My name is Phil Romo and I have just finished six weeks of radiation therapy. Each session lasted for about five minutes and were done five days a week, Monday through Friday. This is what my neck looked like during the final week.
Notice where the stubble ends at my jawline. My neck was mildly microwaved for a month and a half.
The fatigue was the hardest thing to deal with. I went from marathon condition to marathon spectator little by little. I fought the fatigue the best I could. I had a system for dealing with the radiation therapy.
6:30 AM- Shower, get dressed. Head downstairs to make breakfast for JP and do a ten minute meditation session. Get JP ready for school and then wait for the bus to pick him up around 7:45
7:50 AM- Ride my bike up to Glendale Adventist. I had not been on my bike nearly as much as I would like to during marathon training and this was my opportunity to get reacquainted with two wheels. It's simple classical conditioning. If I can equate the unpleasantness of radiation therapy with the pleasantness of cycling, then I can make the entire experience far easier to deal with.
The Cancer Research Center employees weren't used to someone cycling to the clinic. I was usually out of each session in about ten minutes.
8:15 AM- Ride down to Highlight Coffee on Glendale and Broadway. I'm a bit of a coffee snob and this place is legit. The atmosphere and aesthetic is nice and the coffee is top notch. I would get my caffeine fix and then read for at least an hour. I've been an avid reader most of my life but I have not engaged in good fiction for a long while. I figured the historical fiction of legendary Japanese samurai Musashi was a good place to start again. I haven't read a 970 page tome in ages.
10 AM- Fully caffeinated and unable to sit still any longer, I make my way either to Maple Park or to the LA River bike path. Strenuous exercise isn't necessarily recommended during radiation treatments, but light exercise really is helpful for elevating my mood. I hadn't done my body weight fitness routine in a long while. My pull-ups were pathetic but I knew how to improve them, I just had to flex that muscle once again.
11:30 AM- Come home, shower and wait for JP's bus to drop him off at home. By 12:30 JP is at his daycare and I'm off to work for the day. I'm constantly tired, constantly hungry but my situation is manageable. I feel like I would be far worse off if I just sat at home idly during these six weeks.
What I Learned
At the Glendale Adventist Cancer Research Center I saw many people in various stages of illness. People with canes and on stretchers fighting for their lives against the blight of cancer. These people were grandmothers and grandfathers who's spouses and children would lovingly walk them into the treatment area. I saw the worry on their faces and the concern that this next round of treatment would leave them fatigued and less able to function.
What I had to deal with was nearly insignificant in comparison. The lab technicians, nurse and front desk treated everyone with grace, humour and immense respect. I knew that they had to face heartache daily and that in the course of their line of work they must have lost a few patients. They still came to work every day and helped saved people's lives. Every morning for five days a week I got to witness the best of humanity at work. I would not have been able to witness such a loving practice of altruism if I hadn't gone through this.
I learned that I am lucky and that I should be grateful. I learned how bad it could get and I learned a little bit more of what I was capable of dealing with.
I am once again in relatively bad physical condition. It's fortunate that I was in marathon condition before therapy started. I was instructed NOT to lose weight during these six weeks. Due to stress, hunger and a bit of indulgence I am close to 200 lbs. for the first time in years.
No factor. I start tomorrow with training, diet and conditioning. Now that my vitality won't be drained from me day by day, it should be relatively simple.
The Hill On Vallejo Drive
Outside of the clinic by Merill Ave. there is this hill.
When you ascend a bit you make a right turn onto Vallejo Dr. There is a church at the top of the hill.
For the last few feet before the apex it would pitch up pretty steep. After each session I would climb this hill on my old six speed bike. It was symbolic. After every session I would test myself to see if I still had power in my legs and strength in my core. I wasn't going to let the radiation beat me. I wasn't going to bend to weakness.
I never once walked my bike up this hill. Some days were harder than others, but I was never going to succumb to this hill.
The descent was the payoff. Many heads were turned my direction when I made the descent and got to the bottom on Wilson Terrace by the hospital entrance.
Sure, the climb can be hard...
but the descent is worth it.