Cancer Blog - Episode 32: Season Finale

Updated: Dec 21, 2021

Three weeks ago I walked into the hospital feeling more dread than I have ever felt before. It had been 3 months since the end of my brachytherapy, and therefore time for an MRI scan. Brachytherapy and external radiotherapy take up to 3 months to work, so there is no way of telling if the treatment has worked until 12 long weeks later. And goodness they were long weeks. Weeks filled with exhaustion like I have never felt before, weeks of cancer’s mental trickery that convinces you that every twinge is a recurrence, every side effect a new symptom, and weeks of ongoing side-effects, pain, therapies and recovery.

Coming Out of Hibernation

It was mid-November and I had just started my phased return to work, doing one day a week at first, which was exciting, exhausting and terrifying all at the same time. I sat at my desk on the first day, turned on my computer and had no idea where anything was or what to do next. I remembered my password though, so that was something.

And as I watched the icons appear on my screen and emails load, I could actually feel the synapses in my brain firing back to life, opening up old pathways that hadn’t been accessed for a while, like someone turning the lights on in an old and empty cabin in the woods. It felt wonderful, like I was emerging from hibernation and walking on grass again. I knew this place, I belonged here. I recognised the faces of my neighbours and I knew my way around. I had been away for a while, but it was all still there, just waiting for me to come back and take my place in my old, familiar chair. Some of my hinges were a bit rusty, admittedly, and the cushions were thick with dust, but this was my place, the stream was still flowing just outside my window and I could hear life happening, just as it always had.

Reality Bites

But before we get all Grizzly Adams, let’s skip back to reality, and the MRI scan. I despise MRI scans. They shake the core of my being, literally, and I will never, ever, be OK with them. But this one was the most important one yet. This one would tell us if the treatment had worked, if the tumour on the cervix had gone, and if there had been any spread of the cancer to other parts of my body. I had no idea what would happen in any of those situations, but each of them were life-changing in some way. I got through the MRI, but that was just the exam. I wouldn’t get the results until 2 weeks later, when I had an appointment with my oncologist. This is perhaps the cruellest part of cancer treatment, the unbearable waiting time between tests and results.

Thankfully I had work to keep me busy, and the days between work were spent recovering from the physical and sensory exertion of being back in the world again. It was so damn peopley! I upped my days to 2 a week, and threw myself into catching up on things I had missed, and double checking the belts and braces I had put in place earlier in the year.

Eventually the day dawned and I was in a complete panic. The tiny voice in my head that had been whispering quiet, gnawing words of doom and terror for the last 14 weeks had somehow found a megaphone and was now shouting loudly in my face. I felt that I knew, with absolute certainty, that I would not be walking away scot free from two bouts of cancer. I was lucky to have had an excellent result from the breast cancer treatment, but cervical cancer was a tricky beast, and there had been no option to cut it out. Chemo and radiotherapy were the only treatments available, and it all felt very, very flimsy.

Darcey was there to stabilise me, of course she was, holding me tight and talking me down, reassuring me that it would be OK, and even if, EVEN IF there was still a teeny weeny bit of cancer left, there would already be a plan in place to fix it, and I might need to have a wee bit more treatment. It made sense, all of it, but I didn’t believe it. The leap of faith was too great, I knew life, and it was a fucker. Bad things happened all the time, and this was just going to be another twist of the knife.

Stiff Upper Lip

Mr G was visibly nervous too, but he was doing a damn fine job of pretending to be the archetypal middle aged british husband from a BBC sitcom. There would be none of that silly nonsense, we’d march proudly into the hospital, take our seats, possibly read the paper (I may be pushing the boundaries of the stereotype a little too far here), and wait to see what the Doctor had to say. And whatever she said, we’d deal with. Tea was made, I’d like to say shoes were polished, but they weren’t, and off we drove in good time for our appointment.

As we arrived at Reception, Mr G’s stiff upper lip was wrestled to the floor by his middle aged bladder, and he wandered off to find the toilets. I knew where the toilets were of course, I know where every toilet in East Sussex is, but Mr G is very much his own man, and so headed off to find the toilet he had used once, several months ago, in a department a very long way from where we actually were. I sat down in a plastic seat and waited glad, for once, that surgical masks hide the signs of hyperventilation, and stopped all attempts at nail biting.