I just had a ‘cancer scare’. And it was great.
I’ve never had a cancer scare before. Every time I’ve been scared I might have cancer, I did have cancer. Two breast cancers (several surgeries, chemo, radiotherapy, mastectomy), two tiny skin cancers (both benign, both removed). I’ve never had the thing where it was just a scare. It was always the thing itself. And I appreciate that for those who have never had cancer, it might not feel like it’s ‘just’ a scare, but just a scare (sleepless nights, knowing too much to not worry) is was it was.
And beautifully handled by the bloody brilliant NHS.
Day 1 (Saturday), a small lump found. Day 3 (Monday), a call to the breast unit. A hiccup where the breast unit receptionist explained I can no longer just go straight to them (as it used to be) I have to go via the GP. A call to the GP. No appointments. A slightly agitated explanation to a thoughtful receptionist who said they’d get the GP to call me. A phone call explanation to the GP, who then put the referral straight through, no need for her to see me, after all, with two breast cancers behind me, she can probably trust I know what I’m talking about. Day 6 (Thursday), a massive work thing on my birthday, wife rings GP surgery to check the referral has gone, yes it has. Day 7 (Friday), brilliant breast unit receptionist found me a cancelled appointment, so I had a meeting with a (new to me) doctor who confirmed it was, yes, a small lump, and yes, they did need to look at it with ultrasound and maybe aspiration, maybe biopsy. Days 8/9 big nerves, big worry, trying not to think ahead too far. Also belatedly celebrating my birthday. Day 10 (Monday), two needle aspirations, a bit painful but I’ve had (much) worse, and one of the aspirations also drew quiet a lot of fluid, removing a stubborn and uncomfortable (not cancer) bump that had formed since my reconstruction so hey, good from the bad, and two very kind staff members doing the procedure. Day 12 (Thursday, today), a meeting with ‘my’ consultant, the one who did my first surgery back in 2000, my second in 2014, who I know and trust and have become middle-aged with, confirmation that (as far as the understandably cautious NHS can say) the fluid and cells they took don’t have any indications of cancer – which is about as ‘all clear’ as I’ve ever heard them ever say – scriptwriters take note. And, obviously, Shelley beside me all through, nervous and scared.
Yes, I know that it isn’t this simple for everyone. It wasn’t this simple for me the first time round when it took weeks to be seen and further weeks to be diagnosed. But this time it was simple, the various branches of the NHS all worked brilliantly together, everyone was kind and careful – and I got good news. (As an added bonus to annoy the immigrant-haters, I’d guess that only one of the seven people involved in this story wouldn’t tick ‘migrant’ on a form asking where they or their parents or grandparents came from, and even then I’m not sure – our bloody brilliant multicultural NHS.)
Further, EVERYONE involved was lovely when I introduced ‘my wife’ in the appointments, not a raised eyebrow, not a double take. It definitely wasn’t like this in 2000. It wasn’t even quite so good in 2014.
Phew. Third time lucky*. Lightening doesn’t (so far) strike thrice.
* sort of, I tend to think that people who’ve never had a life-threatening disease at all are the lucky(er) ones.