The Gamma Knife Radiosurgery goes pretty much as promised. The Valium is really not enough to take the edge off, but I was not really feeling much edge anyway. The shots to numb the areas where the pins would attach the ring to my skull hurt like hell and I found myself, with tears in my eyes, using the Lamaze breathing that I learned in childbirth classes six years ago but have never had to call upon in my three Cesarean Sections. The shots are put in one by one and while I want to beg them to let me get my bearings between each one they made no such offer. Not wanting to appear weak, I stay silent.
There are four pins that attach the ring to my head, two on my forehead and two on the back of my head. The pin that they insert in the back left side of my head somehow misses its anesthetized mark and its insertion and residence there, although short, is excruciating. It seems the neurosurgeon asks me something about whether it is pressure that I am feeling and I am somehow able to communicate to him, although I am not sure that it is in English, that it is not merely pressure that I am feeling. He removes the pin, gives another awful shot, and reinserts the pin and somehow, once everything is installed, despite that awful looks of it the contraption isn’t the most uncomfortable thing that I have ever worn. I am surprised and pleased.
There is a CT scan to help them line up the radiation precisely and then I am given breakfast. One of the friends who waits with me had brought a banana and sweetly offers it to over and over in hopes, I’m sure, that it will make this all okay.
The procedure itself is painless but somehow brings out in me all the emotions that I should have been probably been working though in the weeks since diagnoses. Alone in the room, literally bolted to the table by my head, being moved this way and that from time to time by the mostly unseen techs; I am suddenly overwhelmed by the sad loneliness of it all. It makes me miss my mother. I want her here to hold me, to stroke my hair and tell me that it will be okay. And then I am sad anew because I realize that if this doesn’t work, my own children will lose that comfort from their mother as well.
I realize as the machine moves and whirrs that I am, at that very moment having things burned from the center of my brain. I understand why my friends have been so weepy and worried these last few weeks. I see suddenly that while it almost never happens, it has happened to me again and again: the tumors have come back and they have moved and they are now threatening the very thing that makes me me. I have a brain tumor and suddenly benign doesn’t seem so benign.
As they remove me from the machine and the Radiation Oncologist comes to remove the ring, a single river of blood runs from my left forehead pin spot to my eye and down my cheek. Although there was pressure the procedure was not painful, and yet is was all I can do to hold back my tears. Afterward, I am taken back to the family room where my friends, who have nothing in common except me and their dislike of one another, take turns mothering me; alternately wiping the blood from my face and trying to remove as much of the marker ink from the pin placement site as they can. No one offers to hold me or stroke my hair, but I have a feeling that if I asked they would quickly accommodate me. And I wish, more than anything, it could be enough.