Walking down the sterile modern corridor I noticed the sounds of machines clanging in the distance. It wasn’t like your typical hospital ward with nurses bustling about and people visiting clutching flowers and bright teddy bears under their arm. A thick fog of heaviness filled the air. We descended the stairway and were greeted by a friendly receptionist with a thick mask of makeup. She enquired about how we found the location, could we park nearby and general niceties. It was pleasant. We were offered tea, coffee and biscuits and directed to help ourselves in the kitchenette. The waiting room was designed in private clusters of comfortable chairs and a large poster dominated the wall with a World map illustrating the locations of where all of the nurses and doctors had worked marked with red pins. The radiation-oncology department of The Alfred Hospital in Melbourne was named after William Buckland; I wondered who that was.
A moment of dread crept through my body as I gripped my husband’s hand and slowly made our way to the second waiting room. It was October 19th and our baby was due November 14th. I wondered if the radiation surrounding us would affect our unborn child in anyway. We hadn’t spoken much since we arrived both taking in the scene. A small garden atrium had been created near this waiting room, filled with ferns I reflected on the artificial placing of it. The noise of the machines had become louder. And we now noticed a few very sick people wandering through. One woman about my age tried to smile as she glanced at my belly. Her skin pasty white and had lost chunks of her hair, she looked frail for her young age. “Only 3 weeks to go,” I heard her comment to the receptionist. I didn’t hear the reply.
As we waited sitting close on the couch my husband squeezed my hand tighter. He had been incredibly strong and so courageous, I’d barely seen him shed one tear. I on the other hand was a combination of a resigned mess and hopeful for a miracle; a mix of elevated hormones and the knowledge he would be gone in less that 8 months, and that was if all went well. The average prognosis for his glioblastoma was 4 months. The neurosurgeon had commented that he had the Rolls Royce of tumours; it was the most aggressive cancer.
From the second waiting room we were lead into a smaller room and again offered a tea or coffee. It was as though we were slowly being funnelled into the bowels of the building. More medical staff appeared with a similarly pasted on smile often doing a double take when noticing my extraordinarily large bump. I wondered what they thought and how much they knew. The appointment with the oncology doctor preceded the actual radiotherapy and again we waited. I found the posters reminding staff how to wash their hands increasingly annoying.
Arriving with a file of paperwork the doctor handed us the daily treatment schedule for the next 6 weeks. I asked whether we could skip a day as our baby was due in the middle of the treatment. The doctor hesitated and agreed softly commenting that a day or two won’t make much difference. She explained that now Russ would have to have his mask made. The mask helped keep his head in position so the treatment was as accurate and effective as possible. Lying on a treatment couch the lasers would blast the tumour from different directions aimed precisely at the cancer over 20 minutes. I felt claustrophobic at the thought of having a mask over my head and screwed tightly to the couch. I kissed him on the lips and our eyes locked as I felt his fear transferred to me. Our connection so deep we rarely needed words. I turned and found the closest bathroom reaching for my phone then moments later sobbing loudly to my brother. I would continue to wait here unable to face what was outside the cubicle door for now.