Burn, witch, burn

12 Nov

Originally published November 3, 2011 on SingleShotSeattle.wordpress.com

I don’t know if it’s the Halloween season or the fact that I’m currently going through radiation treatment (burn, baby, burn, radiation inferno!), but I’ve been feeling a lot like a witch in one of those old Vincent Price movies lately. You know, the ones that feature a variety of tortures for women accused of witchcraft. Or maybe they’re just accused of being women. Or single. It’s hard to keep all that straight.

Anyway, the bottom line is, it’s sometimes difficult to tell the difference between breast cancer treatment and torture.

When I was diagnosed back in February, one of the first things I learned was that I was going to lose my breasts, i.e., in order to get rid of the cancer, they had to take away the most symbolically female parts of my body. Presto chango — no more boobs. If that doesn’t sound like something straight out of the Spanish Inquisition, I don’t know what does.

After that, there was more “good” news. The surgery showed that my tumors qualified me for additional treatment, i.e., chemo and radiation. For those unfamiliar with chemotherapy, it’s basically a concoction of poisons that are pumped into your body through a port.  In my case, the port was surgically placed just under my right clavicle (where it still resides to allow easy access to my blood), a walnut-shaped lump that reminds me at times of an alien eyeball.

A third eye, if you will. Very witchy.

One of the worst side effects of chemo (at least for breast cancer patients) is complete and total hair loss. In other words, you’re shorn of your womanly locks, your crowning glory. That fabulous blonde stuff you flick over your shoulder and fluff whenever an interesting man comes into view suddenly starts to come out by the handful. Just as in the good old days of stocks and imaginary spells that supposedly caused some farmer’s milk cow to dry up, you’re robbed of yet another symbol of your womanhood. (You’re also robbed of your strength, your appetite, your dignity and so many other things during chemo, but we’ll save that for another time).

Losing your hair is the worst, though, probably because for a woman, losing your hair means you’re being punished. You’re a witch, a Nazi sympathizer, a prisoner. As Wikipedia puts it, “prisoners commonly have their heads shaven, often ostensibly to prevent the spread of lice, but clearly also as a demeaning measure.”

Head shaving, it goes on, “can be a punishment prescribed in law, but also something done as ‘mob justice’ – a stark example of which was the thousands of European women who had their heads shaved in front of cheering crowds in the wake of World War II, as punishment for associating with occupying Nazis during the war.”

In other words, when you lose your hair as a woman — not when you shave it yourself during that bad punk rock phase — but when it’s taken away from you without your consent, it ain’t good.  

But wait — there’s more.

After that, the witch — excuse me, the breast cancer patient — is burned. Not at the stake, mind  you, but in the bowels of some type of radiation machine. In my case, a new tomography wonder that my professional and attentive rad techs refer to as Tina.  It’s all very clean and technologically impressive. The treatment I receive at their hands is friendly and, yes, even comforting. But the machine still burns you, causing your skin to redden and blister and peel and throb so much that it takes your breath away at times. Sometimes, it causes the skin to harden enough that reconstruction becomes impossible. Or requires additional torture … er, surgery … to achieve.

Again, maybe it’s just the Halloween season. Or the fact that I’m in the last few days of my treatment and I’ve reached critical mass. Who knows, maybe I have a gigantic plastic bug up my ass.

I know that I have a vivid imagination. I know that the people who are treating me are not trying to hurt me, but get rid of this horrific disease so I can live a long and happy life. I know that researchers are desperately trying to come up with better solutions — solutions that don’t require this kind of torture — each and every day. But truly, I can’t help but wonder what the frigging hold-up is. Or whether this tortuous treatment for breast cancer is somehow considered acceptable. Because, after all, we’re just women. And women have been taking this kind of shit for hundreds of years.

But this particular woman — who happens to be feeling particularly witchy (and yes, even bitchy) this particular night — would just like to say, one thing.

I’ve had it. Seriously. I’m done.

In fact, if I have to take any more of this crap, I may just break down and turn somebody into a frog.

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