Oh, remember the early days of 2020? It feels like a century ago now, doesn’t it? That’s when we were just getting our tongues around words like COVID-19, furlough, and viral load.
Anyway, my docs decided to ship me off to this place in Liverpool called Clatterbridge for my treatment. They’d signed me up for this fancy thing called Proton Beam Therapy, or PBT, as we in the biz call it. It sounded like some gadget straight out of a James Bond movie, but really, it’s just a super precise way of blasting cancer.
This proton gig works a bit differently from your run-of-the-mill radiation therapy. They take hydrogen atoms, rip off their electrons in this whizz-bang machine called a cyclotron or synchrotron, and then these protons they’ve made are zapped almost at the speed of light, right at the nasty lump they want to nuke.
Here’s the nifty bit about PBT. As protons zip through your tissue, they slow down, and the radiation they deliver gets more intense – they call this the Bragg Peak. Past this point, the radiation dose drops off like a rock. That means they can point that peak right at the tumour while leaving the healthy tissue around it pretty much unscathed.
On the other hand, your garden-variety radiation therapy—think X-rays or gamma rays—doesn’t pick and choose. It just lobs radiation at everything it passes through, from your skin right through to the other side of the tumour. So, there’s always a chance it’ll rough up some of the good bits around the tumour. Like your brain, which just happens to be sitting pretty right behind your eyes.
But, of course, there’s a catch. PBT is pricier and harder to come by than your standard radiation therapy. And it needs more careful aim – miss the tumour, and you might zap a bunch of healthy tissue. And just like all other radiation treatments, it’s not without its side effects.
Before they started the whole zapping business, though, they told me to go off on our planned holiday to India and just “forget all about it until you’re back.” Right. Because it’s that easy to forget you’ve got a time bomb ticking away in your eye.
India! Now that’s a place that’ll spin your head around. If you ever get a chance to do a tour there, don’t even think twice. Just do it.
Considering the COVID boogeyman was just starting to rear its ugly head, we weren’t even sure if we’d get to go. We were on the blower with our travel agent the night before, fully expecting the plug to be pulled on our trip. But, surprise, surprise! All systems were go!
As fate would have it, our plane was the last one to touch down in India. They slammed the doors shut right behind us. So, as we were traipsing around some of the most iconic spots in the country, it was just us and a smattering of other tourists. Imagine getting the Pink Palace in Jaipur all to ourselves! Our guide, KV, was so gobsmacked he was filming the whole thing, having never seen the place so deserted in over a decade of taking folks around.
Of course, even in the middle of all this, bad news managed to find us. Helen got a call from one of our neighbours back home, who had some sad tidings about Slug, our little black kitten. Apparently, Slug decided to play chicken with a car on the main road. Poor little mite didn’t stand a chance. So long, Slug. You’ll be missed.
You might be wondering about the name. Slug was a surprise arrival and popped out behind our sofa when we least expected it. The first time I spotted him, he was a tiny, wet, black slug-like thing. I gave him the name as a placeholder, but it ended up sticking around, just like him. Well, for a little while.
In the end, we got the old heave-ho from the Indian Government five days before we were supposed to bid adieu to our holiday. Stuck in a hotel on our last night, we were basically in solitary confinement before we jumped on our flight the next day.
When we hit Heathrow, the UK Border Force didn’t so much as give us a second glance. No temp checks, no questions, zip, nada! Just a cheery “welcome back to the UK, and don’t hesitate to share your potential pandemic with everyone you meet.”
And then, it was time to hit the road again. Sub wait 6 had an empty seat with my name on it.