By Cindy McConkey Cox
"Are you nervous?" my daughter asked as I was getting ready for my first proton radiation treatment at MD Anderson.
"No, I'm excited," I responded. "This just feels right."
At the age of 54, and after years of going to the gym faithfully to work out three to five times a week, eating blueberries and yogurt almost every morning, working at a job I love and spending my spare time doing just about anything I could do outside -- yard work, hiking, snow skiing, even surfing and rock climbing -- I was diagnosed with cancer. Cholangiocarcinoma -- or liver bile duct cancer, to be precise.
After my friends and family did some research, I decided to come to MD Anderson for bile duct cancer treatment. I came to MD Anderson for my initial visit but underwent chemotherapy at home in Tennessee. Then, I returned to MD Anderson for a clinical trial using proton radiation.
Coming to MD Anderson for bile duct cancer treatment
I was happy to be back at MD Anderson. On the surface, that might sound strange. Being 780 miles away from my home, family and friends. Alone in a one-bedroom apartment, in a strange city with no car and a two-mile trek to receive daily doses of an experimental radiation treatment.
You didn't see the beautiful flower arrangement and basket of fruit that were sitting on the counter when I opened the door, sent by my co-workers.
You weren't here when Al, the brother of some dear friends, dropped off a bicycle to give me more mobility -- transforming a 50-minute walk to my treatments into a 25-minute bike ride, making me less reliant on the shuttle schedule.
And you haven't had your soul soothed on a daily bike ride through the nearby Hermann Park on these sunny, 70-degree days in the dead of winter.
What cancer treatment feels like to me
"Does it hurt?" my daughter asked after the treatment.
"No, not at all," I responded. "It feels like hope."
I sensed it in the demeanor of Prajnan Das, M.D., professor of Radiation Oncology, when he shook my hand and told me how glad he was that I was at MD Anderson.
I saw it in the eyes of the two women who worked so hard to get my treatment approved by the insurance companies and who greeted me with big hugs when I arrived at the MD Anderson Proton Therapy Center.
I read about it in the very personal notes from patients and families that line the walls on the way to the treatment room.
And I'm filled with it while lying perfectly still on my back, engulfed by the multimillion dollar proton radiation equipment operated by a team of bright, young technicians guiding the proton beams into my abdomen while the Eagles playlist drifts through the room.
After weeks of stress and frustration from battling the insurance companies, I'm finally here getting the treatment I need. And I've got a peaceful, easy feeling.