I have long held the belief that Tuesday is the worst day of the week. I hate Tuesdays. Those that have had the pleasure/misfortune to work with me over the years will know that my theory goes as follows;
Monday – Left over adrenalin from the weekend and the excitement of a fresh week ahead.
Tuesday – nothing, too far from the weekend to come and the weekend just gone has drifted away.
Wednesday – Hump Day! Nothing scientific but it sounds good.
Thursday – the new Friday.
Friday – the old Friday.
Saturday – no further comment needed.
Sunday – the official day of rest.
On this particular Tuesday, I woke up wishing it was Wednesday (as I did most Tuesdays) but at least the sun was out and we had more than one thing on the calendar. Excitingly, my wife and I were going to step back out into the real world and have a pub lunch at our local – the first time either of us had set foot in a pub for over a year due to the pandemic and various banning orders for public nudity and cheating at darts. Before that, however, I had my monthly phone call with my Oncology team – it’s a bit like calling one of those late-night chat lines where they kind of recognise your voice but don’t remember anything about your previous conversation.
These calls would normally be appointments at the hospital so they could cast an eye over me to assess my match fitness for another round of immunotherapy. However, due to these being held over the phone, the medical professionals do somewhat rely on your honesty with regard to your physical and mental wellbeing. When they ask how I’m feeling I could say anything between “Fit as a fiddle Doc, I fought a bear last week and won before hopping three miles home for fun” and “It’s too late for me, I died last week and you are currently part of an elaborate séance”, and they would pretty much have to believe me.
On this occasion, I reported the usual fatigue (not tiredness, remember, fatigue) as well as the increasingly achy joints I was experiencing – particularly my fingers, knees and shoulders. This, I was told, could be a side effect of the immunotherapy drugs which can bring on symptoms not unlike arthritis. Consequently, I had spent the previous few weeks starting the day like a seized-up Lego figure with hands fixed in C-shapes and had resorted to not only taking Cod Liver Oil capsules and buying one of those squeezy hand pump exercise things that stressed out cops in 80s movies used to pump excessively.
So, there I am, on the end of a phone at the age of 40 with arthritic symptoms, no stomach to speak of, no pancreas or spleen, a digestive system that is erratic (to put it politely) and similarly unpredictable energy levels. And yet, when posed the question “How Are You?” by the doctor, my answer is the terribly and predictably English “Oh not bad, ticking along”. The context of the ‘How Are You?’ question is often overlooked by the casual but well meaning well-wisher but the person at the other end of the question has a lot to weigh up;
- Do they really want to know the actual answer?
- If they do, how much detail should I go in to?
- How much of my situation do they already know? I don’t want to overburden them.
- How much time have we got (is this in the shop or are we sat down with a fresh cup of tea)?
- Do I need a poo? (This one is quite specific to me but I’d recommend that everyone check in with their bowels before starting a long conversation).
As the asker, I’d also recommend you ask yourself the same set questions – nobody wants to be asked how they are swiftly followed by “sorry, hold that though, I really need a shit”.
From a functional point of view, the call was fairly run-of-the-mill in that treatment was given the go ahead so I prepared for another Friday afternoon in the Chemo ward. There was, however, a greater subtext to this call which was that I was still waiting for the full translation of PET CT scan which will take a little explaining.
Firstly, there was a shape on what is called my pancreatic base that had befuddled them somewhat and, secondly, there was something ‘avid’ in my pelvis. These two things combined had weighed quite heavily on my mind, body and soul over the weeks which leads to a certain amount of exhaustion and a whole lot of being grumpy, annoying and incessant tidying to stop my mind from wandering and wondering. This being my body, however, it was taking a whole slew of people to work out what all these shapes meant and what we should do about it. And it still wasn’t agreed by the time I had received this phone call but I was promised a call back by the end of the day with some answers – yeah right, bloody Tuesdays….
There’s an unwritten rule in our house that no big news will arrive after 5.00pm on a weekday or at any time during the weekend so these are the times when we allow ourselves to relax and even enjoy life a bit. So, at 7.00pm on this same Tuesday I was in the middle of a bit of a lounge disco with my little boy and the puppy (listening to a favourite of ours, ‘Black Glove’ by Goose and having a right old bop) when the phone rang and the caller display showed a Plymouth number ending in 436. Sadly, I now recognise this as the number for incoming calls from Derriford Hospital, a fact lodged in the same part of my brain as the fact that 103 was the code for cucumbers when I worked at Lidl in 1998.
That’s when all the rules were broken – a Tuesday got good and some big news arrived after 5.00pm on a weekday. It turns out that a lot of the confusion had been caused by my PET CT scan being compared to the previous PET CT scan which would be OK had that previous scan not been done in 2019. Regular readers will now that quite a lot has happened to me in the intervening period which made the comparison a bit like looking at a photo of me from the mid-90s and comparing it to me now and diagnosing sudden hair loss.
When they compared it with a more recent haircut, sorry scan, they could see that the issue with the pancreatic base appeared to have been stranding or scar tissue just settling down. The issue with the pelvis is still in the ‘to be confirmed’ category but is so small that they are not unduly concerned for the time being. So, we’re back into a holding pattern of treatment and scans for now which is fine by me with a cherry on top.
Treatment was fairly straight forward after the emotional rollercoaster of that phone call despite the nurse asking me “what do we normally do, stick a needle in you?” with an alarming lack of humour in her voice. For some reason, I always seem to be the last one sat in the treatment room with the nurses clearing up around me and checking the time on my drip which literally acts as a countdown to when they can clock off. This, combined with a slightly painful canulisation (I watched in horror as gravity started to pull the canula back out of my vein), left me feeling slightly sorry for myself as I walked back through the hospital until I crossed paths with an inpatient being wheeled across the corridor in a bed with an oxygen mask strapped to her face. I was about to drive myself home to my family to a home cooked meal so sit in my favourite chair and sleep in my own bed. What the hell do I have to feel sorry for myself about? Perspective. It’s a good thing.
As I drove home through the rush hour traffic of a Friday before a bank holiday weekend, however, it did get my mind ticking over. I have long since made peace with the fact that cancer has shortened my life (begrudging peace but that’s still peace, right?), there’s no way a man can do without this many organs or basic bodily functions and still live to be 90 so I’ve been treating life like an endurance race. One foot in front of the other, one mile after another and so we go, working through day without thinking too much about the finish line or the hundreds of miles still to go. But what if I just settle into an easy stroll and enjoy the journey a bit more without feeling like I’m hanging on, literally, for dear life every day? What if I make a plan or two for the future and dare to dream about milestones yet to come? Maybe, just maybe, this is the first day of the rest of my life and maybe so is tomorrow. As long as it’s not a Tuesday.