I enter the large, dark room, approach the table in the middle, and lie face-down. I bury my head in a pillow and close my eyes. I hear the nurse exit and close the door behind her. The door locks, and the “Radiation” sign illuminates.
I hear the machine turn on and move, get in position, and hover over me. I fidget to get comfortable one last time, and then I do not move. I focus on my breathing and I focus on my muscles not twitching. The energy about to exit the machine over the next ten minutes—the amount in about 180 CT scans—will burn my skin, which is already tomato-red from the previous 24 sessions I’ve had. It will blaze through my intestines, muscles, nerves, and now-dead bone. Most importantly it will annihilate the cancer cells that I believe have already been dead for 11 months. Dead from the first of 14 cycles of chemo. Dead because I felt them burning alive, a pain I will never forget and a pain I wish I hadn’t taken Tylenol to mask.
Minutes later, the machine stops making noise. I hear the nurse open the massive steel door and say that radiation is over. I follow her into the lobby. She says she will miss me, hugs me, and gives me a Hershey’s bar. I am confident that I will never receive another milliliter of chemotherapy. I will never again lie motionless in front of a machine that shoots waves of destructive energy through me. I will never again be termed a “cancer patient”; be seen as the Sick Kid; have another nurse say she will miss me.
It is Friday, September 14, 2001, at 3:40 p.m.. I am a bone cancer survivor, age 17.