The Last One


I arrive for the last radiotherapy session, number thirty. Only ten minutes earlier, I was leaning against a wall and throwing up. With watery eyes, I wiped my face and made my way into hospital. After a fifteen minute wait, my name is called and I put down a magazine about the latest celebrity bullshit. I walk past the other patients and into the whitewashed treatment area.

I strip to the waist per usual, lay on the bench and the mask is laid over me. I’m pinned down one final time. The operators draw some marks on the mask and their footsteps retreat to the safety of the control area. With eyelids forcibly shut, I hear the machine overhead, the familiar buzzing noises kick in for the shorter blasts. I zone out for a while, knowing what is about to come. I brace myself for a big one. Waiting a few seconds, my eyes flicker about, but the plastic has pinned them down. It’s on. My head lights up blue as the noise goes on and on.

How long will this one be? I count in my head. Twenty-seven, twenty-eight. The stench of steamed broccoli is intensifying. Am I the only one who can smell this? Thirty-nine, forty. I can feel vomit in the back of my throat. Forty-seven, forty-eight. I can’t be sick with this mask on during my last session. Fifty-three, fifty-four. I force myself to breathe slower.

The buzzing stops. That was the worst one and I convulse in the back of my throat, but I’m just about through. The machine moves around with another series of clunking sounds. I take three further, but shorter blasts from different angles. Then… silence.

After a pause, I hear the operators’ quick footsteps and they unstrap my head. They ask if I’m okay. I nod. They help me upright. I put my top back on and thank them for everything they’ve done. I’m emotional as I wave to the others in the control room. The team leader meets me in the hallway. I thank him and he wishes me luck. He makes a point of solid eye contact and shakes my hand firmly. I walk back through the waiting area. It is full and silent. The tired-looking patients wait their turn.

I fight back the tears as I walk along the corridors of The Royal Marsden Hospital. I turn through double-doors and walk toward the exit. I’m a wreck and hold both hands to my face as I walk. Then I push through the revolving doors. That’s the last radiotherapy session under my belt. It sapped any energy I had left and I feel hollow. I’m all over the place as I walk down the street and away.

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