I go into the final sessions of radiotherapy and am so unwell. Through the waves of tiredness, I stop at my favourite doorway to retch and vomit before making it into hospital and telling the radiotherapy operators I’m not okay but want the treatment anyway. It feels like torture as my head and shoulders are strapped to the bench using that green mask. The horrible blue light flashes through my head to metallic clunking sounds. The smell of steamed broccoli fills my nostrils.
Then something different happens and my left eye lights up a translucent blue during one of the radiation blasts. I guess the beam is slightly off target because I haven’t experienced this before. I have to think fast: Don’t move and maybe go blind; or move to avoid blindness, but risk the cancer killing me. Fuck it. I move a bit to the left. The next radiation beam doesn’t light my eye up.
I still listen to Where Eagles Dare each time I walk to the hospital to psyche myself up. Now I’m nearing the end of my radiotherapy treatment, on the way back from the hospital, I play the theme of Band of Brothers for a soothing effect after the ordeal. Then it’s a clip from the film Gladiator in which orchestral music has a backing of growling war dogs, clashing swords, shouts, horses, sobs, breathing and cheers to “Roma Victor!” It helps to fortify my resolve as I stagger down the pavement of Onslow Square.
I turn up for radiotherapy session number twenty-nine and am greeted by a new team of radiotherapy operators. They introduce themselves and the team leader explains they switch around to different machines every now and then. He takes me aside.
“How’s the treatment going?”
“It’s manageable, but I have no choice have I?”
“True, but how do you feel?”
“Not good. I was just sick in the street.”
“Hmm, are you about halfway through the treatment?”
“God, no. This is my second last one.”
A look of astonishment sweeps across his face.
“You’re coping very well with this. I can’t believe how healthy you look,” he says, leaning closer. “You should see the state of most patients when they reach this stage,” he whispers. “Well done, you’re nearly there.” He slaps me on the shoulder. I nod and walk away.