I have just come out of a hole. This hole is unlike any other I have been in before. It’s the place you go when you have no idea what is next but when the best outcome is still someone else’s worst nightmare. When you are waiting to hear whether it’ll ‘just’ be chemotherapy and you can continue to look at survival statistics of a decade or more. Or whether actually it is no longer treatable but rather merely prolonging life.
On Monday I went for my long awaited oncology appointment to discuss the practicalities of chemotherapy when he casually dropped a bombshell that irreversibly changed the game.
‘Of course we need to get the CT scan done as soon as possible to assess the spot on your left lung’.
It was then that someone pressed ‘PAUSE’ on my life.
Three months ago, I had a CT and bone scan to assess whether my lymph had done their job and stopped further spread or if the cancer had insidiously travelled out of the region to infect my other organs. More waiting for results. CT was clear. No evidence of metastatic cancer in other organs.
Except it wasn’t clear. There was something on my left lung. My oncologist was under the assumption that I already had the information. My dad was with me. I usually attend appointments on my own but I had wanted my dad to meet my oncologist so he came with me.
‘I will request an urgent CT scan so that we can have the results before chemotherapy starts. Obviously if this shows any change then you do understand that this changes things significantly in terms of prognosis’.
Tears build up in my eyes and I look around to find a tissue as does my oncologist. No tissues. He goes to get me a paper towel from the dispenser above the sink. I try to hold back the river building behind the dam but it’s no use. A few drips start to leak down silently as the pressure gets too much.
And that was that. The rest of the appointment is a blur. Something about hair loss and fatigue, survival rates and percentages.
The journey home is deafeningly quiet. My poor dad.
I receive a call the following day with an appointment for the next morning. And somehow I make it to Wednesday. My nervous system shot, my ability to pop the razzle dazzle mask on has dwindled into non existence. The radiologist asks me to remove my bra before I get in the giant polo mint of a CT scanner.
"I don’t have breasts” came my stark and loaded response.
I didn’t even feel bad about making her uncomfortable. It was as if my capacity for social awareness and tact had left the building hand in hand with my optimism.
As I write this I am aware that I am simply relaying information, facts. There are no words to express the space I filled between 10:50am Monday 16th September and 9:54am Thursday 19th September. I signed my will with my legal secretary, spoke to my life insurance company, picked up my wig and cried every time I kissed my children. I barely spoke to anyone.
My breast care nurse calls me on Thursday morning to let me know that she had managed to pull a favour with the radiology department and based on my already anxious state of mind, had received consent from my consultant to pass the news on. The ‘spot’ was still there on my lung. It had not changed. Not grown. Which suggests a benign nodule. Not uncommon. But based on my current cancer, it also could have just as likely been cancer.
“We will scan you again in 12 months to assess the lung but as it stands there is no evidence of metastasis and therefore the chemotherapy and treatment plan is back on as discussed. Sam this is very reassuring”.
Her last statement made me realise that she she understood that my ability to determine good news from bad news was highly compromised. I start crying in the middle of Café Nero into my coffee cup. And then I call my dad.
As I write this I am currently sat in the Sunrise Cancer Unit on the fifth floor of my hospital. I have just had my bloods and swabs taken ahead of my first chemotherapy infusion next week. I have no idea what to expect and I have spent the last 48 hours emailing potential schedules to my parents, ex husband and schools, taking countless ‘NO CALLER ID’ phone calls for appointments and trying to book work in on the weeks that I am guessing I might be feeling well enough to do so. Life has seemingly picked up where it left off from.
But with a whole new understanding. One that has touched the core of me. And one that has provided me with a new frame from which to view the situation through. That things could have been far far worse.
As I close, I should mention something. I don’t know why I was told my CT scan was clear when it wasn’t. I don’t know why my oncologist assumed I knew. I don’t know why it wasn’t written on my notes that I in fact did not know and had not been told that I had something suspicious on my lung. But I do know that if I had known, if they had told me three months ago and also told me that there was nothing they could do but wait for three more months to assess and measure any change, then I am pretty glad they didn’t tell me. Because I have been able to concentrate on my last surgery, my recovery and enjoying the summer with my children.
I simply would not have managed three months in the hole of anxiety, fear, stress and dread that I stepped into last week.