I knew that Thursday night was not going to be a good one. I had fallen asleep in the armchair twice during the course of the afternoon/evening, so it was no surprise that I was awake half the night. I seem to have got in a routine of some bizarre dreams though, various people and episodes from my past becoming mixed up in some weird movie like scenarios. I’ve always been a prolific dreamer whilst sleeping, but recent ones have taken on the theme of a strange amalgamation of scenes from my past. Is my brain still reacting to the chemical warfare my body has been subjected to, or is it just the stress of being in the situation I’m in? At one point I awoke saturated with sweat, but only from below my knees! A stressful time for my legs obviously. I suppose I should be grateful that I am getting some sleep, even if it is sporadic and not always at the accepted normal time.
Needless to say that by the time my alarm went off Friday morning I was in a deep sleep. Dragging myself out of bed only brought home my reliance on coffee in the morning. I was on ’nil my mouth’, which is particularly difficult when you are used to have 4 cups of black coffee in the first hour of the day. Somehow it’s a comfort to be back at The Christie, to be amongst people who know and care. There is an automatic acceptance that the staff understand how you’re feeling, there are no barriers, no reluctance in discussing issues, where you might hesitate with others. You are never ’just another patient’ and they always treat you with the utmost respect and understanding, making you feel as though you are the only person that matters when in their company. The Christie treats 40 000 cancer patients a year, and every one of them is made to feel special.
Fridays visit was for the long awaited scans, that will determine the next stage of treatment following the intensive course of chemoradiation. My course of treatment finished almost 2 months ago, the interval being required to allow the treated area to recover, inflammation die down and things to return to some degree of normality. There were times I thought that would never be the case, it’s hard to describe the effects of radiotherapy, and even my words now could not prepare someone beginning a course, particularly as the first few weeks make it seem like there’s noting to it at all. Anyway, Fridays scans were to determine just how successful that treatment has been, I hope the trauma was worthwhile. My first stop was a place I had not been before, The Department of Nuclear Medicine, for obvious reasons sited on the fringes of the main hospital. No sooner had I checked in, than my name was called. Height and weight checked (Yippee, I’ve gained a little weight) and escorted to a little room where I would be spending the next hour or so. I was relieved by the successful first time attempt to put a cannula in my arm, blood taken, sugar levels checked, flushed through and we’re ready for critical part of the day. What happened next can only be described as the perfect demonstration of precision and efficiency. The nurse had prepared my vein, second nurse appears carrying small metal case, places on trolley, opened, metal syringe taken out, inserted into cannula, radioactive isotope injected into my vein, syringe back in metal case, shut and taken away. All this took place in a matter of 6 or 7 seconds ! I was now to be left in solitary confinement for an hour, to allow the isotope to be absorbed by the various organs in my body. I was aware that I was missing live TV coverage of the Australian Open tennis semi final, but consoled myself that I would at least be able to keep up to date on my phone. Wrong ! I had not taken into account the fact that I was encased in a lead lined room, complete with lead lined door, so no internet access. Oh well, at least it gave me the opportunity to listen to an album I had downloaded months ago, and not got round to listening to. Ceremonials by Florence & The Machine, and I wasn’t disappointed. If you liked Lungs, then this is even better, and demonstrates how much Flo has matured over a few short years. I’ve been following Florence (and her machine) since first hearing of her on BBC Introducing, and was an advocate long before anyone had even heard of her. Her first major performance, John Peel stage, Glastonbury 2009 was outstanding. I’m always delighted when an artist I’ve been following from small beginnings really does become something, and there is no doubt that Florence has done so. Anyway, that killed the best part of an hour, with a few Laura Marling tracks ( A Creature I Don’t Know) thrown in for good measure. My time was up, I was glowing sufficiently now to enable the scans to commence. These were simultaneous scans (PET & CT) that would produce a precise 3D image of the structure and function of organs and tissue, showing hotspots of any cancerous activity. A painless procedure, apart from the need to be lying on a hard surface and the discomfort of trying stop my legs jerking all over the place as they normally do when I lie flat. Completed in about 40 minutes, I was more than ready for my coffee and sandwich as I waited for confirmation that the images were clear.
An hour and a half before my next appointment allowed me to catch up with the cricket on TV, and internet access for the end of the tennis, at the local pub. Oh, and three cups of black coffee. Both the cricket and the tennis were looking good as I left the pub. Murray fighting back from 5-2 down in the last set to draw level, and England’s bowlers taking vital wickets in the test match. How things can change in such a short while, but at least Murray showed guts, more than can be said of the English batsmen.
In no time I was off for part 2, my MRI scan. Sitting in the same waiting room as some 5 months before I once again looked around at the faces. I wondered how my face fitted in all these months later. I think my ashen face may have reflected the treatment I have undergone so far. I was called almost immediately, I’m not sure whether the fact that I was still radioactive had anything to do with this, but I was thankful of not having to sit waiting for any length of time. I’ve had my fair share of scans now, I know the procedure, and the fact that my cannula was in place did without the need for this, and so I was in the scanning room within minutes. Chemicals injected, strapped down, encased in harnesses, headphones on (still no new CD’s so it was Foo Fighters again) and the scan was underway. No amount of music can disguise the noise of an MRI scanner, it sounds like a group of builders are on top of the machine hitting it with sledgehammers. I can understand how some people feel claustrophobic, and it does make me wonder how, well, more obese patients actually fit in, as you are literally inches away from the inside of the machine as your body moves in and out as images are taken of the area required. In my case, the pelvis, the scan being concentrated on the area of my bowel where the tumour was identified. I’m hoping they can’t find it this time. 40-45 minutes later and I’m out again. Slightly delayed by the fact that my vein would not stop bleeding as the cannula was removed, but 20 minutes of pressure soon resolved this.
Thankful to be arriving home, even if to snow covered pavements and garden, and an extra warm house as I had forgotten to turn the heating off on leaving this morning. Shattered, even though I had not exerted myself at all during the day, I could not face the task of cooking. I treated myself to a Chinese, the first in over 6 months, I savoured every mouthful, although I’m not quite sure how my digestive system is going to deal with it yet. I’m determined not to start getting anxious over the results of my scans, it would be 10 days or so before I get to hear the results, so there’s plenty of time to be worrying. For now I’m going to make the most of being in my cosy little home.
If you have any concerns about bowel cancer, or just want more information or check cancer rates in your area you can find all the information advice and help you need here. www.beatingbowelcancer.org