Cancer treatment during the pandemic is bringing back traumatic memories | US news

In a large black planner that I keep next to my bed, I mark off each round of chemotherapy and radiation. And after each one, I feel a growing sense of dread.

That’s because every mark means I’m one step closer to brachytherapy, a process that involves doctors sticking radioactive materials into my cervix – or what’s left of it anyway. It’s a way for them to aim high doses of radiation at my tumor, without risking the other nearby organs.

I’ve been told to expect four long sessions over two weeks. The process will be invasive and uncomfortable, but also crucial in knocking the rest of this cervical cancer out of my system.

Even as I think about it now, I feel panic. I picture myself lying sedated and powerless in that operating room.

And just like that, I’m a seven-year-old again, and in a period of my life when those same feelings of fear and helplessness hung over me.

My family and I were living in a small city in Utah, where no one locked their doors and everyone knew each other. We all went to the same church, and I remember a steady stream of visitors cycling in and out of our house.

I was just starting or maybe ending first grade – the details are fuzzy – when a man my parents were friends with began molesting me. It went on for a few years and I remember feeling small and in a lot of pain. But I also remember feeling like my body was being invaded by someone bigger and more powerful and with knowledge that I didn’t have.

It’s a part of my life that’s difficult to talk about. I don’t think either of my children know what happened. But now, as I get closer to brachytherapy, I keep feeling myself transported back to that time.

I understand that this is an important stage of my treatment that could ultimately save my life. But these two parts of my life have somehow become fused together.

I don’t want to know all of the details of the procedure until the last possible moment. I’ll end up dwelling on it – playing it on a loop in my head.

But I do know what sedation they’ll be using, and that hasn’t helped. They’re going to put me in a type of twilight sleep, something I experienced about four years ago when I had to have an endoscopy for my acid reflux.

The idea is that you’re never actually unconscious, but it is supposed to keep you calm and make sure you don’t remember anything after the procedure is over.

That is not what my experience was like. I still remember most of the procedure, including hearing someone say, “Hurry, she’s going.” And then another person held me back as I thrashed around. I woke up with bruises and handprints across my body, and still don’t know exactly what happened.

For months afterwards, I was short-tempered and testy. My sleep went from bad to worse, because each time my body relaxed, I would jerk myself awake, terrified to fall into that same semi-unconsciousness.

Since then, I’ve been able to avoid twilight sedation. When I had my chemo port put in two months ago, I requested they use general anesthesia. But I guess that’s not advisable four times in two weeks.

I think what scares me the most about the sedation is the idea that my body will go through a trauma that my brain can’t fully process. Just because I may not have memories of what happened, it doesn’t mean I didn’t go through it.

My husband, Eric, is going to go with me, but he won’t be able to stay the whole time. I’d love him to be by my side for everything. He’s an amazing advocate and always knows the right questions to ask.

But with coronavirus and his artificial heart valve, I don’t want him in a healthcare center any longer than necessary. And anyway, I’d like him home to make sure our kids have something other than Cheez-Its and Dr Pepper for lunch.

I keep trying to tell myself that this is just one more hurdle, and once I make it through those two weeks this part of my cancer journey will be completed. But right now, when I think of it, all I picture is a big black, bottomless spot at the end of a long, painful tunnel.

Heather’s column will take a break next week and return on 18 May

Source: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/may/04/cancer-treatment-coronavirus-pandemic-brachytherapy