What he said – and what he wrote (or why do things always seem worse in black and white?)

He said; “there’s a hot spot in your belly … near your ribs”.

He wrote: (the hot spot is in) the … transverse colon.

He said; “we don’t know what it is ….. if it’s big enough to worry about it’ll show up on a CT scan”. 🙂

He wrote; (it) raises the possibility of residual/recurrent disease.

At the beginning of July we saw the oncologist for the results of the PET scan (we didn’t see the consultant this time, we saw one of his staff instead).  We were not entirely happy with the meeting – too many questions left unanswered.  A few days ago, I receive a copy of the doctor’s letter to my GP.  I show it to Annie; “this isn’t what he said”.  

How quickly life can change.  A few weeks ago we were happy as Larry – ecstatic sandboys had nothing on us.  To be sure, we knew this ‘hot spot’ would require our full attention sometime but we managed to park it to one side while we sang and made merry with all the other things going on in our life.  But seeing it in black and white somehow elevates it to a more worrying level.  The ‘blue skies from now on’¹ that Annie resolved to wallpaper her world with have now taken on a more sombre monochrome hue.

My response, as always, is to step over to the dark side and peer into the abyss.  I examine the worst possible case – that it is a tumour in my colon.  Options: Chemo? Not particularly effective with secondary tumours.  Radiotherapy? Possibly.  Surgery?  Depends on location – could chop it out but may need a bag (again).  Or just leave it and see what happens.

As if this is not enough, I move onto the other topic in the letter – the tubular enhancing structure.  He confirms that it’s a blood clot.  I have a blood clot?  Having blood clots, even if they are old and tired of the travelling life, is not ‘a good thing’.   So now I have something more to moan about.

I spend a good few days mulling all this over before my brain kicks in and says ‘sod this – life’s too short’.  I assume that’s what happens; all I know for sure is that I spend time worrying, getting more and more depressed (and grumpy).  Every ache and pain is subjected to forensic examination in case it could be ‘a sign’.  Then questions: Should I see my GP? Cancel all social engagements?  Sell my new guitar?  I try and hide all this from Annie but she can read me like a Kindle.  I, on the other hand can read her like an Egyptian hieroglyph. I know most of the symbols, but some still get lost in translation; “you’re worried about a pan?”  “No – I’m worried about Dan”².

This approach has been a characteristic of my dealings with cancer since the very beginning in December 2005.  I have to examine – wallow even – in the worst possible outcome before I can deal with it.  I worried about this at first, fearing I was becoming too melodramatic; now I allow myself this luxury – it’s a bit like an elite athlete visualising an event.  I have to take it all apart before I can make sense of it and put it back together.  It’s how I win.  (A welcome side effect of this technique is the ability to put IKEA furniture together without the instructions).   After a few days I wake up without a care in the world.  Larry is back.

I don’t know how this happens – I could simply be in denial.  Or perhaps I’m like one of the Martians in H. G. Wells’ War of the Worlds.  My conscious me is simply a vehicle – a mode of transport – and tucked away in my brain is a little creature who works all the controls and does all the driving.  And doesn’t always let on where we’re heading.


¹ See if the nurse comes in we’re doomed
² Annie’s youngest, Dan, is currently somewhere in South East Asia
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1 Response to What he said – and what he wrote (or why do things always seem worse in black and white?)

  1. JJ says:

    Hi Ian
    I think I do it too… the whole Headless Chicken of Doom runs round the room screaming its alarm call in some sort of blind panic. (I guess it would have to be blind if it was headless, although quite how it screams is one of those mysteries of life).
    Sometimes people may disparaging comments about how things arent all that bad
    Maybe because of having cancer before I know it certainly CAN happen to me, I have had my mortality shoved in my face and am not some special being for whom death doesnt apply.

    So when the brown stuff looks to be on a possible tragectory towards the fan my Chicken is let loose – but after a while, (thats a time period measured in days), I feel more able to consider less serious options may apply. I think of considering the worst option as reality, or a possible reality.

    b.t.w I read somewhere how there is a primitive part of the brain called the amygdala that responds in an automatic fight or flight kinda way. It sees something in the long grass and it looks snake-shaped so sets off the neural alarm system in case you need to leg-it out of there. When the more cerebral bit kicks in it looks more closely and goes “Ah, i think thats a piece of rope actually so I can stop now”.
    So sometimes if I feel the need to stop my panic I try to engage my cerebral functions a bit quicker.

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