Cancer Blog - Episode 23 : Picc Lines, CT Scans and Free Tattoos

So, where were we? I think when we last spoke I was re-writing the NHS patient charter to be a bit more about the patient and less about the charter, but I realise that may be a longer-term project and so I don't have any updates just yet! Of course now I have blogged about it and posted it, it’s surely only a matter of time before the boss of the NHS reads my thoughts and makes the necessary amendments, right?

In the meantime I have been waiting for various results and scans and have also been Defying Medical Science. Good news first. I finally heard back from the gynae nurse after the MDT meeting, and the pelvic CT scan showed ‘nothing of concern’ which means that it looks like the cervical cancer has not spread. Hurrah! Finally a break. I mean, having two concurrent primary cancers is probably as far away from a break as you can get, but I’m taking any breaks I can, however small. So far, my gynae nurse and I haven’t bonded, in the way that Dorothy and the Wicked Witch of the West never really bonded (cast it how you like, but just make sure I get the ruby slippers and the little dog). I doubt we will, but it seems like she’s got herself a speaking part in my soap opera, so we’re going to have to just tolerate her for now. Let’s call her ‘Sue’, and when you say it you have to give an acidic smile and crinkle your eyes whilst leaning your head to one side. Go on, try it. That’s it. That’s Sue.


Sue tells me the 'nothing of concern' news and also that the scan did find a cyst on my liver which is almost certainly benign (welcome to the story, Liver, nice to have you on board). But I have to have yet another MRI scan to make doubly certain. It seems that as I now have two cancers, I have achieved something akin to an Access All Areas pass at the NHS, and am now a gold level customer. Every tiny thing I have will be referred on, just in case, and whilst this caution feels reassuring, the truth is that it’s there because I really am in the very high risk corner of the graph now, and probably will be for a very long time. Oh well, at least I have a car park permit.

But just when you start getting used to being something special, Sue is there to bring you back down to earth. She tells me I’m not unique, 'actually' (I beg to differ, 'actually') and that they’ve dealt with ladies with two cancers before and they’ll do it again. There was an unspoken “jolly well” in that last phrase which you can sprinkle at will. I have been reading Enid Blyton lately to while away the hours, and Sue would almost certainly have been the matron of a girls’ boarding school in a former life, whilst I would almost certainly have been the girl who was made to mend everyone’s sheets after getting caught sneaking a goat into the common room. I wouldn't have mended the sheets, by the way, I would have sold tickets for goat hugs and earned the money to buy cakes and new sheets, instead. New sheets which the goat would then have eaten and the cycle would have started again. But that's another reality.

But whatever Sue says, it seems that my body has decided to become the exception to the rule, the 1 in 100, the “very occasionally” person listed on the side effects list. Let me explain:

Pete the Picc

Peter the Picc line had been nothing but trouble since he first entered the room. Darcie and I have a cast list of players in our cancer panto. You’ve already met Stuart and Fucktard the tumours, but we also have Sean the Seroma (now deceased), Peter the Picc, Lewis the Lymph Node and Bernie the Bald Patch. Sir Vic the Cervix is a new addition to the cast, along with the ugly sisters Titania and Faniella (Tit and Fanny for short).

Anyway, for some reason Peter and me never got on. From day one I reacted badly to the alcohol swab they used to clean my arm, then I also reacted to the first dressing. Once you have a picc line you have to get it cleaned, flushed and re-dressed every week or so, even if you're not having chemo. The next week we tried a new dressing but that too made the skin around Pete all red and puffy and to be honest, he started to smell a bit funky. This is unusual, apparently, but hey, so am I. The next week we stripped it right down to the most basic dressing and all seemed well for 5 days. But after my CT scan, Pete developed a definite ooze. I think it was the contrast dye they put in it for the scan, but the hosp are having none of it. Pete is just a bit of an arse. Three trips to the chemo ward and a lot of itchy yellow stuff later, it is decided that I need antibiotics. Sepsis is a real risk with picc lines and cancer treatments, but the chemo ward doesn't have any doctors, so I have to wait to be referred to the emergency day ward to be seen by a doc. My solution would have been to rip the fucker out, but the chemo team are little less gung-ho and want to try and keep Pete alive at all costs. I guess it comes with the territory,

By this time, I now have met everyone in the chemo department at least twice, as each of them has come to look at Pete, make a variety of “oooh” sounds and tell me how nasty that looks. Several have also told me how unlucky I am, and what a tough time I’m having. Thanks for that guys. The exception is the glorious lady who brings the tea and snacks, who has taken a shine to me, and who greets me every time with a very loud and exuberant “Heeellarreeeee” and a proclamation on my outfit (always positive), my hair (I’m so lucky, it’s so curly etc) and offers of tea and sandwiches. We love her deeply even though we would quite like to sneak in and out unnoticed. But it seems I'm destined for medical celebrity, so I will take the tiara and accept that if something medically unpleasant and unlikely is going to happen to someone, it's going to happen to me.

Always Take The Sandwich

Foolishly I usually turn down the sandwich offer, thinking that I won’t be there long enough to need one. In life, my optimism often overrides my realism and this is a perfect example. After spending the total of 2 days in the chemo ward this week, for what I thought would be 20 minute nip-ins, my advice to anyone starting a cancer journey is this: Always take the sandwich.

So anyway, I eventually get referred to the emergency day ward and after telling 3 separate non-chemo nurses my whole story, 3 times over