For the past three weeks I’ve been getting increasingly troublesome headaches, and last week’s were joyfully accompanied by vomiting in the morning. Whenever an ache or pain strikes I am reminded of the fragility of my situation, and at times denial seems like a better option than assuming the worst, so rather than bring forward my first NHS appointment with Professor Hope I decided to grimace and bear them.
Last Thursday, however, the headaches were getting so bad that they were impossible to ignore. I had some liquid morphine left over from the time it was prescribed to alleviate my hip pain, and that seemed to be the only thing that would even touch the sides.
One night, after maybe a spoonful too many of the morphine, I was watching the West Wing with Tom in the living room when I spotted a mouse scuttling across the kitchen floor. After the obligatory scream, I stood on the couch urging Tom to ram a broom under the fridge where said mouse had scampered behind. “Maybe you’ve overdone the morphine, love,” Tom suggested, when the wily rodent refused to emerge.
I was convinced I’d seen this mouse, albeit out of the corner of my eye, but with CJ getting death threats and President Bartlet having to foil a terror plot the rodent investigation would have to be postponed until the next day. The mouse was lucky this wasn’t one of those tedious, preachy West Wing episodes or the hunt would have continued long into the night.
The Friday before the appointment I felt really quite unwell so I emailed Professor Hope to give him a ‘heads-up’ on the state of my, er, head. This is one of the many great things about The Prof; he is happy for me to email him directly and although I don’t like to abuse this I know he will return my email almost immediately. This type of relationship was unthinkable with my old consultant.
I was convinced that the headaches were a tumour growing in my head. I’d never had this type of pain and coupled with the nausea they were classic signs that the cancer had yet again spread. Of course, there were still arguments to suggest it might not be that; the other tumours were shrinking, so why should it be growing there? Or maybe the new pains were a side effect of the build up of all the drugs I’d been taking. But after being burned on previous occasions no amount of reasoning could ease our concerns. We’d been there before with the sciatica that turned out to be cancer in my pelvis, and so another psychological approach was taken. “Whatever it is, we will deal with it.”
We saw Professor Hope on the Monday and he immediately ordered CT scans on my brain and body. He called the radiologist and asked him to get me in that day. If I’d been at the old hospital I would still be waiting for those scans, of that I am sure. We were still within the NHS but this felt like very different treatment – there was a definite sense of urgency.
By Friday a new appointment was given and despite the Professor being away I was seen by his colleague who told me that some small spots had shown up on the CT scan of my head, including a 6mm tumour at the back of my brain.
I was going to say that I don’t expect different treatment because of my age but do you know what? I do. I’m 28 and have not even lived half of my years going by the ‘average’ life expectancy. At the old hospital it was a case of ‘we’ll fit you in when we can’; here it was very different. Professor Hope had spoken to the radiology department even though he wasn’t at work and I was being booked in on Monday to be measured up for radiotherapy.
I didn’t cry when the news was given – Tom and I had strong suspicions what this was. It has to be said that the more knockdowns you get the more adjusted you get to dealing with them. The time period for tears and ‘it’s not fairs’ and ‘why us?’ seems to shorten with every blow as we somehow adapt to the new shitty situation.
Am I thinking about dying more often? Yes I am. Do Tom and I hug each other every ten minutes and tell each other how much we love one another? Of course. I think the best way to sum how I’m feeling at the moment is if I share with you an email I sent to my brother on the evening we got the news.
Despite these shitty developments I know the question most of you will be asking yourselves is, “But Ellie, what about the mouse? Don’t leave us hanging until the next entry.” As if I would! The mouse appears to have been a figment of my drug-fuelled imagination – it hasn’t been spotted again. Either that or the furry fella didn’t fancy sharing a flat with two soppy fools who can’t help saying ‘I love you’ whenever they pass in the hallway.