The dreaded treatment mask.

By the time you read this, I’ll have finished six weeks of treatment for my cancer at the Emory Proton Therapy Center. While my oncologist was impressed with my stamina and avoidance of some of the predicted side-effects, the unavoidable exhaustion set in for the final two weeks. I’ve never felt anything like it. I emerge bone-tired, depleted, and with dry mouth from hell, but I’m still here.

While treatment is over, there remains tell-tale signs of the last four months: the toxic red glow on the left side of my face from treatment, the healing scar, the droop in my mouth as the nerve continues – hopefully – to regenerate. There’s also a patch of missing hair at the nape of my neck from where the proton beam was aimed daily. It will grow back. Maybe. My facial hair on the left side – probably not. That will make shaving easier, I guess.

I also planned to have a burning party for the dreaded treatment mask, but I decided to leave it at Emory. I’m not generally superstitious, but I didn’t want that bad juju following me home. When I took the photo above, it freaked me out how clearly you could see my face in the plastic mesh. It looked like a shroud, and I ain’t ready for that yet. No, ma’am.

I want to publicly say thank you to the kind, attentive folks at the Proton Center. They were unfailingly upbeat, positive, and attentive to my needs. Special nod to Katie – a fellow Taylor Swift fan – for getting me into Tay’s two pandemic albums. And thank you to the other techs who endured my eclectic music tastes – from Joni Mitchell and Miles Davis to Sade and Kate Bush.

I would be remiss in not thanking the Intown readers who sent emails, reached out by phone, and even sent get well/housewarming gifts (side note – who sent the cute kitchen towels? There was no name on them!). Your concern and good wishes have been a balm during treatment and recovery. I’m coming up on my 20th anniversary as editor of the magazine and I hope to be here for 20 more – or at least until retirement.

What lies ahead are regular MRIs and CT scans to monitor for the return of the cancer. My primary care doctor is also gently reminding me now that I’m a gentleman of a certain age, I also need the shingles vaccine and a colonoscopy. Sigh.

One final thought: get the COVID-19 vaccine. The sooner you stop pussyfooting around and follow the advice of doctors and scientists instead of politicians and conspiracy theorists, the sooner we can stop talking and worrying about it. Please and thank you.

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.