt buckle. My hello is lost in their chatter.
I recall yesterday's procedure in my surgeon's office. In contrast to today's, it was uncomfortable. (To achieve a snug fit, the catheter — the width of a chubby crayon — is squeezed through an incision that could accommodate a svelte Crayola.)
That room was also filled with strangers (nurses, medical students, whisk-manufacturer representatives). But except for occasional asides to an assistant, my surgeon spoke only with me. The others were spectators.
This morning I am the spectator, and I have the worst seat in the house, my view almost totally obstructed. I am also the table. My jeans-clad lower half is a repository for markers, papers and whisk-related detritus.
I am startled by fingers brushing roughly across my crotch, the physicist scooping up markers. They are cleaning up; I will soon be released, right after the final scans. Although there will be more X-rays and measurements at the radiation treatment center, I will at least be off this table and one step closer to going home.
Instead of relief, though, I feel a faucet turn on behind my eyes. I panic. The last thing I want to do is cry. To have these well-meaning strangers pat my shoulder and bring me a cup of water, delaying my liberation from this chamber. There's no reason to cry. I'm not in pain. The worst thing anyone has done is use me as a table.
"Breathe in, hold your breath, breathe normally," the automated voice chants as I advance through the scanner.
I clamp my eyes shut and compose a mantra to hold me together and avoid any delay: "There's no crying in the CAT scanner. There's no crying in the CAT scanner."
The floodgates hold. They keep holding while I get off the table, get dressed and walk through the hospital, still reciting the mantra.
Outside, though, the floodgates begin to crack. Maybe it's the sunshine; maybe the sight of my car, which, instead of taking me home, will take me to more cold tables and marker-wielding strangers.
I change mantras — "There's no crying in the parking lot ..." — and hurry to my car.
Fortunately, crying is allowed in the car. So I cry, letting the tears fall onto the steering wheel and into my lap. Then I mop up, turn on the ignition and drive to the next appointment.
Dr. Ellen D. Feld is an internist who teaches at Drexel University.