Paul's Heart

Life As A Dad, And A Survivor

Archive for the tag “linear accelerator”

Closure – I’m Sorry That It Took This Long

I am grateful to anyone who is charged with having to take care of me as a patient.  It is not that I am a bad patient to deal with, quite the contrary.  Hardly a peep is ever heard out of me.  Complaints are never made about discomfort or pain.  While hospitalized, I do not hit the nurse “call” button multiple times in an hour.  But, there in lies the issue.  Nurses and technicians do have hearts.  They do care about their patients.  And I am certain that they are not happy when a patient lets themselves get so far into a level of pain and discomfort before asking for assistance. 

But a lot of good writing about my gratitude for my caregivers does here.  Spoiler alert – except for a couple of years ago, it had been two decades since I had seen the two caregivers that saved my life, literally, saved my life.  There was one thing that I did not do in my excitedness to be finished with my treatments – say “thank you” to Noreen and Brenda, my radiation tech and my oncology nurse.  These two individuals deal with one of the most horrible illnesses known to man, often resulting in death.  But they also have successes, of which I am one.  But did they know that?

So two years ago, my twentieth year in remission, or some consider cured of my Hodgkin’s Disease, I set out to find the two women responsible for saving my life.  The odds were against me, as I only remembered their first names, but at least that was a start.  I found Noreen no longer at the hospital I was treated with radiation, but rather at another hospital in another network, still in the same field, just no longer directly as a technician, more in line with computer support for the newer technology.

Brenda was a bit more challenging to find.  She had retired, and no one from the doctor’s office would release any information to me.  So, I left them my name and phone number and an explanation of who I was (imagine, I had survived longer than any of their employees stayed working there).  A phone call from a nurse who had worked with Brenda had called me with good news.  Though retired, Brenda was still involved with cancer support, just in the hospital environment.  She was serving as emotional support, and did this three days a week.

I was set.  I tried to remember what it was like the last time that I had seen each of them.  I definitely remembered what they looked like.  Wow.  I had pushed those memories so far back because all I wanted to do was forget them once I was done.  But as I thought about it, not only owing my life to them, they cared for me.  They cared about me.  Together, they were the reasons that I stayed in that network for my treatments.

It was the following week, and I was headed to Allentown for physical therapy.  Both women were approximately ten minutes away, in each direction.  Since the hospital where Noreen was closest to where I was doing physical therapy, I stopped to see her first.  I arrived at the reception area of the radiation therapy department.  I clearly caught the receptionist off guard the way that I requested to see Noreen.  I was refusing to give my name (I don’t know why), just told the woman to tell Noreen that a former patient of hers has come by to see her.

Noreen came through the double doors, and less the white lab coat, I knew it was her.  She looked like she had seen a ghost.  I asked her if she remembered me and she did.  Actually it was due to the unusual circumstance of the first day of my radiation treatments, the linear accelerator broke down with me on the table.  Immediate flashbacks to Bill Bixby on the television swelling and turning green into the incredible Hulk.

We spent the next twenty minutes or so catching up.  She told me of her new work with her old field and then went on to tell me all the advances that had been made in raditation therapy since my day.  And then she heard what I had been through with the heart bypass surgery, and all of the other long term side effects I was diagnosed with from my treatments.  And tears fell from her eyes.  “We had no idea.  We had no idea what would happen to you and other patients with you.  We just knew it worked.”  I told her that I had no regrets, and how good my life had finally become.  And then I did what I should have done twenty years before that, I told her “thank you.”  We hugged, and then parted ways.  If I was going to get to see Brenda, I needed to hurry as it was getting late.

The office that Brenda has worked in when she treated me was still standing, but the oncology practice had moved across the street, to a wing built onto the hospital.  I got turned around quite a few times, but found my way to the cancer floor.  I was led by the recepetionist back through an office, weaving through cubicles.  The last cubicle on the right was occupied by an elderly woman with a perfectly frosted hair style, no chance of mistaken identity, this was Brenda.  I knocked on her cubicle wall and she turned around.

There was that motherly comforting smile that got me through nine months worth of Fridays and treatments.  Brenda was now volunteering to work with cancer patients with personal issues.  She was perfect for that role.  She asked how I had made out all of these years.  Eventually we got to “family” and told her how I wish I had followed her advice when I was younger, but I did have my family after all, with two beautiful daughters who I had adopted.  I told her that I am now seen at Memorial Sloan Kettering in the Survivorship Program to follow up my long term needs.

Since I was in the hospital visiting, I asked Brenda if John (my counselor when I was going through treatments) was still working in the hospital, and he was.  So Brenda took me downstairs to yet another reception area.  I saw a lot of familiar faces and then out came the gentlest giant of a man, John.  I did not get to spend much time with him like I did with Brenda and Noreen, but I did get to ask him about the first counselor I saw before I began my chemo.  Her name was Illona, another great mother figure to me.  Sadly, John informed me that she had past away several years ago, in the cruelest of ironies, from cancer.

One final thing to do before I ended this overwhelmingly emotional visit.  I thanked each and every one of them for giving me the life, in spite of the late side effects I deal with, that I truly love and cherish.  I do not know if I will ever see them again, but I made sure they knew, that they did cure this patient and I was appreciative and thankful for that.

Noreen, Brenda, John, and Illona, thank you.

My First Tatoos

If you read my page “U. R. Sharpe,” I think I have made it perfectly clear where I stand with needles.  Only during chemotherapy, could I get passed the anxiety of the of five to seven attempts of hitting the first vein seen.  But once the chemo was done, I went right back to my phobia.

Up until my 23rd birthday, my skin surface had remained unblemished from tattoos.    But with the amount of radiation I was going to receive, every detail needed to be exact, spot on, or risk of spreading the radiation to areas not meant.

Before radiation therapy could begin, the linear accelerator would need to be lined up the same way for every treatment,  The cross bar on my chest would have to be lined up perfectly.  The only way to assure that, was to place a dot at the nape of my neck, a dot on each the balls of the shoulders, and the final down in the middle of the abdomen.  Surprisingly, this did not hurt.  The needle is so small, and the process was so quick, just a small dot, which I still have today.  So there is now a constellation on my upper body in the form of a cross.

Years would go by, and the only times that you would hear me talk about needles, was going for blood tests or procedures that required anesthesia.  But following a family vacation many years ago, both my father-in-law and brother-in-law each came home with tatoo.  My father-in-law had a Porsche tatooed on his leg, my brother-in-law, the Harley Davidson insignia across his shoulders.  The artwork was very nice, though I wondered what the motive might have been for a 70 year old, and a major upper manager for a world-wide company.

It was the next year, they went on vacation again, and came home with yet another tatoo.  This time, my father-in-law with the symbol for The Saint (a television show in the 60’s) and my brother-in-law, a number 4 inside of a baseball in tribute to Lou Gerhrig.  Earlier that summer, my brother-in-law had been diagnosed with Lou Gerhrig’s Disease (ALS).  He was only a couple of years older than I, and now we both faced an uncertain fate.  He was looking at a very grim future with a disease that would leave him unable to physically function at all, or communicate.  His mind would work 100% as it always had, the cruelest thing about that disease.

Myself, I was still coming to terms with learning about the world of late effects from cancer treatments, and how all of a sudden, some of these issues could pop up, but also how some could take time to develop.

Finally, it happened.  I got why Mike had started getting the tatoos, and now I wanted to get one as well.  For me, it was going to be once and done.  I just wanted one tatoo, and of course, it would probably be the most expensive, most time consuming, but clearly the most beautiful tribute I could ever give my daughters.  It would take up at least 1/3 of my upper left back/shoulder.

A couple of years prior, while on a family vacation for our wedding anniversary, my wife had stepped aside to do some shopping, something my children and I try to avoid at all costs.  An opportunity came up, to have my daughter’s photos taken without my wife knowing.  I say it like that, because when it comes to posing the girls, it is probably one of the more stressful times for our daughters.  But with me, I like a natural photo.  And I was able to pull it off with our daughters.  I simply told the photographer what I was going to do, and he had literally two seconds to do it.  I did not care about shadows or lighting, I wanted the pose.


I had this picture made into an oil painting which now hangs above our mantle.  Now if I can just tolerate a few more needles, they will be immortalized forever.  This will be my first “artistic” and meaningful tatoo.

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