Have you ever seen your medical files? As of last year, my hospital file was pretty thin: a laparoscopy to treat endometriosis when we were having trouble conceiving after two years of summoning the stork, then maternity notes from having our two kiddies, and a potential issue with a mole (the skin type, not the small furry mammal or a spy). C’est tout.
Then come October 2010, it started padding out. Today, it’s around five inches thick and pretty hefty. Much like this blog, it started out as an everyday tale of an ordinary woman (mother, worker, wife, daughter, sister, friend), then took a dramatic turn into tragedy, before rallying, at the end of Part Two, with an uplifting sequence.
Today I not only got the opportunity to carry this tome, but also to read it. I had my appointment with my surgeon, the Very Magick Miss Tracey Irvine, to go over the Full Story of my surgery results, followed by an oncology appointment to regroup post-chemo and pre-radiotherapy. I said I may as well carry my own notes from one meeting to the next. And there was the usual 80 minute wait in the oncology clinic, so, er, me and DH had a look. I have to say, it felt really sneaky, and illicit, like we were doing something terribly naughty, and every time a nurse went by I closed it and acted all innocent. Which is weird, because it’s my file, all about me, and there’s nothing in there I didn’t know already, bar some tables of medical data I don’t understand anyway. But still, it’s an unusual situation, having access to your notes.
[Quick break for some olives and a shlurp of sauv, back in a sec.]
It was a fascinating read. Not quite Man Booker prize-winning (although who knows what creative writing project might be the result of this rather interesting interlude in my life). Now I know everything’s looking good, I could read things like ‘malignant’ and ‘stage three, grade three’ quite dispassionately and think, gosh, no wonder everyone looked so serious when I was diagnosed. This is the sort of cancer that used to be a death sentence, basically. I asked specifically not to be told these things in the beginning, as I didn’t want to scare myself, and was concentrating on being in a calm bubble and successful treatment. All the correspondence between my hospital teams and my GP is there, including a couple of letters from my oncologist, Dr Houston, describing me as a ‘very pleasant lady’. Hilarious, esp as I have probably been one of his least passive patients.
There were also some things which I found emotional to read. The labour, birth and post-natal records for DD and DS were really moving. The exact moment I ‘delivered a healthy male/female baby’!!! Although there was a BRILLIANT contrast between my birth plan, which stated primly ‘I would like to use the birthing pool,’ and a note from the midwife I was yelling at during DS’s birth: ‘She asked for Entonox (gas and air). She does not want to use the birthing pool’.
And then a surprising, small note from the doctor who did my original mammogram (and broke the news, as gently as she could, that I had cancer and would need surgery and chemotherapy) to my surgeon, saying very kindly that we had found the news very difficult to hear, especially DH, and we would need lots of emotional support on our ‘cancer journey’. That blew me away. I’d sort of assumed all the scientists we’ve dealt with had been focused on the facts of treating a tumour, but thinking about it we’ve had a huge amount of recognition of our feelings, too, and have been handled extraordinarily sensitively. I know this isn’t the experience of everyone I’ve heard of who has been treated for cancer in other parts of the UK, and it made me feel, yet again, extremely lucky.
Anyway, back to my meeting with my surgeon today. I hugged and thanked her. She examined me, changed my dressing, and looked rather pleased with her work. Everyone who has changed my dressing over the past week has marvelled at her tiny stitching – the scars really are incredibly fine already, like in the Elves and the Shoemaker or something. Then (reclothed) we got down to business. In the beginning, I had two tumours side by side, measuring over 4cm. These had visually and palpably disappeared midway through the chemo. All that remained was 4mm of low grade cancer. Which she removed. There had also been 9cm of high grade DCIS (pre-cancer). This entire area was removed. When this was analysed, there was only 3cm left, so the margins were more than generous. Remember, this isn’t meant to happen. These are good drugs, people, and I say this as someone who will normally err on the side of complementary or alternative therapy. As I had definitely had cancer in one lymph node, all 30 nodes in my right armpit were removed. In the lab, not one of these showed any sign of cancer. As Tracey said, it’s a shame I had to have such extensive surgery just to be on the safe side, but with these sorts of remarkable results, my prognosis is excellent.
Mr and Mrs Pinchy expressed profuse thanks. And exited stage left. And held each other very tight and cried in the corridor. Relief at the confirmation that we have scaled a big old peak and now we just have a long but fairly unchallenging stumble down the other side.
And then, grinning, to see my consultant, Dr Houston. Actually, we saw one of his new registrars, which I was a bit disappointed about. Partly because I like him, and his enthusiasm (and he thinks I am pleasant!) and partly because I couldn’t tell him DS’s first joke, aged two and a half: ‘Knock knock. Who’s there? Dr. Dr Who? Dr HOUSTON!’ Little ears…
The hot news from oncology is that Dr Houston is thrilled. And all the results of my chemo, surgery and various blood tests indicate that it would be a really good idea to get started on the Tamoxifen this week, and there is no medical reason not to. This is the little daily pill that I take for five years to basically prevent this sort of cancer happening again. And next week I have another radioactive heart scan (MUGA) and next Thursday I restart the Herceptin drip (every three weeks until Novemberish). And I’m being referred internally to radiology for my radiotherapy, which will be arranged and planned out in a few weeks, and then started straight after our summer holiday at the end of June.
So, plenty more treatment to come, but everyone at the hospital is smiling now, instead of having a Serious Face or doing that head-held-on-one-side sympathy thing. And I want to say a special thank you to my sis and my friend L who each had one of our children for the afternoon so DH and I could go along to both appointments together and hear the story first hand. I feel a happy ending is on its way…