Assuming all goes according to plan, we have just one week left before the radiation treatments stop and we can go home. Assuming no delays, next Monday morning we will place Rebecca into the path of the proton beam for the last time.
In the past couple of weeks, there have finally been external signs of the process. All along one side of her head, the side where the stream of protons enters her skull at 100,000 miles per second, nearly all the hair has fallen out. This is a good sign: it means that the radiation is doing what it should be. The cells in hair follicles, you see, are very much like cancer cells: always dividing. The radiation and chemotherapy kill cells that are in the act of division. They don’t discriminate beyond that, so any cells that are dividing the way they should be—say, growing hair—get hit the same as the cells that are dividing the way they shouldn’t—like cancer cells.
When her hair is washed and down and its glorious curly self, you can hardly see the missing area. Anyone who didn’t know her as well as we do would probably assume the lopsidedness of her hair was a style choice. It’s only when the hair is braided, as we do each morning to pull it out of the beam’s path, that you can really tell.
As for her personal energy, well, when her hair is down, new families at the Ronald McDonald House think she’s the sibling of a kid in treatment instead of the actual kid in treatment. She skips and jumps and dances through life just as brightly as ever, playing silly wordplay games, swiping stuff from our pockets and laughing at her own cleverness. She’s still five, so it’s not always fun and games; imagine a fiercely strong-willed child pushing back against a change of household, never mind a bunch of unwanted medication and treatments and new people all the time, and then add being away from her siblings for weeks at a time. She has smooth days and rough days, and of course Kat and I also have smooth days and rough days, so the hope every morning is that no more than one of us has a rough day ahead of them.
As of the pre-dawn hours in which we got up to come to the hospital this morning, there were just five radiation treatments left. Next Monday morning, after she wakes up from the sedation, we will retrieve our car from the hospital valet and head west. As long as there are no schedule delays that morning, and no horrible traffic delays along the length of Pennsylvania, we should be home just in time for dinner.
Home. It almost seems like a myth. We did a Facetime session the other day and when I glimpsed some of the living room and sun room in the background, it took me a second to recognize it. I wonder if it will take us a day or two to re-adjust to living in our own house.