Going Nuclear 


Very much too early in the morning for my mood, I sit in the parking lot of my next scan, exhausted, hungover, frightened. 

For the next act in the gory schlock film of my life, I’ll be nuclear reactive for the day. I swear on my left boob (the one that isn’t fucked up), I’m not making this up. 

I am not to have any physical contact with another living soul for at least 24 hours. No drive through coffee on my way home. No chatting in the lobby with strangers. No turning tricks in truck stop parking lots to pay for all this. I’m instructed to go straight home. Since my dog is ancient and already has one paw in the grave, I can rub my nuclear reactivity on her but no one else. 

When I pee, I’m told to flush twice so that no nuclear fallout remains. I imagine this unusual step was created by a male researcher to prevent precious gems worldwide from getting nuked by unexpected exposure to the toilets of breast cancer patients. 

I’m wondering why it is okay to flush it at all. Shouldn’t it be contained? Google says you have to find some sort of “deep ecological disposal” because this shit can take pretty much forever to go away. For example, plutonium has a half-life of 24,000 years. It’s only half gone at that point. I’m not saying whatever they use in this scan is plutonium but FUCK. 

I make a note to never go fishing in Austin again and also to turn the lights off before I flush to see if anything glows. 

The name of this scan is called Positron Emission Mammography (PEM). I’m pretty sure positron is a fake word invented by Jean-Luc Picard. It is a relatively new and uncommon scan, which really makes me feel like everything is going to be okay. That and the flushing thing. I’m really confident in this plan. 

Nuclear techs aren’t as fun as the normal radiological staff. They are much more serious, probably because if they screw up 15 or so city blocks would be leveled. A bit less ceremoniously than I expected, they inject me with a nuclear sugar solution and sternly tell me to sit without moving for 15 minutes while it marinates my doomed organs. I assume this is also when I’ll achieve a creepy glow that will come in really handy at a music festival.  I can use anything I can hold in two hands but can’t walk around, stretch, or pee (you know, aforementioned risk of rendering the staff and future patients sterile). 

I tuck into my laptop to attempt to sort out the schedule for the next rest of my life. There is now a hefty list of torturous mini-surgeries and follow up appointments to complete before chemo begins. Of course, my laptop won’t connect to WiFi. 

No matter. I’m a sane and intelligent person who can handle this without crying. Stay calm. No need to panic. Everything is fine. You’re safe. Except, not really. Is that an anxiety spiral beginning? No, no, it is just the internet. You’ll survive. Probably. Is it just me or is this room getting smaller? 

Seriously though, I will need the internet to accomplish any scheduling and also to distract myself from the fact that Cold War weaponry is now being used as medicine. Apparently, I’m being stored underwater or perhaps in an underground WiFi-proof bunker. 

But then my phone rings. How the hell is my phone ringing when I have precisely NO service in my central repository underneath Yucca Mountain?

It’s the Cancer Center calling to schedule a surgical appointment. I explain I’m having trouble connecting to my calendar at the moment. Another call comes in while I’m talking to the Cancer Center. It’s also the Cancer Center, attempting to schedule a surgical appointment for a different procedure. The phone rings again. It’s the Cancer Center. Da fck?!

In just a few minutes I received no less than 10,000 phone calls, each one elevating my pulse exponentially. Maybe that’s a tiny exaggeration but trust me, it was seriously not okay. 

One mentally and emotionally impaired patient, numerous doctors and medical staff, all failing to coordinate what should be a streamlined plan of action. I begin to have a terrifying understanding of how medical mistakes are made. And, because I am in a lead box and cannot resolve any of the issues being pummeled my way, I’m paralyzed, literally and figuratively. The anxiety spiral is now a Category 5.

What should I do? 

I can go silent and numb and wait to pass this pile of flaming shit to my friend who is helping me coordinate my treatment plan. That’s what I’ve been doing so far. She asks the doctors questions. She schedules appointments. She takes notes. I can’t work a goddamn pencil. But she’s not here because I’m so radioactively toxic leprosy colonies won’t have me. I’m on my own. 

I can start fraily mumbling yes to everyone who calls and consent to a disjointed surgical plan, increasing my risk of complications and extending my recovery substantially. If I weren’t me, that might be an option. But I am still me, right?  

Something snaps. When did I become the silent type? Who even is this timid little crybaby that can’t form a sentence to help herself? My weary, beat down brain looks around frantically. There it is! My brain picks up her sword. It feels heavier than I remember. But familiar. 

That’s my girl!! Where the hell have you been? Go out there and be somebody, for fuck’s sake. We’re in danger, girl. 

I stand up and open the door. I yell down the hallway that I need help. Staff run towards me, scolding me for moving around. A bit too harshly, if I’m honest. Between the overwhelming fear, the hangover, and the glorious rediscovery that I can help myself, I’m quite unstoppable. Did I mention I wasn’t allowed coffee prior to this scan? Shit’s about to get real.

Escalation to catastrophic core nuclear meltdown must have been evident in my new tone of voice as I explained my situation in complete and articulate sentences. They now had choices to make. They chose correctly. 

I needed several minor surgeries in the next couple days. I wanted them to happen at the same time by the same surgeon so that I didn’t have to undergo anesthesia multiple times. Pleaseandthankyou. Before I left the office that day to spread my nuclear glow all over my sofa, a consolidated procedure was scheduled. And not a single curse word was uttered. Probably. 

The moral of the story is if you want to get anything done, you’re going to have to throw tantrums in your doctor’s office so they HAVE to pay attention to you. 

Wait, actually, that’s not the moral of the story. I didn’t even throw a tantrum. I’m a motherfucking lady. 

The real moral of the story is that problems are solved by action, not by mumbling inaudibly or crying silently into your shih tzu or hoping someone stronger will swoop in and save the day. There’s a reason why the limbic system isn’t programmed to fight, flight, or go limp and feeble. Going limp doesn’t protect you.* 

Apparently exposure to nuclear radiation really does turn regular, scared, tired, heartbroken people into ass-kicking, name-taking superheros. And there’s no going back from that, really. 

Watch out, cancer. I’m coming for you.

*Note on limpiness: Going limp apparently is the recommended course of action when being mauled by a bear.  But only if you’re being mauled by a Grizzly bear. If you’re being attacked by a black bear, DO NOT GO LIMP. Punch a black bear right in the face, for sure. If after going limp a Grizzly persists in attacking you, go ahead and fight back. So really how to survive a bear mauling is anyone’s guess. I’m really glad I know this because it is going to be super easy to remember while I’m being attacked by a bear.  

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