Brain On Fire


I’m having weekly blood tests and fortnightly clinics with Dr Gavaghan. These tests never show any anomalies and he is positive about my progress. I reach the halfway point of the treatment.

The routine behind each radiotherapy session is always the same. Collect my medical notes from the reception desk, go to the waiting room, read the notes, look at trashy magazines, get called in, hand the notes to the operators, have a quick conversation about how I’m feeling, strip to the waist, get blasted with radiation, put my top back on and leave the hospital.

However, actually doing it is much harder. I try to work out what my medical notes mean, but it’s all jargon and numbers. I’m frank with the medical team about my vomiting. I have to keep going because, if the treatment is halted, the cancer will kill me. But I come to dread the radiotherapy. The first few and final blasts are manageable but there is always at least one long blast that is increasingly difficult to take. This is made more uncomfortable because, as the radiation shoots through my head, I can smell my brain burning. The pungent stench is like steamed broccoli. I hate steamed broccoli. The only redeeming factor is my sense of smell reduces.

I see some truly horrific scenes walking around the hospital, especially in and around the three radiotherapy waiting areas. Many of the patients appear relatively normal. Well, as normal as you can in these circumstances. Other patients are in a bad way. Several are gaunt or wear headscarves. Most are in their sixties or above, but I see two other patients in their thirties or forties. It’s hard to tell. A man and a woman, who have both given up wearing headscarves. They look like walking corpses wheeling intravenous drips about. They are severely underweight, pale, bald and totter along like ninety year olds. But they both insist on walking unaided. These brave people fight back in their own way and literally take each step at a time. I sit there watching and quietly cry. It is a privilege to witness their fight. Those poor, poor people. I hope they make it through.

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