Filed Under:  Columns, Opinion

Chronicling the healing of an eye

25th November 2013   ·   0 Comments

By Fr. Jerome LeDoux
Contributing Writer

As Frank “Paco” Norvel swer­ved into the parking lot of the Center For Cancer And Blood Disorders, I reflected, “A visit to an oncologist is not exactly a high point in one’s life.” However, it was not a low point, for I was feeling as I have always felt since turning 30 – unconcerned and devoid of any fear, anxiety or pain. Yes, I fully realize that this constant feeling of well-being is a special blessing for which I thank and praise God every moment.

A native of South India, Oncologist Prasanthi Ganesa is as competent as she is lively and personable. By the way, the “e” in Ganesa is pronounced like the a in ale (most people make the e sound like the e in me). The doctor repeated some of the same things Dr. Sam had said: that follicular lymphoma is the least troublesome and most curable of lymphomas, that it is very slow-moving and can sometimes be observed for years with hardly a change.

“Nevertheless, it will be better to radiate it,” she said, “and then it will be no more trouble. To that end, we need to discern whether the lymphoma is confined to that one area above the left eye. So we are going to schedule a PETscan to pinpoint areas of concern.”

A PETscan (Positron Emission Tomography) is an imaging test that uses a radioactive substance called a tracer to look for disease in the body. At the assigned time, a technician had me lie back on a cot while he put a needle into my right arm and injected radioactive fluid. With a light spread to keep me warm, I was asked to lie quiet for one hour.

Counting minutes in my head, I guesstimated within two minutes of the hour and five minutes when an assistant came to operate the amazing space-age machine that searched for “hot spots” as the big barrel-shaped brain passed over the length of my body, then back again. A read-out showed clearly some small, low-level hot spots in the stomach area.

“Those small spots are of no immediate concern,” Dr. Ganesa said. “But we still want to account for them. So, next week we will extract a bit of material from your bone marrow to determine whether those hot spots have any relation to your bone marrow.”

In the meantime, I was scheduled to meet with Dr. Matthew Cavey who administers radiation treatment. The doctor went over the PETscan results with me and decided that we go forward with radiation independently of what Dr. Ganesa would be doing. Thus, I was scheduled to have a radiation mask made Thursday, November 7 at 8:00 in the morning.

Two hours before the homegoing Mass of church member Vernon Azrie Newton, I was on my back again being prepped for a masking. Making sure that I was comfortable and still, the technician prepared a wax-impregnated, rectangular mesh with perhaps 1/8-inch holes to fit over my face. “This will be hot at first,” he warned, “but will cool very quickly.”

It was mildly hot, prompting me to imagine that the sensation caused by a mudpack during a facial would be similar. With skilled fingers, the technician pressed the mask to conform with the contours of my eyes, nose and the rest of my face. The entire procedure   was quick and not at all uncomfortable. To the contrary, the hot mask even felt pleasant.

Although the instruction paper had stated that very small tattoos would be drawn on the eye area targeted for radiation, the technician made crosses instead on the mask itself. He explained, “We can spare you the bother of tattoos in this case because the target area is in a  readily identifiable position. This is not true when the target area is lower than the face.”

The best news came from Dr. Cavey and the technician who scheduled me for radiation sessions there Monday and Tuesday, November 11 and 12, at 3:40 p.m. What is such good news is that those sessions will be the only ones projected – a far cry from the daily sessions five days a week for a month. This scenario was getting better and better.

The moment of truth came at 3:40 p.m., November 11 and 12 when I was engaged in  face-to-face combat with radiation. Fear of the unknown, especially when the unknown could be destructive, played no part in my radiation sessions, for there was no fear factor in me.

As I lay supine on the cot, the radiation mask was aligned and taped over my face by Technician Billy who had made the mask days before. Six different X-ray pictures were taken and studied in the adjacent live video room by Dr. Cavey who then gave the go-ahead.

Though my eyelids were closed, I saw three separate 6-second bursts of light as the radiation was fired at the target lymphoma. I felt nothing before, during or after. At the second and final session the next day, the second verse was the same as the first.

On November 14, Technician Joshua J. Allred took a spine marrow and bone sample for a biopsy that will be reviewed by Dr. Cavey, then by Dr. Ganesa on December 4.

This article originally published in the November 25, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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