Sunday, 28 July 2013

And we're off...or are we?

I return early into the new year to see my oncologist. He is welcoming and kind - enquiring about my Christmas and New Year. He has a gentle and reassuring manner about him and makes me feel that I am in good hands. I would be happy to string this polite chit-chat out for as long as possible putting off the inevitable. Knowing that this conversation is going to move away from frivolous niceties onto something much more concrete, stark and real. Even though I have had over three weeks now to get my head around what has happened I am still finding it hard to face up to the enormity of what is ahead. 

The conversation, as expected, turns quickly to matters more pressing. However his gentle and reassuring manner is replaced by a more agitated state as he realises that I have not been contacted by the chemotherapy unit yet. He had thought by the time we next met that I would have been given my schedule for treatment and be ready to start. His change in demeanour throws me and I now descending quietly and very internally into a state of anxiety and panic. I try really hard not to show it but I am feeling really quite disturbed. 

Up until this point it felt quite matter of fact - the information was provided to me in a very calm manner with lots of long pauses for reflection and slow tones to ensure I was taking in all the information being given to me.

However I am seeing a different response - one where all of what I had encountered shifts to agitation and annoyance - the opposite to everything he has been so far. I really don't like it. I need him to keep calm so that I keep calm. He is looking through papers and clicking his mouse bringing up different pages on his computer screen. I crane my neck in the hope that whatever he is doing brings some answers and restores the status quo I have come to know and find solace in. 

Up until this point, unlike other cancer patients who I have encountered on my 'gap year', it never occurred to me that my cancer would or could move or could increase in size. On  hindsight that sounds so ridiculous but its true. I mean of course I understood that cancer can spread. I'm not the village idiot, but in relation to my own immediate situation I didn't feel alarmed by that prospect. I know that people are keen to have surgery as soon as possible. I had heard of women going privately in order to get the cancer removed as immediately as they possibly could. Maybe I didn't have that sense of urgency because I was being offered neo adjuvant chemotherapy which meant that I would have chemotherapy first before surgery. In my naivety I assumed that part of their reasoning was because the cancer had been caught early, was minor and wasn't aggressively rampaging through my body. A year on I have no idea why I thought that and where the source of that information came from. My psyche I suppose. The only place where I could control what was happening. There were so many gaps in my knowledge that I would turn snippets of (mis)information into 'fact'. This was all I had left to hold on to. So as this stage with this being the case why the need for concern and why was this drama unfolding in front of me? 

I am suddenly gripped by my first reality check in all this. I wasn't ready for it but it was the first of many that I would have during treatment. What if his agitation is because things are not as straightforward as I believed and that it could spread and could be doing just that as I sat here looking at him looking through my notes and making phone calls and clicking on screens? I can't shake that feeling whilst I stare on at him helplessly.

He eventually turns back to me and says that he can't get through to the unit but we need to get treatment started as soon as possible as it has been delayed long enough because of the holidays. He needs to see his next patient but is concerned that I am leaving his room without knowing when I will be seen at the chemotherapy unit. I think he has sensed my anxiety and is trying to regain his calm demeanour in order to reassure me. For some bizarre reason I offer to call the unit myself and see if I can book the appointment as I don't want to delay matters. He isn't all that happy about me doing it but feels it might be the quickest way to get things moving so asks me to inform reception once I have done that with the date. 

I think I thought it would be like getting an appointment at the hairdressers. I mean they can't always see you when you'd like to see them but you can generally get an appointment fairly near to the one you originally wanted. Let me take my previous statement back about not being the village idiot, because quite clearly I am. I really am such a fool as I have no idea what I am letting myself in for. If I thought I was stressed and anxious when leaving his office that morning it would be nothing compared to how I was going to feel once I had made that call. 

I speak to a very harassed and harangued receptionist for whom my request for a start date for my treatment might as well be me asking her for the solution to world famine. Actually I think she would have preferred if I had asked her that. She probably could have sorted it out by the following Thursday. But a date to start treatment. Well that's the $64,000 question. She saying there all booked up until the end of January so I am probably looking at first to second week of February. We are in the first week of January and my oncologist was having a minor nervous breakdown that I hadn't started the treatment already and she's offering me something in a month or so time!
 Is she mad? Does she understand the enormity of this? I start to explain that my oncologist is concerned that I haven't started yet and as far as he's concerned I should have started already. Before I can even finish she starts a monologue about how THEY have no idea what pressure SHE is under to book all the appointments in and it's easy for THEM to tell HER what SHE should be doing when THEY aren't having to do HER job. By the end of the monologue or rant or whatever it is I find myself apologising and accepting her date for the beginning of February. However she does add in a kindly voice that she will try and get me onto an induction session sooner so as not to delay things even further. My head is swimming and I have the most pounding headache all of which is compounded by this new discovery of some sort of induction process that I have to go through. I don't want to be inducted or induced into this world of cancer. I just want to slip into it briefly and then slip out again as quickly as I came in. I just want to get started and get this all over and done with as quickly as possible. I am feeling sick and for the first time really scared that this is going to drag out and become my life from now on. It's not the blip I had hoped it would be. I really had no control over where this 'gap year' was going to take me and for how long. 

I put the phone down and start to cry. Having tried so hard not to cry in an attempt to keep strong so as not to alarm everyone and most importantly myself I am now feeling completely overwhelmed and very alarmed. Now I've started crying I can't stop. I'm like a really exaggerated version of Gwyneth Paltrow at the Oscars. If there was an Olympic event for crying I would be a definite odds on favourite. And it's not just a sobbing type of crying. I am trying out all the ranges of crying known to man. From the juddering of the shoulders but with only a whimper to full on professional wailer at a funeral. I surprise myself at the depth and reach of my range but I just can't stop. I feel completely overwhelmed and as the sobs begin to subside I feel another emotion coming to the fore. 

A begin to get angry. Not just a bit annoyed or slightly cheesed off but full on raging anger. Why is this happening to me? What did I do to bring this on myself? I start unpicking my life apart looking for an answer to this shitty situation I find myself in. I then start tumbling into the murky depths of divine retribution and karma recounting all the bad things I'd done to find myself at this place. However if this is the case then I'm riddled with this disease and this 'lump in tit' situation is just the tip of the iceberg. 

I need to stop this bloody self pitying and get a grip. Whatever the situation and whatever the reason I am here, I need to get on with getting as far away from here as possible and sitting here feeling sorry for myself is not going help me do that. 

I cannot bear this powerlessness and this paralysis which is taking over my life. I pick up the phone and call the clinic. I am put through to my breast care nurse and as soon as I start to explain what has happened the tears start again. Thankfully I stick to one style within my newly founded armoury of crying and the breast care nurse begins to reassure me. She tells me not to worry and to leave it with her and she will get it sorted. I put the phone down feeling completely drained and exhausted. I can't quite believe what's just happened and why I had to go through this. 

A couple of hours later after I have calmed down sufficiently enough to make myself a medicinal (well for my mental health at least!) gin and tonic I get a very calm upbeat call from the breast care nurse to say its all sorted. Though its still probably not as quickly as I think my oncologist would like at least it's this month and true to her word the receptionist has squeezed me into an induction session a week before it starts. Although I am relieved I have a date the enormity of it all yet again starts to kick in. I thank the breast care nurse for her help and gulp the G&T down in a couple of mouthfuls. I can't believe that in a few weeks time I am going to be on this conveyor belt of treatment and post this nothing will ever be the same again. However I have two weeks grace to hold on to normality and my pre-lump life and I am going to make sure I do exactly what I want to do when I want to and it's going to include some really nice things for me. So cancer we are so nearly under starter's orders but you are going to have to wait for just a little bit longer before you turn my life upside down, as I still have things I need to do...

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