At 8:30 every weekday morning for the past five weeks I pull on my coat, scarf, and gloves, pick up my purse, knitting, and keys, open the garage door, walk out to the garage and slide into the driver's seat, start the car and back down the driveway, follow a familiar 2.7 mile route through five stoplights and ten turns (six rights & four lefts), enter a parking garage where I leave my car, walk up a ramp to an exterior door and three more interior doors, change into an overly large, bright pink gown in a cold changing room where I stow my coat, purse, shirt, and bra. After placing the locker key in my right pocket I take a seat in a small room to wait for my nine-o'clock radiation therapy appointment with an ever changing assortment of companions.
Nothing in the routine has changed except the faces sharing the waiting room. Some are old timers with just a few days before their treatment is complete. Others are anxious newbies. We have not been introduced by name - we know each other only by demeanor and diagnosis: chatty breast cancer patient; jolly Scotsman with a brain tumor; artfully dressed woman who will soon have chemotherapy delivered to her spine through a hole drilled in her scull, remorseful smoker with lung cancer, optimistic woman who arrives in a wheel chair due to melanoma in her hip. Some read magazines or the newspaper. One works on a jigsaw puzzle. A few are content with their own thoughts. I knit.
Alan opens the door and calls my name. After stashing my knitting, I pass the control center where Mary is checking computer monitors and then walk through a wide door, down a short hall with a left turn into a large dimly lit room. Three walls are lined with shelves holding metal braces, skull shaped head gear, and mysterious gadgets. A machine projects like a giant's finger from a large calibrated disk on the fourth wall. My custom foam pad is waiting for me under a sheet on the hard narrow slab of the treatment table.
Sitting down and swinging my feet up onto the table, I let the left side of my gown fall open. Melissa slides a pillow under my legs while I settle my head into a depression and raise my left arm to grab a handhold in the pad. Alan adjust me until tattoos on my waist and sternum line up with piercing red lights beaming from the ceiling and walls. They tilt the machine to the right stopping less than an arm's length from my face. After the final adjustments have been checked the techs leave the room. A humming sound, lasting for about 30 seconds, indicates the radiation is on. The machine is then pivoted to the left for another 25 or 30 second treatment. Melissa returns to help me up from the table. I hear Mary say, "see you tomorrow at nine," as I retrace my steps to the changing room.
There is something to be said for routines - they impose comforting structure on an otherwise random universe. I know where I was last Tuesday morning and where I will be next Thursday. The remainder of my day is anchored by the morning ritual. Just seven more treatments and radiation therapy will be finished. As odd as this may sound, I will mourn the loss of a morning routine.