Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Free Leaflets

This morning my life changed completely and forever.

5.30 p.m. I’m back at St Mary’s in the waiting room. It’s quite empty now. Nick is with me. We don’t have to wait long. This time my name is called by a nurse who turns out to be lovely and named Vicky. She is the breast care nurse.

Mr Hadjiminas doesn’t waste my time. He confirms the worst straight away. I have a malignant tumour. It is 31mm. “Quite small” says Mr Hadjiminas. I hold up my fingers in an approximation of the size. It seems quite huge to me. “We can get you in for surgery in three weeks” says Mr Hadjiminas. I was seriously ill in my twenties and I am self-employed. Those two factors conspired to get me to do the one and only sensible thing I have done in my life, that is to get health insurance. I don’t know how but I managed to pay that subscription even when I was out of work and on the dole. I’ve paid it for twenty years. It’s the power of fear, I guess. “I have Bupa” I hear a small voice say. “In that case I can do you next Wednesday at Harley Street” says Mr Hadjiminas.

Now he has to do a punch biopsy. Surprise is the tactic here. I probably shouldn’t tell you how painful that procedure is in case you ever have to have one yourself. If I had known in advance I would have fled the scene and taken my tumour with me.

Then we all crowd around on the chairs in the little consulting room and Mr Hadjiminas asks me if I have any questions. I can’t think of a single one. Nurse Vicky hands me a bunch of leaflets. I feel sympathy for the medical professionals. Although they must break the bad news to patients on a regular basis, somehow I doubt that it ever gets any easier. Not if they are human, which these two definitely appear to be. In my experience, when people give one leaflets it’s because they too are at a loss for words.

Fortunately, Nick knows no such reticence. He has gone into a sort of verbal panic, firing off questions in a scattergun kind of a way. “Will she have to have a mastectomy?” No, it will be a lumpectomy. “Will she have to have radiotherapy” Yes. “What about chemotherapy” No, they didn’t find cancer in the lymph node. “What about diet?”...

I hope that Nick will be able to cope with the reality of what is ahead. Although I’m grateful to Nick for doing all the talking, I put my hand on his knee to quiet him. We all look at one other in silence. Then Nick pipes up with a final question. “She will be ok won’t she?” “Oh yes, she’ll be ok” replies Mr Hadjiminas, as if he’d only just thought of it.