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After the wild goose chase of attempting to coax a piece of liver out of me for a biopsy, I found myself waiting for the fabled “next steps” letter from the MDT, like a kid waiting for a promised chocolate bar.

Then, lo and behold, a mere week or so later, the mail gods smiled upon me. The envelope had that distinct “we’ve cut every corner possible” NHS feel. Like they raided a recycling bin for paper. In the grand scheme of things, given that the NHS might as well have their own postal service, I suppose I can tolerate a letter with the texture of a dishrag if it’s saving the taxpayer some dosh.

Ripping open the envelope like a man starved for news, I felt a ghostly glare from my dearly departed mother-in-law, who surely would’ve used her ornate letter opener for such a sacred task. But, you know, I’m a modern guy, and butchery has its place.

What I found inside was about as exciting as a weather report in the Sahara. The urgency in the text was lacking like the writer was inviting me to a casual brunch rather than addressing a potentially aggressive disease. “See this patient at your own convenience?” Excuse me, but I’d like a tad more haste in my medical attention, thank you very much! The nonchalance was getting under my skin like a tick at a picnic.

But let’s not dwell on the snail’s pace of bureaucracy. One of the high notes in this saga was the support offered by Macmillan Cancer Support and Ocumel UK, not to mention my specialist cancer nurses. It’s like having a backstage pass to the mystery that is the healthcare system.

So, I rang up one of these lovely nurses, recognisable by her accent that sounded like a cross between Southern Irish and West Coast American, but with an emphasis on the Irish. After sharing my dismay at the lackadaisical tone of the letter, she filled me in on the real scoop, like a secret agent divulging state secrets. It turns out, “doc speak” is a language of its own and I shouldn’t take it as a personal affront.

The gist was I was booked in to see the oncologist in the not-so-distant future. Sure, it’s another slice of waiting in the grand pie of medical limbo, but at least I’d finally get a peek at what’s cooking in the treatment department.

 

While stuck in the eternal purgatory known as the waiting, anticipating my long-awaited appointment, I kept my eyes glued on my Facebook feed, watching mindless videos about cats, cars and motorbikes. You’ve got to appreciate an algorithm that can keep on feeding you crap you just can’t turn off. I was desperate to dodge the reality of feeling, well, “blergh.” My therapist (thank you, Ocumel UK) had a fancy way of saying that my outwardly rosy appearance was misleading, as inside, I was more like a medical mystery wrapped in a health hazard.

She also warned that my upcoming hospital visit might end with a shrug and an “I don’t know.” How comforting! Meanwhile, life at the B&B continued. Greeting guests with a cheery smile and inquiries about their well-being. If they asked about me I stuck to the script of “Oh, I’m absolutely fine, thanks!” I mean, nothing like the mention of a terminal illness in the morning to spoil your eggs benedict.

Finally, the day of my appointment arrived. We even found a parking spot without having to duel anyone. On a whiteboard in the waiting room, someone had kindly scribbled the surnames of the medical luminaries alongside their consulting room numbers. It was like a menu, but instead of choosing dishes, we were picking our own doctors.

Scanning the list, we spotted my oncologist’s name—Room 6. Ah, that mystical number again. It was like a bad pop song that kept playing in my head.

The only mystery remaining was whether my doc was a he or a she. As we pondered this, a tall gent in his sixties strolled by, looking every bit the seasoned medical guru. Suit? Check. Bag? Check. Doctorly air of authority? Double check. We exchanged knowing glances, silently agreeing that this must be the one.

Moments later, the same chap ambled back, confusion written all over his face. It was like watching a character in a comedy sketch. We exchanged glances again, this time willing him not to be the one. I didn’t want my life in the hands of a doddery old bugger who seemed to have misplaced his own destination. All we needed was a laugh track, and we’d be the stars of our own sitcom.

Minutes later, we met the real deal. She explained my lesions, their proximity to some important arteries, and now the need for a PET scan.

Ah, the PET scan. If you’re thinking puppies and kittens, I hate to burst your bubble. This PET scan (Positron Emission Tomography)  involves injecting me with a radioactive substance. No, it won’t give me superpowers or a glowing personality. It’s a science thing, all about visualising what’s happening in the dark, murky world of my insides.

If you’re interested, here’s a blow-by-blow account of how it works:

1. Injection of a Radiotracer: They poke you with a needle and inject radioactive sugar. Don’t get excited; it’s not the tasty kind of sugar.

2. Distribution of the Tracer: You wait around (more waiting!) while the tracer makes friends with your tissues. I suppose this is when I could’ve used some pet therapy.

3. Scanning: You lie down, slide into a large doughnut, and detectors create a 3D tour of your body.

4. Image Analysis: Some wise person interprets the images, presumably looking for signs of my lost motivation and cancerous nasties.

5. Combination with Other Scans: Sometimes, they pair the PET with a CT scan, which sounds like an alphabet soup but helps paint a clearer picture.

My appointment continued with discussing treatment plans, potential primary cancers, and consulting with a Liverpool expert. My specific cancer had subtleties that my doc admitted were a bit above her pay grade. So, my scans are off to Liverpool so the super-doc can cast his expert eye over them, and another waiting game begins.

Yet, I couldn’t help but feel that, despite the confusion and delays, I was in good hands. I mean, who wouldn’t be flattered by such a thorough medical photoshoot?

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