“Wow, a standing appointment with my personal tanning machine,” I thought as I stood looking at the monster piece of equipment that was about 12 feet high and 4 feet wide. The machine had movable hoods and screens, beaming rays at any part of the body as preset by the technicians who were trained to operate it.
The protocol for my type of anal cancer is pretty heavy—5 weeks of intensive daily chemo and radiation. But the worst day of the entire experience occurred about 1 week before I even started treatment. That was the day I was measured for a mold, followed by the mold construction. Yes, believe it or not, they made a mold of my butt!
Then, for each radiation treatment for the next 5 weeks, I would lie on a table (without padding), rear end up. The mold would then be fitted to my bottom and pegged down to the table on either side. This ensured that the radiation beams targeted the exact spot of the cancer each day of treatment.
The Funny Side of Things
During my final week of treatment, I tried to follow the old adage that laughter is good for the soul as well as the body. It’s truly hard to laugh when you’re being treated for anal cancer, as dignity goes out the window, and nausea, stomach ailments, fatigue, and depression come charging in. To counteract the latter, one must resort to a quick retort with a funny line wherever possible.
One day as I was being corseted with my own personal mold, a cute little technician said that I don’t look my age. I immediately responded with, “It depends which end you’re looking at.”
She laughed and I wanted to cry, because I knew full well that the end that got makeup may look youthful, but the opposite end certainly did not. But laugh I did, because when you “hit rock bottom,” laughter is the only medicine.
Soon I found that I became increasingly sensitive to figures of speech that alluded to that part of the anatomy known as one’s buttocks, bottom, butt, rear end, cheeks, derriere, bum, and perhaps other synonyms that are unknown to me.
So when a friend unwittingly sent me an e-mail toward the final weeks of my treatment saying, “The end is in sight,” I burst out laughing and wrote back, “Yes, indeed, the end is in sight. Every day, for 20 minutes, the end is in sight,” and in full view of all personnel involved in the technical operation of Big Betsy, as I lovingly came to call the machine.
I thought back to when, as an administrator, I required precise adherence to my instructions, and wondered whether I had an anal-retentive personality, and whether that had anything to do with the location of my cancer.
“Nah,” I murmured to myself, “I wasn’t anal, even though I often ended directions with ‘no ifs, ands, or buts’ (butts?).” Most often, I flew by the seat of my pants.
A Game of Words
As a writer, I became so fascinated with the numerous vernacular references to the part of my body receiving treatment, that I asked friends to send me any such expressions that they came across.
When my doctor warned me that I might have some tenderness in that area, I responded with the statement that my mother always told me I had a thick hide. And when a friend e-mailed me that she was having rump steak for dinner, I e-mailed her back and suggested that the bottom round might be tenderer.
When an associate says something I don’t especially like, I turn the other cheek. When I’m out walking with my grandchildren, I always bring up the rear.
Why are some admirals called “rear admirals”? Why is the last bit of a cigarette called “a butt”?
I worried that given the location of my cancer, some people may think of me as the butt of a joke, and sarcasm may rear its ugly head. “Don’t be a buttinsky,” my daughter gently chided me when I tried to give her some advice while driving to my treatment center one morning. I had to stop short and almost caused a rear-ender.
Well, the tail end of this story is that life goes on. So each morning I put on my fanny pack, give my husband a cheeky grin and peck on the cheek (not that cheek), and march off to visit Big Betsy. I’ve come to respect her, even though she gives me a “pain in the butt.”