If any of you are old enough to remember that Maureen Lipmann BT advert where the grandson is opening his exams results, then you’ll know what I mean when I say that was me when I found out I was being referred to Oncology. I got an Ology! If you don’t remember the advert, then you’re far too young to be reading this, and there are almost certainly going to be swear words, too.
Being able to say “I have an appointment with my oncologist” makes me feel like an extremely glamorous (tanned and toned, naturally) californian housewife, grabbing her giant handbag, flicking her tawny golden hair and effortlessly sliding into a white convertible en route to her oncology appointment. I’m told that in reality, this is probably a gynecologist or an orthodontist, rather than an oncologist, and I’ve messed my ologists up, but hey, I enjoyed the dream.
Scalpels of Steel
The reality was a bit different. Oncology is where it all gets very cancery. Surgery is done, Mr Flashpants the surgeon is off to do more great acts of derring do with his scalpels of steel. Are scalpels made of steel? I have no idea. I expect so. Scalpels of Tungsten sounds more butch, but less alliterative. Let’s go with scalpels of steel. There’s enough butch out there already.
Anyway, I have an appointment with my oncologist. The one that looks like my old Headteacher. But this time my breast cancer nurse (BCN to the initiated) tells me I’m allowed to bring my husband with me. This brings forth a multitude of responses:
Brilliant, I can have someone with me to hold me steady
Oh god, it must be really, really terrible if they’re letting me take someone with me. This must be worse than the diagnosis one.
Is Covid not an issue now then? Or does cancer outrank Covid?
Oh god, my husband will be a nightmare, he can’t sit quietly unless there’s a TV.
Is he going to say something stupid?
Am I better off keeping the detail to myself and just giving him the headlines and directions, like we normally do?
So I tell him and he also has a number of reactions:
When is it? I’m not missing golf.
How long will it take?
Do you really need me there? I’ll only be annoying.
I usually nip to Sainsbury’s while you’re in there. It’s always much cheaper when you don’t come.
We’ll have to pay for a parking ticket, you know.
(after a long pause) Yes, OK, I’ll come then. To be with you. Because that’s the right thing to do, isn’t it?
So it’s decided. We’re going together.
Remember outpatients from before, bright and shiny, with the big pink sign? Well Oncology outpatients is the room they haven’t decorated yet. It’s downstairs, in the basement, at the back. Clearly not the place where anyone goes to be impressed. It’s in the Green Zone, the bright lurid green zone, and as we find our way underground, we pass a sign for the hydrotherapy pool and the fitness suite. For a passing second I imagine myself in a fluffy robe, on a sun lounger, contemplating a dip in the jacuzzi, but then a very elderly man shuffles past on a walking frame, with two physiotherapists helping him move his legs, and I realise this is no David Lloyd centre.
We find Oncology and it suddenly gets very real. The waiting room is filled with people in various stages of cancer. It is very obvious who is the patient and who is the carer. A man in his 50s is slumped in a chair, skin and bone, while his wife keeps a careful eye on him while she discusses his weight with the nurses, whom she knows by name. A lady in a headscarf is wheeled in by her husband. She’s attached to a drip, she has a sick bowl on her lap and is holding her head in her hand, clearly exhausted and very unwell. They are waiting for an emergency appointment. Her husband gets his laptop out and starts working, she tries to sleep. They have been here many times before, she looks utterly spent. I have a glimpse of the future