It’s been a funny old week and its only Wednesday. Two significant events occurred in this first full week of September and, if you don’t mind, I’m going to deal with them back to front. So, today I had my first session of Radiotherapy – one down and 19 to go. There’s a lot of waiting around in amongst people who look a lot more sickly than I feel or look waiting for a number to be called out that corresponds to your number. In that sense, it’s a lot like waiting in line at the Co-op delicatessen, watching people order a quarter of an ounce of Red Leicester while you wait impatiently to select some prime cuts of sliced ham. One thing I have noticed is that people don’t make a lot of eye contact with each other, as though they’re trying to focus on their own issues and acknowledging the problems of others will only drag them down further. Now, I spent 10 years living in London and commuting on the tube so I’m used to being in close quarters with other people and making absolutely no eye contact or connection with them whatsoever. But that doesn’t mean I don’t notice the faces which are all full of stories, sadness, life and always, unfailingly, a look of pure determination in the eyes. I’m never quite sure if I have the same look but in trying to achieve it I fear I may just be demonstrating a weak-ass version of Zoolander’s Blue Steel.
Once you get through to the treatment room, normal and undignified service is resumed – on my back, on a bench, head in a harness and trousers around my ankles. Then comes the scary bit; the scanner. If you imagine a huge pair of headphones (over the head jobs, none of this in-ear nonsense) with each ear-piece the size of a tractor wheel then you’ve got a decent picture in your head. Now nothing actually happens to you, it’s a totally passive experience, but when someone tells you to lie balls out on a cold bench, tells you not to move a muscle and then starts spinning two tractor wheels around you with laser beams inside them it’s hard to not at least flinch. I mean, we’ve all seen the laser seen in Goldfinger haven’t we? Did they actually expect me to die? More pressingly, when the lasers triangulate, you get this bright green cross on the ceiling the length and breadth of the room which, having recently watched Resident Evil, had me convinced I was about to be split into quarters. Nevertheless, I didn’t feel a thing and although the impact of the radiation will tire me out and damage my skin over the coming weeks, the process itself is not painful so I must at least be thankful for that.
Earlier in the week, I attended a hearing in to my ‘delayed diagnosis’ along with my long suffering father (the day after his birthday no less, what a trooper). For those who haven’t been paying attention to the whole sorry saga, here’s a very brief recap; stubbed toe in 2009, got worried about black mark under the toe and had it checked out by GP in 2014, GP referred me to hospital who removed toe nail and black stuff which was sent away for testing (specifically for any traces of melanoma) but nothing was found so I went on my merry way. Fast forward to February 2016 and I find my big old lump in the right side of my groin which started off this whole sorry story. But here’s the twist, when they found the lump they thought they’d better revisit the sample from my toe and, sure as eggs is eggs, they found the melanoma after all.
Now, there’s another twist which makes this even more of a face palm moment; there were two samples. You see, back in 2014 the pathology department checked sample A and there was no sign of melanoma which is why I was given the all clear. What they didn’t seem to realise was that there was a sample B and, when this was checked 18 months later, this was so chocked full of melanoma that, apparently, even a newly trained pathologist would have spotted it (their words, not mine). The hearing was held with a panel of medical professionals to explain this and the reasons why this could have happened (brace yourself, this one’s a cracker). It seems the best and most plausible reasoning they can come up with is either that the sample slide ‘fell off the trolley’ or was still wet from being covered in dye so might have ‘stuck to the lid of the tray’.
Of course, I have been assured that processes have been reviewed and improved to stop this happening to other patients and I am genuinely pleased about that, I wouldn’t wish this on most people (although there are certain Brexiteers who could do with a dose of something nasty not to mention a certain Mr Hunt). What I am still struggling to compute in my tiny brain is the series of sliding door events that have caused me to arrive at this moment in time, about to start four weeks of radiotherapy which will have lasting implications and possibly cause secondary cancer. Radiotherapy which, by the hearing panel’s own admission, could have been avoided had the diagnosis been correct in 2014 and the melanoma spotted in my toe. Had they just seen that sample instead of using it as a coaster or propping up the wonky table with it, I would be in a very different situation right now and that is through no fault of my own. I played by the rules, I did what all the advertising tells you to do and I went to my GP when I found something odd on my person that definitely wasn’t left over food or a chocolate stain. The GP referred me with clear instruction but then it all fell down and nobody realised.
You can cry when you get this kind of news, that’s understandable, or you can laugh, which tends to be my go-to response because I like a chuckle and my mascara tends to run if I cry too much. What you absolutely cannot do is let it break you down. Sure, the hospital cocked-up and there may still be ramifications for that in due course but the hospital did not give me cancer and cancer is the real enemy here. *Attempts look of determination…..does a duck face*