My doctors called me into their office this afternoon. What have you been doing different Mairead? Have you changed your protocol? Dr Salih had a stern face. This is the usual joking they do when they deliver scan results to me. They almost pretend its bad news and then show me my cancer free body on the computer screen. They like to joke. I find it endearing, with the language barrier and all. But this time, the tone was different. The smile didn’t come. Just the questions… have you been smoking? Drinking to excess? Taking narcotics? I said I hadn’t. I’ve had the odd couple of glasses of wine in the last few months but from Christmas to March I hadn’t touched a drop. How often have you drank? I could go two or three weeks without anything and then have a bottle of wine in a night. I assured them I hadn’t been drinking heavily. And it was the truth. I began to worry, why was he being so down on me about it? He said to come over and look at the screen. He pointed to my neck area. There is activity there Mairead. He used my first name instead of my surname. I knew it wasn’t a joke. This type of activity is usually seen in heavy drinkers. I was dumbfounded. There it was, glowing orange activity in my neck. He scrolled down further. There is some activity outside your right lung and in your ribs. Your liver is clear, breasts are clear… but there is some activity in the neck. I couldn’t believe it. I was not expecting that news. I have no pain, no symptoms… I had 3 clear scans previous to this. I had been 9 months in the clear. I was so looking forward to getting to a year in the clear, and then two years… it was a long way away but I was getting there. And now this. A recurrence. Fuck… Fuck, fuck, fuck!
Mairead, it could be worse. Take this as a warning sign. With some hard work and more frequent treatment, we can overcome it. But you said that if it ever came back it would be like a truck going downhill without breaks!? The words were ringing in my ears. Well I did say that but this is different, it’s recurred in a different area, not your primary area… Or your liver… This is a warning sign, not a very bad one but a warning sign. You are in a much better place than you were last year. If you compare this scan to your first scan here… it’s day and night. We wanted you to continue with the 10 day schedule but you asked to move to 3 days. We did that and now… we need to go back to 10 days. You can have 20 days off after but we need you here for 10 days, there’s a lot we can do in 10 days. 3 is not enough. I had just started to live my life again… I had started a business, enrolled in a 9 month course, planned some holidays… was all that up in the air again now? Do I have to put my life on hold again to get back on top of my health? Yes is the answer… I need to prioritise my health again and put everything else on the long finger. Turkey will once again be where my energy is focused for the foreseeable future.
I was in the office on my own with the doctors. I had become so bullet proof that I didn’t even need company for scan time. A recurrence was so far away from my reality that I didn’t feel like I needed support. But I’m lucky I have compassionate doctors who really care for me. Mairead, we will do our best by you. You know that 51% of the work has to come from you but we want the best for you. We have patients who have had relapses like yours and have gone on to live for 10 years or more. They’re still alive today. Hopefully we can say the same for you, but we need to take this seriously and we need your commitment. We discussed logistics and I got up to leave. Dr Salih gave me a hug and gently pulled my head into his chest. I couldn’t hold back the tears. Dr Slocum came in to the fold too. I had a good cry with them and they reassured me. Mairead, we love you and we want the best for you, OK? You are smart and you are positive and you need to stay that way. You know what you need to do. They gave me my scan disc, I wanted to throw it out the window. I left the office feeling deflated. I rang Paul and told him… he was expecting me to say it was a joke. But it’s no joke… there’s nothing funny about it at all. I just want to come home to you and Ali, I said.
I met my friends from the clinic in the evening. I’m so glad they were there, Ashley and Moray have been a great support to me. We started attending the clinic at the same time and have had our scans at the same time. We have mostly celebrated our results together. This evening, we had long chats about stage 4 cancer and the ups and downs. We talked about how when something like this happens, everything is put on hold. I wondered would I go to Trewfields festival in England at the weekend like I had planned to. I’m on a panel of stage 4 thrivers. My talk would now be different to what I had planned. I thought that I might feel like a I’ve failed to thrive but you know what? This is real life, this is what happens in stage 4 cancer patients. Recurrences happen, the road is bumpy and never easy and we just get on with it. Ashley is so knowledgeable about the mind and body and our ability to heal whatever comes our way. It was nice to have the reassurance and reminder that we are capable of more than we know. Healing is not linear, she said. It sure isn’t. I’ve had an upward trajectory for the past 9 months… it was bound to come down at some stage. But pick myself up I must and plod on I will. On with the healing, on with the journey… on and on and on… this never ending road…
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