I’m sitting here eying up a large paper parcel. My latest haul of drugs from the Island pharmacy. When I picked them up this morning the girl behind the counter quipped that I’ve just about cleaned them out. It certainly looks that way. I’m pretty sure I hold more inventory than they do right now.
For the first time, my personal pharmacy stash features “pain relief” of a more exotic nature than just plain old Paracetamol. Codeine. Morphine. Just the words send a chill through my bones, but I am beginning to feel the need for them.
This is no longer an invisible disease, as it was for the forst few months. The tells are starting to reveal themselves. People still greet me with rave reviews of how well I’m looking, which I accept gracefully, if with a tad of carefully concealed irritation. My cancer is starting to reveal itself in various ways, some subtle, others more obvious. Some the direct consequence of the disease itself, others the legacy of the various treatments I have undertaken.
I have numbness in my feet and toes, a permanent side-effect of the chemotherapy, as is the intermittent tinitus in both ears. My voice is croaky and unreliable as a result of an enlarged cancerous lymph node on my upper chest paralysing the nerve which controls one of my vocal chords. (There’s a good story attached to how they managed to give me most of my voice back – I was almost totally mute for some weeks – but that will have to wait for another day.) I also have a persistent and unrelenting cough, probably related to the vocal chord business, but exacerbated by the recent course of radiation therapy.
More recently, I have developed deep, nagging pains in my back, chest, and belly. A minor irritation at first, they are now constantly present reminder of my slowly deteriorating condition, and keep me awake at night. It’s getting to the point where Paracetamol just isn’t cutting it any more. I went to the doctor this morning to get something a bit more shall we say, industrial.
I should mention, that I went for a long scheduled CT scan yesterday afternoon – the first since finishing chemo several months ago – mainly to monitor the tumour, and to see what positive effect the radiation therapy has had on the errant lymph nodes in my chest. We have a meeting set with The Prof. next week to get the results. The wait for scan results is for us, the most stressful part of the whole exercise, and we have been hunkering down for a long anxious wait until next Wednesday’s showdown.
So I was totally unprepared when I skipped into the island surgery this morning to pick up a few scripts and have a routine kick-of-the-tyres “take two of these and call me in the morning” session with Doctor Dave, when he brandishes a sheaf of papers in his bony, freckled fist and announces, ‘I have your scan report. Have you seen it yet?’
‘You can’t,’ I said, shocked. ‘I only had the scan at four o’clock yesterday. That must be an old one, these things usually take a few days to processes.’
‘Not in the private sector they don’t. That’s what you’re paying for. This just came through. Do you want the news now, or do you want to wait?”
“Wait.” a little voice said in my head. The coward’s voice.
“Um. Yeah. I guess…” I heard myself saying quietly, without conviction.
“Well, there’s chapter and verse here,” he says, leafing through the document, but I’ll just give you the Summery.” He pulls his chair alongside mine and leans into me as if reading a bedtime story.
“Since the last CT scan, there are new and enlarged supraclavicular and mediastinal and nodal metastases, new uper abdominal and retroperitneal nodal metastases, and new liver and pulminary metastases.”
I feel the hot burn of adrenalin wash through me. “Shit, that doesn’t sound good.” I finally announced, with what in retrospect was admirable understatement.
“No it doesn’t” says Doctor Dave.
“So it’s in my liver and my lungs?” I ask redundantly and helplessly.
“Looks that way.”
Dr. Dave does what all doctors do in these awkward, uncomfortable situations. He snaps into a flurry of pointless but smehow essential activity – making notes, dashing off prescriptions, listening to random parts of my body with his stethoscope, basically anything to fill the uncomfortable void where the dead guy is sitting.
I stumble out into the winter sunshine and go home to break the news to Jo.
We cry together.