old man music

It’s hard to believe that four years ago today I had my last radiation treatment.  The chemotherapy regimen was also complete, so I only had a few immunotherapy treatments left to go, but they didn’t have any noticeable impact on how I felt day to day.

The after-effects of the radiation would get worse for a few weeks.  About the time that I bottomed out, I wrote an email update for those who were following my progress; it carried the title “old man music,” as does this posting.

I was tempted to re-write it, but it appears below essentially as it did then.  (I was surprised that I hadn’t mentioned hearing “One Toke Over the Line” — the original version, not the Lawrence Welk one! — while I was in the radiation chamber.  I guess my self-censorship was stronger back then.)

February 27, 2016

We’ll be in Sioux Falls on Monday for another dose of immunotherapy and a day full of appointments.  Going back is a little weird now.

There was such a set routine while we were there.  That already seems like quite a while ago, even though it was just a few weeks.  When I think back on it, I remember the treatments (of course), but I also remember the music.

There were touching moments, like listening to the Charlie Brown Christmas music, a couple of kids in an apartment with a little Charlie Brown tree with one ornament on it.

And the one night, after Sue had gone to bed, when I listened to all of Tom Waits’ double album, Nighthawks at the Diner.  Sitting in the dark, being transported back in time.

Mostly, I remember the music during treatments.  While getting chemo, I could be my own DJ, with my big headphones on, in my own little world.  But the highlight for those times was always a special tune that our daughter would select and send me each week to listen to while I was getting my infusion.

The radiation treatments were full of music too, but I could only control the general type.  Before getting started, I’d have to tell the technicians the four required pieces of information (name, date of birth, whether I’d somehow gone to Africa and back overnight, and the location of my tumor), and then I’d add an instruction for them:  “old man music on the stereo.”  They had satellite radio to provide tunes for you while in the Tomotherapy machine (yes, that’s what it’s called), and I would have them concentrate on the sixties, seventies, and “classic vinyl” stations.  Basically, my formative years.

At times there were connections between my two music treatment venues.  Our daughter sent me “Back on the Chain Gang” by The Pretenders right off the bat.  If the guy across the way who saw me wipe the tear off of my cheek knew what the song was, he probably would have thought I was sad about being on the chain gang of treatment.  Quite the contrary.

It’s the same part that gets me every time:

I found a picture of you,
Those were the happiest days of my life.

Rarely does a lyric make me more nostalgic.  I don’t think of a certain picture or even the happiest days of my life, but I always get a special feeling and think of one friend in particular.

Another week, she sent “Reelin’ in the Years” by Steely Dan, not knowing that two days before we had heard it in the car on the way to Siouxland and the day before it was on in the radiation chamber too.  That one makes me smile every time I hear it and I’m reminded of another great friend.

During radiation, I heard not one but two “old man” songs written by a young Neil Young (“Old man take a look at my life, I’m a lot like you were,” and “Old man sitting by the side of the road with the lorries rolling by.”), plus a host of other reminders of the passing of time and the years that have accumulated on my mind and frame.

“White Rabbit” made me think of going from doing no pills at all to trying to keep them straight from one another.  (“One pill makes you larger and one pill makes you small.”)  There was that morning on the way to treatment when I realized I had taken the wrong one — the brown anti-constipation pill rather than the yellow anti-nausea one.  (Fortunately, it wasn’t an issue.)

“Lucky Man?”  Yes, I can say so.  “Fire and Rain?”  There’s some of each for all of us in this life.

I don’t suppose that music can alleviate physical pain, but I know it does wonders for existential pain.  I actually need more of that healing now that I’m back in the real world.

About a week before I was done with radiation, I jokingly called my radiation oncologist “Doctor Frankenstein,” for putting me into a high-tech machine to affect changes to my body.  She said no one had ever called her that before.

While I was in the chamber for the very last of my thirty-five treatments, I heard the unmistakable beginning of a song and couldn’t believe the coincidence.  And it came to its end at the very time that I slid out of the machine, finally done with it all.  The song was “Frankenstein,” by the Edgar Winter Group.

What are the chances of that?



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