It’s that time of year again. We’re back at the Oxford Cancer Centre.
We have a love/hate relationship with the place – we hate coming here and love leaving (usually). The tension and anxiety gradually build in the days and weeks beforehand – only to dissipate in minutes if the news is good. Or – at the very least – not bad. Anyone who is a member of the Cancer Family will understand this. The need to come here dictates our social calendar. So many things are put on hold until this day is over.
The building is quite attractive – even though there are rooms full of death-ray machines that zap and burn and other rooms where they drip-feed poison into veins – the decor is rather tasteful. A lot of pastels and a lot of artwork. They’ve spent money on the place.
There’s a glass water-fall in the foyer. Even in a place like this there is room for beauty – they try to repair the soul as well as the body. A grand piano stands in the foyer for the use of patients and staff. You can just sit there and tinkle the ivories if you feel so moved.
No scan this time, just a blood test. Annie in particular, is anxious about this. But the oncologist reassures her that I’ll have another scan in 6 months time. We’re moving from two scans a year to one. Which is good. In a way. The anxiety arises because that’s precisely what happened last time. Four clear years then – bang. Back it comes. So, next October will be the real test. If I get past that perhaps I can relax a bit. The oncologist mentions that, as my cancer returned, they reset the clock and monitoring will be extended to 7 years instead of the more usual 5 years. So – another 3 years of visits to this place.
A lot’s happened in the past couple of months. The Singing for Breathing¹ pilot scheme that I’ve been involved with has been running for 6 weeks now. A couple more weeks and then we’ll evaluate it and decide if it’s working or not; if things look good, we’ll run it as a permanent part of the rehabilitation therapy at the exercise group I belong to.
It’s a bit too early to tell how effective it’s going to be. People seem to enjoy the singing part; the exercise part is hard though – it’s tougher than a workout at the gym. But I’m hopeful it will make a difference to me. The singing teacher – an ex-opera singer and yoga instructor – is teaching us to breathe through each lung separately. This is a challenge for me, given the state of my lungs. I must admit to being a bit sceptical – and I only have to see the look on people’s faces when I tell them about it to realise that I’m not the only one. But having said that – I’m gradually beginning to get the knack of doing this.
The singing part is harder for me. I no longer have the range and my breath control is rubbish. I’m beginning to accept that this part of my life has changed; perhaps forever. I have another appointment at the ENT clinic in Birmingham, where we’ll decide whether to have one last try at improving my voice.
A recent news item confirmed for me that the Gods of Arrhythmia really do not like music. UB40 were playing at the Corn Exchange in Cambridge a couple of weeks ago and the music was so loud it was “altering heart rhythms”². Although I’m sorry for those affected, I am relieved by this news – I’ve experienced arrhythmias on a number of occasions when attending gigs. So – it was not my imagination after all.
We leave Oxford with a hop and a skip; another 6 months before we need to think about it again. And perhaps we won’t have to after that.