Taking a Radiation 'Trip'

CURE, Spring 2010, Volume 9, Issue 1

Reader essay about her great adventure through cancer treatment.

It was a dark and stormy night … well, maybe not outside, but inside the van it was pretty dark and gloomy. Outside it was a pleasant September day in Lincoln, Nebraska. The gloom of the van was due to a failed radiation treatment option for breast cancer. My hopes of receiving radiation twice a day for five days, rather than 33 daily treatments, were dashed. Now I faced the daily 50-plus-mile (each way) drive from my home to Lincoln in January and February for radiation following 12 weeks of chemotherapy. Bleh!

As my husband (“Mr. Optimism”) drove, he calculated the daily mileage from our home, added it up, and commented that the drive would tally more than 3,500 miles.

“You could pretend you’re going to California,” he said.

My only thought was, “But I don’t WANT to go to California. I want to go to New England!”

I wanted to go to New England because my father had just returned from Bar Harbor, Maine, and had shared great video and still photography of the most beautiful countryside and seashores. Yes, if I had to pretend I was going somewhere, it would be to New England. And that’s what I did.

I wrote the AAA office in Omaha and relayed my sappy-sad tale, and soon received a large box containing my TripTik, maps, vacation brochures, and books for my “vacation” to New England. Being a high school secretary has its perks, so I posted a map of the United States to track my journey.

On January 13, I started “heading east.” I kept the family updated on my progress, which, of course, confirmed to them that I am loony. I didn’t really want to bore them, but I sent subtle e-mails about what I would be visiting on a particular day. “Did any of you know that John Deere was born on Feb. 7, 1804? The history of the famous inventor is at the John Deere Pavilion in the Quad Cities area. I might go, if traffic isn’t too bad.”

It was a big help to have the map of my imaginary trip as a visual aid when I passed the halfway point in radiation and was ‘on my way home.’

I mentioned in a January 26 e-mail that the temperature in Buffalo, New York, was 15 degrees—5 degrees warmer than it was in Nebraska that day, but the wind was stronger. Sometimes the message was simple: “Can you say Schenectady?” And when I mentioned to my husband that Erie, Pennsylvania, and Niagara Falls, New York, were so close to Canada that maybe we should consider a side trip, he didn’t answer. I imagine he was wondering if we’d need passports.

Each evening I’d check my TripTik to see the next day’s destination and read through the tourist spots. I put a Hershey’s Kiss in each person’s mailbox at school the day I was in Hershey, Pennsylvania. In response, the high school counselor told me she was sure they made Twix candy bars in Gettysburg, my next stop. And one of the coaches was hoping I’d be going through Milwaukee.

My adventure was a great conversation starter. Instead of the predictable, “How are you feeling today?” it was, “Where are you today?”

It was a big help to have the map of my imaginary trip as a visual aid when I passed the halfway point in radiation and was “on my way home.”

And my half-way destination was … Bar Harbor, Maine. What are the odds of that?

I can’t thank the people at the Omaha AAA office enough. It became such a great adventure instead of a drag. I’ve learned a lot about the areas I’ve “visited.” My map is a concrete reminder that I’m done. And my children have the confirmation they’ve needed that I am crazy, and darn proud of it.