Three women sit at the reception desk. More glass separates the sick from the well. Masks make everyone look like no one. A hand reaches out to grab my parking ticket and stamp it. Cancer is the price you pay for free parking.
I feel invisible as I am buzzed into the inner sanctum of the radiation therapy suite. Like a horse with blinders, I march straight ahead. I pay no attention to the blur of color and motion in the aquarium strategically placed to project a sense of tranquility in an otherwise untranquil world. I pass the nursing station, where no friendly voice calls out to greet me. I continue on toward the women’s changing room. It’s been just two days (with eighteen more to go), but I know the drill. A pile of white, waffle-weave robes sits alongside a stack of standard hospital-issue faded blue gowns. No one chooses those, of course; everyone wants to forget they’re in a medical setting, including me. Why not go for the spa look and feel? I undress from the waist up and slip into a robe, which makes me feel more rather than less exposed, as I tie it tightly around my petite frame. Stuffing my clothes and bag into a small locker, I grab the key and shuffle back out to the atrium waiting area.
It is a lonely place: eight stark white pillars, a glass skylight high above. Designed to calm and soothe, like a relaxing, luxurious resort, the space is filled with potted plants, sculptures, and plump-cushioned armchairs. A piano adds the effect of a hotel lobby waiting to be filled with happy, healthy people. But I am neither fooled nor comforted. It has the opposite effect on me: it swallows me whole, diminishes me, makes me feel like nothing more than the host of diseased, dysfunctional, destructive cells in need of radioactive beams to kill them. I will never be comfortable with this.
Out of nowhere, I hear my name called; a technician suddenly appears behind me. It’s my turn to be positioned, tugged into place, zapped painlessly—save for the psychological and emotional suffering inflicted on a cancer patient. I lie on the hard, narrow table, sliding back and forth under the million-dollar machine whose purpose is to save my life.
Mount Kisco, New York