How I Learned to Love Radiation
By Penny Morse
The nurse gently eases me down onto the padded table where my body fits into a foam form, custom made for my torso during a previous appointment. My arms are raised back and above my head, such an incredibly vulnerable position, naked from the waist up as I am.
I had turned up the volume on my headset to let the exquisite beauty of Pavarotti’s voice fill my senses, trying to blot out this experience. He sings of Panis Angelicus, the bread of angels. Now the sopranos soar over his words, mingling with violins. Are they the voices of angels or young boys? No matter, they sing of love and gratitude, and I am grateful for the encompassing music swelling through the earphones, such a blessed distraction.
Two nurses flip switches to make sure the radiation machine and I are positioned just so. A large, round head comes closer to me with a slick whir of precise movements calibrated on a computer. Now it hovers over my breast like a lover, its razor thin beams of red light make the sign of the cross exactly on my left nipple. Frantically, I decide to give it a name as I face this strange contraption. Holy Moses I call it, a biblical and strong name. Holy Moses, the healing machine. I raise one arm to pat its cold metallic casing and am scolded for moving my arms out of their exact position within the form.
Bring on your technology, O Healing One, and zap my body with mysterious and potent medicine. Is it not magic that you can penetrate to the tissue without rending open the skin, without a drop of blood? I resisted taking this step toward prevention, believing myself to be cancer-free with the last lump removal. Then I weighed the pros and cons and let fear of the future make my decision.
Anger. That’s what I really feel. Anger for giving in, for my lack of self-confidence. Who knows my body and soul better than I? Evidently, a team of white-coated medical experts who can be very persuasive. Now the time has come, and it is imperative that I made peace with radiation.
With this first treatment, O Holy Moses, I declare that you are a savior, bringing only healing energy. I am grateful and will turn the experience into a positive and loving event. Yes, you may demand the sacrifice of burned flesh, of cramping breast pain, of aching bone joints, perhaps even hair loss. This is the price I am prepared to pay in the current, yet still primitive marketplace.
Now I visualize us working as a team, though I know deep within myself that I can manipulate and turn away your radiation energy. . . if I so choose. Every woman holds this ability within each cell. After all, we create, carry, nourish and give life, such is our magnificent power that passeth understanding. How simple it would be to disable this machine, for I am a living being while it is only the sum of metal parts. Instead, I beam pure love back to it and declare that each moment is perfect, each hot ray is a miracle, a gift.
The moment your radiation invades my body, I feel a shock wave through my entire being in a nanosecond. Not a heavy or unbearable pain, but a burning sensation along all my systems, proof that violation has taken place. As the mental guardian in charge of my corporeal body, I tremble with surrender to this betrayal. Forgive me.
Pavarotti finishes his song of the angels and moves on to Ave Maria, dear holy mother; dear all mothers who have survived before me, be with me in my hour of need. Tears slide down the sides of my face.
In only a few minutes it is over. The nurses reappear from their safe place behind protective barriers. Pavarotti concludes his song. I am assisted to sit up and swing my legs off the treatment table. I coat my heated breast with soothing salve, then clothe myself. And like an obedient dog that has performed the play-dead trick well, I am offered a cookie as a reward.
Penny lives in Asheville, writes in a variety of genres, and is pleased to claim four years cancer-free. She can be contacted at email@example.com.