One year ago today, Matt woke up with another headache. That panicky, fluttery feeling in the pit of my stomach was back. But this time, Matt went to work without taking an Extra Strength Tylenol and the headache went away on its own by 9:07 a.m. Or, more accurately, when I asked Matt how he was feeling, he said: pretty good. I didn’t take anything either.
To which I responded: very encouraging.
Because, the obvious, rational, and logical conclusion that I came to was that the CCNU must already be working. If yesterday Matt needed a Tylenol to control his headache and today he didn’t, the chemotherapy must already be helping him.
I write often how I overanalyzed every text message Matt sent and stressed over every opportunity for a joke Matt missed. I’m reminded today that I overanalyzed in the opposite direction in the exact same way. If a headache lasted for a shorter time than the time before, if he needed less pain medication today as compared to yesterday, I assumed that things were turning around, that the next upswing was just around the corner. I’m not sure if that’s hope or positive thinking or simply a mechanism of survival.
Two years ago today, the story is more than a headache that went away on its own. Matt began a six week course of radiation on July 12, 2016. I sat in the waiting room that first day as Matt was brought into the back by a technician. I have a visual of what it must have been like, but I don’t know for sure. I can’t know. I never went behind the closed doors. My story started and ended in the waiting room.
But I can tell Matt’s story here. Because though we avoided many topics, we talked about this six week course of radiation often. The first step was to be fitted with a mask that would be used to keep his head in the same position from visit to visit. Matt was fitted for a mask the day after he’d had brain surgery. Afterward, he told me the experience had been horrible. He said he’d never been claustrophobic before, but inside the mask, he wasn’t sure how to breathe or where to look. I remember him worrying that the six weeks of treatment would be impossible.
And then the phone call with the radiation oncologist at Morristown happened and I told Matt we could not go back to that woman for treatment.
For me—because I truly do not think Matt was as bothered by the radiation oncologist’s outlook as I was—Matt agreed not to go back to the radiologist at Morristown. For me, Matt agreed to be fitted for a second mask to be used at Hackensack’s radiology center. For me.
Luckily, (luckily, because the lingering guilt would be crushing) the second fitting was not as traumatizing. Matt said he felt less claustrophobic and his breathing came easily now that he knew what to expect. When he went in for the first blast of radiation on July 12, 2016, he was no longer afraid that the experience would be impossible. And it wasn’t.
Each radiation appointment lasted about thirty minutes. Only about ten of those minutes were spent receiving radiation in the machine. Matt used to say it was his ten minute early evening nap-meditation, which he even somewhat (kinda, sorta) enjoyed. Most of the time, Matt drove himself to radiation after work, and then drove himself home. It was exactly as the neurosurgeon had said it would be that afternoon on the plastic chairs in the surgical waiting room (June 8): most people respond well to the treatment and our life wouldn’t change.
It was all very encouraging.
Both in 2016 and 2017, after the workday, after camp, we made an effort to take a family walk around the neighborhood, as recommended by Matt’s doctors. Both in 2016 and 2017, we found reasons to look beyond all the possible terrors and say: very encouraging.