The Last Post
Now that got your attention!
Last week I had my post chemo PET scan. Apart from the usual four attempts to get the cannula in, it was an easy procedure.
You fast so your cells go into a restful state, (the irony of a lunchtime appointment!), Then they inject you with radioactive sugar which the ever restless cancer cells gobble up. They move you in and out of a tumble dryer until all the radiation has shown up. I was warned not to handle babies for several days! I’ve managed 40+ years so that didn’t present a problem.
After the scan, one of the cannula attempts was causing some ongoing pain and swelling so they gave me an ice pack before sending me on my way. Outside was about -2 deg with the wind chill, so I’m not sure the ice pack was strictly necessary but it was appreciated.
A friend reported that he had a metallic taste after his PET scan, but maybe because of my brief brush with COVID last November, I didn't taste anything, or maybe my nose could differentiate between radioactive sugar and travelling on the Victoria line!
Last Monday (22nd Jan 24) I had a follow up consultation at UCLH.
I was anxious in the run up to this. I noticed myself becoming a little enclosed. That's my term for being withdrawn or blinkered, which is understandable. I believe evolution has hard wired us to only see the threat when we're under stress.
When a tiger walks into your primaeval village, noticing pretty flowers isn't helpful, unless you're emphasizing with the tiger!
For anyone suffering from chronic stress I would thoroughly recommend noticing the flowers as a way to open up your perception and lower the stress response.
Being aware of the psychological process doesn't always help. Evolution hasn't prepared me to differentiate: meeting a man who might deliver life or death news; from meeting a man who might deliver actual death! Evolution has judged harshly those who go ‘it’ll probably be alright’ or 'isn't that a daffodil?'
I'd found myself doing lots of little things to delay/avoid getting through the front door. Classic procasternation!
Fliss was waiting for me at Warren St tube and off we went to UCLH.
My usual consultant wasn't available. My catastrophizing mind assumed he'd dodged giving me the bad news! My only defence against catastrophizing is, what we call in the mind mechanic trade, Socratic Questioning. Is it real? How big is the problem? etc etc. Each question seeks a realistic answer rather than a catastrophic fantasy.
According to Plato, Socates died in 399 BC from hemlock poisoning and I wonder if he was thinking ‘oooops I wish I’d taken those threats more seriously!’
Anyway, 2423 years later I was prepping myself for various outcomes:
All’s fine (Always the optimist)
The chemo hasn’t worked as well as hoped and I’d need treatment within a year or two. (Doable)
The chemo hasn’t worked at all and I need more treatment now! (Ffs)
The lymphoma’s gone, but we’ve found another cancer that’s worse!!! (Oh shit!)
We suggest you get your affairs in order, I’ll step outside leaving this revolver on the desk! Things have moved on since hemlock and revolvers. Perhaps a one way ticket to Switzerland would be more appropriate.
Oh how waiting rooms are fun!
“Alastair Sadler” calls a man by the reception desk. Deep breath and here we go. Fliss reminds me to take the three layers of coats with me. They'll give the tiger something to chew on!
The man is Dr Ali. He seems energised and up beat. But he would, wouldn’t he. For him, delivering bad news is just another day in the NHS. I note my angry defence in play. He explains that Dr William (my regular consultant) is ill. So much for my dodging the dirty work fantasy!
Within seconds of entering the consultation room he says the outcome is excellent. Only some cruel blogger would make you wait for it! I can’t remember exactly what he said, remember thinking what a nice tiger he is :) Fliss and I slump in the chairs. Pheeeew.
He explains that I am cancer free. That’s the first time I can say that since 2018.
My spleen, which was several times its normal size, has returned to normal doing normal spleeny things. I require no more treatment and he said he would be disappointed if I needed treatment again for at least eight years. I was expecting somewhere between 3-8 years so this is as good as it gets. Officially my outcome is D2 which is the best it can be. D3 being the outcome is not as good as we’d hoped and D4 is that the chemo didn’t work. I’m not sure what D1 is and why it’s not possible to get top marks, but who cares! It's another decent D to place alongside my three D's I got for my A-Level results. Pure maths, Applied maths, Physics and Chemo.
Four D's A jolly good fe-el-low, and all say all of us!
Dr Ali was chatty and was clearly enjoying what I imagine is one of the best moments for anyone who has dedicated their lives to medicine, the chance to tell someone they are well. Thank you Dr Ali for taking the time to talk of wine and holidays, for allowing it all to slowly sink into our heavily guarded brains.
And so we left. To a pub for a quick West End priced drink. £17 for a pint and a medium glass of rose. Ffs! Reality returns.
This will sound like an Oscar award thank you speech but I think it's justified.
I'd like to thank all of my consultants, especially Dr William who made the effort to visit me when I was in ICU. Also my case nurses and all the doctors and nurses who cared for me since my diagnosis. The NHS is a team effort and that team is brilliant.
Beyond the medical team are my friends and family headed up by Fliss. She has in many ways experienced this as much, if not more than me. My close friends who have carried me through this and the team at the Nightingale. Tonino and the team at Salsa Soho who could have made harsh commercial decisions, but kept a space for me to return to.
To all the readers of this blog and everyone who made the effort to send their well wishes in any way including prayer emoji 🙏 Thank you all.
This blog started in 2015 as my experiences running two shows at the Edinburgh Fringe (terrifying). Then it morphed into my marathon blog, and then into my Chemoland blog. I'm not sure what the future holds but I'm dedicating myself to two exciting projects:
Rolling out Mambalsa dance and writing a book on dance and the psychology of well-being. Both will be marathons and both will give my life meaning and purpose, an essential element of well-being. Meanwhile I await my counselling accreditation (yes the one I submitted in Oct!!!), I'm starting a new bereavement group at the Nightingale in Enfield, and I'm loving the weekly Salsa Rapido 1-day Intensive courses at Salsa Soho.
This April marks my 30th anniversary of teaching salsa. Not bad for Fad dance :)