“We can also see cancer in your liver and very small spots in your lungs.”
Current Consultant was in Chicago for the ASCO meeting and so were seeing another oncologist at the same hospital. Fuckety fuck. We’d all been so positive since seeing Professor Hope but now, as I was trying to skip down the path sign-posted ‘positivity’ the cancer seemed to be grabbing hold of my arm and yanking me back.
“I know no one wants me to ask this,” I said, avoiding eye contact with Tom and my brother and staring straight at the consultant, “but how will the cancer kill me? Does it grow so big that it’ll take over my organs?”
“You just become very weak and lose weight. You’ll get weaker and weaker.”
I had a feeling that this was the child-friendly, fairy tale version of death. My experience of cancer sufferers on their deathbeds isn’t of people simply ‘slipping away’; they look like they’ve been slowly tortured, each breath more difficult to take, their previously healthy glow washed out of every pore.
I explained that in my previous appointment Current Consultant couldn’t guarantee me six months. The doctor looked at me, his head tilted at a sympathetic Princess Diana 45-degree angle. I suspected this was his well-practised, ‘you’re totally fucked’ face. “I would have thought it would be more than six months, but we are talking months here, not years.”
He showed us the scans of my lungs and liver and attempted to point out the spots of cancer on the scan. I stared at the screen, nodding knowingly, but the black and white images on the screen meant bugger all to me. I had cancer in my lungs and liver; this was not the time for a biology lesson.
So there we have it, my full diagnosis. Shocked? Still think I can make it past a year? Because I do, I’m sure of it. I can’t deny that I left that room with my confidence battered, but at that point it would have been harder to lower my hopes. Before the appointment my brother had said it didn’t matter what they said or what bad news we might be given; it was about the solution. They may not have told us what we wanted to hear, but what could we do to fix it? To fix me?
The plan was to start on the IV of bone strengtheners (Zometa) and the Capecitabine chemotherapy tablets. After two cycles or six weeks of the Capecitabine I’d be scanned and we’d decide if continuing with treatment was worth it or whether I should just opt for a trial drug; the latter would be a complete shot in the dark.
The evening after I start taking the chemo I had a terrible sense of déjà vu, the same aches and feelings of nausea which had overwhelmed me the first time around. I couldn’t get out of bed, I was sweating, I wasn’t eating. If this was what my life would become I decided that I may as well give up, stop the tablets and enjoy what time I had left.
Luckily, that assessment proved a tad dramatic as two days later I felt fine! The Zometa had surprised my body and when it was wearing off I was back to ‘normal’ – the chemo was treating me well. In the self-pitying throes of sickness I had told my brother that I might as well hurl myself in front of a tube. Forty-eight hours later, as we sat on the sofa watching The Apprentice he looked over at me chomping on some salt and vinegar Pringles and asked, “still throwing yourself under a train, then?”
“Not just now, I want to see if this prat gets the boot, first…”