I’m grumpy today. And frustrated.
Right now I should be sitting in my favorite big green viynal lay’z’boy in the corner of the oncology day-stay center being pumped full of vicious, cancer killing chemicals.
Instead I’m cooling my heals here at home on a humid, windy, overcast Wednesday afternoon. I’ve been bumped for another week. Or ‘deferred’ as it says on my chart. Bad blood again. Those pesky white cells and neutrofills are once again conspicuous by their absence, my iron is at an all time low and all in all – and in spite of feeling tickety-boo (technical medical term) – I’m apparently not fit for the rigours of chemo today, or in fact for another week at least.
The first time this happened, I was happy to accept the unexpected gift of a week off from the strict drug regime, which tends to rather monopolise day-to-day life on chemo. Eat what I like, when I like. Sleep in if I feel like it. It’s not all bad.
But this time, I just feel like time’s a waistin’. I don’t want to be sitting around contemplating my navel – which incidentally, I can now see without the aid of a mirror. I want to be killing and maiming cancer cells. I’m on a crusade here.
To add to my apprehensive mood, Monday is a very big day. I’m to have a CT scan to establish just what my cancer has been up to this past few months. It’s one of the things I was keen to discuss with my oncologist Mike at my assessment meeting at the hospital yesterday. The way I see it there are only three possible outcomes, I suggest, ticking them off on my fingers.
1. The cancer has grown and spread. 2. It’s unchanged. 3. It’s getting smaller. 4. The cancer is gone. It’s a bona-fide miracle, and I have to become a Catholic.
‘That’s exactly right’ Mike nods. ‘What you have to do is mentally prepare yourself for each of those possibilities.’
‘When will I know’ I ask.
‘We’re getting you in for an Iron transfusion on Tuesday, if the scan results are through by then, I’ll come and find you to talk you through them. It’s not the sort of thing I like to do over the phone, and we don’t want to leave you hanging over the christmas holidays’ . Bloody right you don’t. It’s slowly dawning on me that this is to be a watershed moment in my journey.
I ask what impact the scan results will have on my treatment.
‘Well if the tumours are static, or smaller, we carry on as planned. If the news is bad, and the cancer has spread we will probably stop the chemotherapy and consider other treatment options.’ I feel suddenly cold. This is not something that had occurred to me. That they would just throw in the towel. Give up on me.
‘And what are those treatment options?’ I ask slowly. Mike casts his eyes around the room, like he’s looking for something. Well, they are limited’ he concedes after a pause.
‘He’s grasping at straws here.’ I’m thinking, but not really listening. There is some talk of experimental drug trials. Unfunded therapies. Blah Blah. Private sector research ‘of limited benefit to some patients’. Blah. Blah.
I’m desperately looking for some reassurance now, and Mike picks up on this. ‘There’s always a possibility that the news could be bad,’ he says, ‘but with you looking as well as you do, I’d be surprised.’ ‘Only if my luck changes’ I think to myself. That’s clearly the best he can do, and I’m grateful for the positive spin. I like Mike.
I’m reminded of a conversation I had the other day with a friend on the island, an ex nurse. I was complaining about never seeing the same doctor twice on my regular visits to the Oncology Unit. That’s probably not by accident, she told me. They rotate the patients around the oncology team by design to avoid forming doctor-patient relationships and dependencies. A high proportion of you cancer patients aren’t going to make it. It doesn’t pay to get too attached…