But not straight away.
(If you don’t know what I’m on about you might like to read if the nurse comes in we’re doomed, July 7th 2012)
We see the Professor of Clinical Oncology. He’s our favourite. Compassionate, a good listener, a patient explainer of all things medical. And to the point, no messing about; “your scan is clear”. With those four words the stress of the past week just rolls away. We’ve been through this so many times now – it never gets any easier. In the time between having a scan and getting the results we go into some sort of emotional meltdown. Annie still finds it possible to speak and be civil, but I’m withdrawn and brittle. As if I’ll break at the slightest thing.
It looks as if the sums are now on my side. But sums have a nasty habit of making 2+2=5. The prof has explained this all before but it’s worth another listen; “in the case of bowel cancer, if it is going to return, it will do so – for around 90% of patients – in the first 2 years. After that, the likelihood of a recurrence is very much reduced.” So – get past 2 years and you’ve a good chance of surviving the disease.
“But”, cautions the prof “you’re a reminder that this doesn’t always quite work out.” My cancer returned 4 years and 3 months after first diagnosis. Which is unusual. And it’s this that makes these appointments so difficult for Annie and me. It’s now 3 years and 7 months since the cancer returned. So while most people this far down the line might be starting to think they’re out of the woods and can treat scans as routine, we treat them with more respect – we know that it can still come back, even this late in the day. But the prof is relaxed about my progress; “I’m very pleased about where you are as far as cancer’s concerned”. And if he’s pleased then we should be too.
He asks about my general health; I tell him about my aches and pains – particularly around my stomach. I say ‘stomach’ – sometimes it’s the entire internal plumbing system. I also point out that I’m aware it may be stress and all in my mind or a reaction to the various heart pills I have to take. He listens patiently, then gives me a thorough physical examination.
He puts it all down to the after-effects of surgery; “you’ve had a lot of work done down there and, frankly, your bowel is never going to work as well as it did before. It will cause you aches and pains from time to time”. This is my version of what he said – he didn’t put it quite like this. His explanation was far more graphic and used language that might cause those of a nervous disposition to faint.
So where to next? He’s not sure. Rather than see an oncologist in 6 months time, “it might be time to hand you over to the Nurses’ Continuity Group”. He leaves the room for a moment and comes back with a nurse. Annie and I exchange a glance (ha .. so a nurse did come in after all). It seems someone making my sort of progress would, in future, be seen by a specialist cancer nurse; but given my history they may need to defer this for another 6 months. They’ll have a think about it and let me know. The prof makes his exit and leaves us to get to know the nurse.
I tell her that I’m glad she didn’t come in at the beginning; she asks why. I explain about the ‘angel of death’ – a game we play to ease the tension while we wait. If the oncologist comes into the room on his own, then it’s probably going to be OK. But if a nurse comes in as well, then it means bad news. “You’re the 3rd person that’s said this in the past couple of weeks. We’re going to have to think about how we do this”.
We have a general chat, exchange contact details and then head home. And that’s it over and done with. Six months of uncertainty and a week of high tension, distilled in a half hour consultation.