I haven’t really known what to make of radiotherapy. It has none of the drama of chemotherapy and is a curiously impersonal experience. They warn you about this before it starts. The radiographers have to make sure you’re in exactly the right position on the bench, so they push your body this way and that, and read out measurements to each other over you while you try and stay as still as possible. Then they leave the room while the machine buzzes and whirrs around you, before moving quickly onto the next patient. I don’t know that it could be any different; I want them to focus on getting my treatment right not chat to me about whether I’ve seen any good films lately. But it’s a lonely experience. And I found that being at hospital every week day for three weeks put me firmly in the role of being a patient, where my primary identity has been someone who needs to be fixed, where it’s easy to be passive and diminished. It hasn’t helped that I’ve had shingles for the last week or two, and I’ve been frequently tearful and lacking in confidence. It’s been a hard slog.
But today was my final radiotherapy session. I’ve arrived at the end of my cancer treatment, weary but relieved that it’s over. I ditched my hospital gown in the laundry bin with delight and cycled home from Charing Cross along the river with a strong sense of leaving something behind and moving on. Of course I already have more hospital appointments lined up for this year, but the end of treatment feels a significant thing, a line in the sand.
When you get diagnosed with cancer you join a tribe of people that you would never choose to belong to, but where you find huge solidarity and an understanding that does not need to be expressed in words. I don’t think you ever get to leave but with my treatment over, I’m aware that I’m really fortunate. Other people face more complicated diagnoses, or know that their cancer is terminal. I have friends who are living with ME or other illnesses where treatment is not straightforward and there is no recovery in sight. I’ve wondered if it’s insensitive to celebrate when others are not in that place, but I know that when any of my friends get to this kind of milestone I’m delighted for them. This is a tribe that knows how to weep with those who weep, and rejoice with those who rejoice. And for me, now is a time for rejoicing.