“Liz, you’ve got to have that back molar extracted,” my dentist explained. It was 2015, three years after I’d finished head/neck radiation for oral cancer. I’d had my wisdom teeth pulled in college so no big deal, right? Not so fast. Seems that radiation had eroded the bones in my jaw. Without pre-treatments to strengthen and build up my bone strength before the extraction my jaw would break.
Once again I was reminded that cancer is the gift that keeps on taking. It uses up your time as you wait for doctors’ appointments, scans, treatments. You miss work, the gym, parties and dinners with friends. Your patience is tested by pain and fear. One day the appointments and the scans and the treatments end and..if you’re lucky you’ve made it through. If you’re really lucky, like me, about five or six years afterwards your doctor declares you cured. But somehow cancer can sneak up on you, SURPRISE!, just when you’ve almost forgotten it. .
“So, Liz I’ve put in an order for you to receive hyperbaric oxygen treatments. You’ll be lying in a clear tube chamber while oxygen is pumped in. Three days a week for four weeks. Each treatment takes about two hours.”
Oh hello cancer. I thought I kicked you out three years ago but you’re having one of your little side effects pay me a visit to remind me. Suck more time out of my life. Put my plans on hold yet again. I see you, you sneaky bitch but I’m stronger now. I’m prepared for battle.
“Hi, Liz. I’m Kyle. I’ll be with you every step of the way.” Kyle was my hbo therapist. He stayed just outside the enclosed chamber monitoring my vitals. He was also my entertainment specialist. Pre – Netflix and podcasts, he offered me DVDs of movies and tv shows to play on a monitor over my head. Oh here’s one I thought, “Smash”: theatre, singing, dancing.. things near and dear to my heart. I needed upbeat and “Smash” fit the (play)bill.
“Smash” was a two-season tv series about the making of a Broadway musical based on the life of Marilyn Monroe. It wasn’t very popular. It got pretty bad reviews. But lying in that glass chamber I fell in love. The New York City backdrop, the music, backstage intrigue, backstabbing, creativity… oh so much creativity. Old friends, Debra Messing. Anjelica Huston, Bernadette Peters. And the voices.. oh the voices: Katharine McPhee and Megan Hilty. So for those two hours, three days a week for four weeks I was transformed. I was a back stage extra, a producer, a composer, a dancer, a STAR. Is it crazy to say that I almost enjoyed my treatments?
It’s six years after the hbo treatments and nine years after radiation. As I said earlier, if you’re lucky, life goes on after cancer. Oh it’s still a devious little beast leaving lingering effects when you least expect them. Like deteriorating the bones under my lower front teeth so they had to be extracted a few months ago. But hey, my permanent bridge looks pretty good. Straightest and whitest my teeth have ever been.
Last night I clicked through tv before bed. E! is airing a “Smash” marathon all weekend. And once again I am tap dancing and singing and sighing and marveling that such talent exists. That I am still here to see it yet again. In early November my seven-year-old granddaughter Rosie and I will be seeing the Rockettes for their first performance since the pandemic and her first-ever Broadway show. Dim the lights! Raise the curtain. I hope she is as transformed as I am. All the fear, all the pain, all the patience were worth it to know I’ll be sitting right next to her.