The thunder theory

It’s pouring outside really hard right now and thundering loudly. Whenever it thunders, I think of how my mom used to tell me not to be scared, because it was the sound of my grandfather bowling in heaven. I would fall asleep, listening to the booming thunder, imagining my grandpa getting strike after strike. It is so wonderful to be a child, and believe that anything is possible. To be so easily comforted when you are scared. All you need is to hear a simple tale, a made up story, and the fear goes away, and you are safe again.

Yesterday, I did my radiation simulation. Since the radiation will be near my heart, I had to perform a breathing exercise to see if I could hold my breath long enough to move the heart out of the radiation field. This involved biting onto a plastic tube and having my nose plugged with a clip. While lying in the CT machine, I had to breathe in and hold my breath. The tube locks, and you are no longer able to breathe until it is released, or until you let go of the panic button.

At first I felt a bit claustrophobic and anxious, since I don’t like feeling confined to begin with, let alone with my ability to breathe stifled. But then I started imagining how I must look at that moment which amused me, and then it was over. It turns out I can hold my breath a lot longer than I thought, so I continued my streak as superstar cancer patient.

This isn’t me in the pic, but this is what it looks like

While lying down, the tech also gave me four tiny tattoos so that I can be lined up precisely with each treatment. I had read some people say they found this part painful, so I was a bit apprehensive. But it was nothing and I didn’t even flinch. Between that and my blood test via my port later that day, I had 5 needles, and I realized it didn’t even phase me. Something that used to petrify me is now just part of my normal routine.

Prior to my radiation training, while I was waiting in the reception area, I saw a little girl. Cute as a button, she looked to be around 7 years old. She was clutching her stuffed monkey. Her mom complimented my turban and asked the girl if she liked it, and she nodded bashfully in agreement. Your hair is still hanging on for now, the mom said to her daughter.

Shortly after, she went with her parents into one of the rooms that said “Caution: X-Ray Machines Inside” on the door. Since this was the area where you prepare for radiation treatments, I imagine that’s what she was doing. It didn’t take long before I heard the little girl crying and screaming from down the hall. Her mom left the room for a moment and paced the halls, clearly stressed, while her husband stayed with the girl. She continued to scream at the top of her lungs and I sat there helpless, listening, until my name was called.

My heart really ached for this girl and her parents. How confusing this must all be to a young child. I wish I could tell her a story like the thunder story. Give her some reason as to why this was all happening that makes it fun and makes all the pain go away. But cancer is not thunder. The threat is real. The pain is real. And the fear and confusion that comes with all of it is the same, whether you’re an old man, a 28 year old newlywed, or a 7 year old little girl.

Sometimes there are no magical answers. Sometimes it’s just that life is unfair, and some of us get dealt a really shitty hand, while others may not. I wish there was a better explanation than that, a story you could tell your children when they ask why bad things happen to good people. I wish things could be different.

But for now, I am comforted by the sound of the rain, and happy that I am alive to listen to the scary thunder.

Grandpa just got another strike.

Tree And Storm 2 by George Hodan
Tree And Storm 2 by George Hodan

21 thoughts on “The thunder theory

  1. Your mom is right, it’s a good bet that your grandpa is bowling in heaven. After all, there was a lot of bowling in his life. Of course there was the huge bowling complex he owned for so many years – but did you know that at one time there was also a bowling alley in the basement of the Herzog’s men’s clothing store?

  2. Steph, just when I think , wow your done /with chemo something comes up like having to deal with radiation and the things that go along with it. You are so special by giving people the real story. You are our hero. you keep on going love ya

  3. Dear Steph,
    Your writing moved me as it has for so many others. This is your cousin Maya writing from far away Victoria, BC. I don’t know if you remember me, but I think we’ve met once or twice at Herzog family Bar/Bat Mitzvahs. I wanted to let you know that I think of you often and send my love to you from my entire family. We wanted to send you a little cheer-me-up package and were wondering if you could send us your address?
    Love always,
    Maya (your second cousin with the big head of red curls)

  4. Stephie, this is one of the most amazing pieces you’ve written. I am so moved by the imagery and how you can take us there with you with such detail and brilliant writing. This moved me, so much. They all do though. you’re really incredible. I am home now and would love to see you if you’re up to it. Love you lots!!! Xoxoxo

  5. Having just completed my own treatment (2 surgery’s, chemo and radiation) I can relate to your words so well. I love seeing your posts pop up in my inbox and I have saved every one of them. Sheph you are an inspiration to all of us – keep on writing; you are amazing! I recently published a book about my experience thru breast cancer and I would love to send you a copy. Email me your address and I will send you a copy.

  6. Yet again you brought me to tears. You are so talented and being able to write so beautifully through such a difficult time amazes me. Wishing you all the best in the days ahead 🙂

  7. This was incredibly moving. I have been following your story and I am blown away by your courage and strength. Beautiful, beautiful words. My family and I are sending love and good wishes your way.

  8. You’ve had a lot of good posts, but today’s post was amazing. Thank you for sharing your world with us. I’m sorry you are having to deal with bc at 28. As you can see from your encounter with the 7 year old, there’s no fair age to be dealing with cancer. Radiation means you’re one step closer to being done. I especially thank you for today’s post because I learned something that I didn’t know about preparation for radiation….the breathing test. I am glad you ‘passed’ with flying colors! I get panicked during CT scans when the robotic voice says breathe in… feels like minutes are going by before you hear release your breath! I can now mentally prepare myself for when it’s time for my radiation preparation. During our treatment we have enough surprises to deal with. I’m so thankful to know that the breathing test is ahead. That’s probably why I think today’s post is so good, your experience has helped someone you don’t even know. Thank you! Michele

    1. Thank you Michele! Where are you in your treatment right now?
      The breathing would only be done if the cancer was on your left side and if there’s the possibility of the heart being at all in the field. Being as I am so young, my radiation onc wants to take every precaution so I might even end up doing the breathing during my treatments even if it doesn’t appear my heart is in the field.
      I also am fortunate to be at one of the best and one of the largest radiation centres in the world so I’m lucky to get very good care. I’m not sure if the breathing (it’s called ABC) is standard everywhere, but if you are being treated on the left side, I would definitely make sure you mention it to your doctor (although they likely would mention it before you’d have to ask… but it’s always good to know this stuff!).
      I googled it and found this link, if you scroll to the bottom, you can see images of how it moves the heart out of the field. I’m grateful some smart person came up with this stuff! 🙂

  9. Your compassion and empathy astounds me! You remind me of a quote Roger keeps above his desk… “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass… It’s about learning to dance in the rain!” Keep dancing baby! XXOO

  10. You brought tears to my eyes. You write very beautifully about all your experiences…and analogies. May God bless your continued brave journey and this little 7 year old girl as she begins her own. Thanks for posting.–Lorraine

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