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Washington Voices

This star turn is treatment for my girl

Sat., March 16, 2013, midnight

When it comes to breast cancer, modesty freaks need not apply.

My right breast (which had a surgical lumpectomy) has, during the course of treatment, experienced more exposure than “Harlem Shake” videos on YouTube. During my extended treatment I’ve been endlessly flashing the girl to my medical practitioners who want to see it, touch it, handle it, and write graffiti on it.

I might as well install a sign on it that says “Scenic Turnout.” However, everyone on my fantastic team has been both kind and professional, never making me feel embarrassed.

Radiation alone has completely stripped me, quite literally, of any modest inclinations. During my calibration appointment in late January, my oncologist and male and female therapists stood over my naked chest examining my breast, complimenting my surgeon’s work, positioning me for the linear accelerator, and marking me up with a black Sharpie. I envision myself offering up a fried egg to restaurant critics.

Then two weeks later when I have my simulation, I’m marked up again, big time. When I see my chest afterward in the dressing room, it looks like the diagram of a side of beef. At that session I also get four permanent coordinate tattoos which look like tiny moles. I tell them I’d rather have a dragon that wraps around my torso, but to it’s a no go. Dang.

For my 33 daily 15-minute radiation session, I change to an alluring green scrub top and enter the Chernobyl Resort, er, linear accelerator room. There I undrape my right side, lie on the accelerator table, and am positioned and lightly marked by the therapists, who then exit the chamber while I enjoy the nuclear beach. To my great disappointment no dramatic red beams flash my chest.

While chemo feels hospital-like, radiation feels very science fiction-y. The equipment looks like something out of a futuristic film and I’m thrilled to discover that for most of my treatment I’m receiving photon radiation. Photons … awesomesauce! Full speed ahead, Mr. Sulu!

The bottom of the accelerator’s wide gantry, which pans my prone body, makes me think of a disk-like spaceship when it’s overhead. When the therapist lowers it toward me, I intone, “The mother ship descends; the aliens want a better look. Next up: the probe.”

Chemo is systemic treatment through my port, but in radiation oncology, my right girl is the star of the show and has never felt more popular. She has all the accoutrements of fame: the keen interest, the solicitous care, the designer drugs, the customized diet, the couture scrubs, the entourage, the multimillion dollar equipment, the paparazzi (or should I say mamarazzi?), the cheering fans. What more could a girl want? I hope she doesn’t become a demanding narcissist ruined by fame and glory, who succumbs to depression once treatment is over and writes a scathing tell-all about me.

I finish radiation on March 27 and will have the port taken out on April 9. It’s hard to believe that after almost nine very long, exhausting, exacting months I’ll be through with cancer treatment, except for follow-up doctor visits and tests. Oh, and the daily aromatase inhibitor pills I must take to suppress my hormones, allowing me to luxuriously enjoy hot flashes for years to come.

But until then my breast is having a star turn. The girl just wants to have fun.

You can reach Deborah Chan at Previous columns are available at

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