Archive | November, 2011

The Radiation Arrow

Team SCCA: Patient with radiation therapists (L to R) Tony, Jason, Lorena

My 36 radiation treatments ended today, and we marked the occasion at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance with thank-yous, good-lucks, handshakes, a hug and a team photo of patient and therapists. In the cheer of it all, I felt the sadness of separation. I was the teammate who got traded. They stay together, and I move on. I’ll miss them.

Later, there was champagne at home (thank you, Craig). It was nothing, really, you’d call a big celebration, just a marking of the occasion with a toast and some of France’s best: one more cancer therapy, now completed.

Radiation seemed to go well — if you ignore the fact that there’s no way of knowing (yet) whether it “worked.” I asked how/when we’ll know if the radiation did me any good. The answer: When

  • I’m done with hormone suppression (in January);
  • my testosterone has returned to normal (about July);
  • and I’ve no detectable PSA,

then it worked!

Translation: not any time soon.

In fact, I hope it takes years — decades, even — to know. For the longer I go without PSA, the likelier the radiation worked its magic. I don’t know if there’s an end point where someone will announce, “It worked!” It will more likely be just three months at a time as I pinball from one PSA test to the next. We should, though, get some idea over the next few years whether my PSA, and thus my cancer, are ever to come back.

(Because I’ll be making increasingly frequent, and increasingly important, references to PSA in these posts, I’ve created a petite primer on PSA and where it fits in my health care — the PSA & Me link, above, if you’re inclined).

I do remind myself that salvage radiation was never held out to me as a slam-dunk “cure.” I knew, and I know, viscerally and intellectually, that radiation was never a solid certainty — nor was it a hollow hope. It was somewhere in the scheme of possibility, but, like whack-a-mole, the greater probability is that my cancer will pop up again.

In short, I never saw radiation as the silver bullet. It was always an uncertain arrow in the oncologic quiver.

And it has now been spent.

I shot an arrow into the air;

It fell to earth I know not where.

–Longfellow