The Firepower of Radiation Therapy

Gregory Carroll, PhD
Gregory Carroll, PhD

As a psychologist specializing in clinician-patient communication, Greg has worn a few hats: university professor, associate dean, foundation executive and independent consultant. Diagnosed in January 2014 with high-grade carcinoma of the head and neck, he underwent extensive surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatment over the next five months. He and his wife Suzanne reside in Connecticut and are profoundly grateful to all the oncology professionals, staff and survivors who treat and support them.

For many head and neck cancers, radiation treatment can be brutal but beneficial.

Shards of bitter taste arrive like gnats

in a sweaty summer haze,

shifting my thoughts

to the loss of what’s missing

and then to signs of recovery.

Healthy taste cells grow fast and die young,

updating the brain,

delighting the palate,

warning the body of possible danger.

Mine, as expected, are hapless victims

of the proton rays that pounded

my mutinous tumors nearby.

Like the weeping, burning epidermis

of my target surface

the taste cells flamed out shortly,

a sure sign that the treatment was no placebo.

Two years later renegade outbreaks

still recur along the skin’s outer edges.

Sunlight, wear and pathogens can brew

an intense, lava-like burn of sting and itch.

Doctors scramble to their fire stations.

Steroids, antibiotics, and lotions repel the attack,

restoring order to cell recovery.

I trust the taste buds will also heal one day.

For now I sip a bitter coffee stout,

pucker up to a sour lemon sorbet,

recall the savory kisses of gourmet food,

fine wine, exquisite chocolate.

I listen to an owl,

scan the sky, smell the lilacs,

sense the softness of deepening shade.

Brushing aside the gnats,

I inhale the calm of twilight,

exhaling my thanks with no regrets.