I check in and fill out some forms. This is my first experience of a cancer hospital and it’s really depressing. There’s a pungent smell of disinfectant and floor polish. All the other patients in the waiting room are twenty to thirty years older than me. Some look in quite good shape, but one woman looks frail, wearing a trademark cancer headscarf. Her eyes are drawn and she hobbles in, leaning on her husband. No one gives her a second glance and I realise this is not out of the ordinary around here. Eventually, I’m called to another waiting area and pass the refectory on the way. I look in the windows and see groups of people huddled around tables filled with hot drinks. Some people appear normal, but there are the inevitable bald patients, the deathly pale and others with an intravenous drip on a stand. I make a mental note that cancer hospital canteens don’t look much of a laugh, so I’ll stay away from those places.
I reach the waiting area for the scan and sit down, trying to make sense of it all. A nurse calls my name and I’m led into a small room. She prepares my left arm and slots in the cannula needle. A small amount of radioactive liquid is injected into my arm as a tracer. This will travel to places where glucose is used for energy and show up the cancer because it uses glucose in a different way from normal cells. After the injection, I wait alone in a room as the radiation spreads around my body. When the time comes for my scan, I lay on the bench and operators make sure I’m comfortable. I’m told that I have to stay absolutely still for at least an hour and it will be better if I keep my eyes closed, put my arms down by my sides and breathe slowly. Some music will be played to help pass the time. The scan will produce an image of the radioactive tracer in my whole body.
As the scan begins, the machine hums and it’s claustrophobic in the doughnut-shaped scanner, but I don’t mind. The first song to be played is Take On Me by a-ha. I mull over the words in my head as the scanning machine whirs overhead. Cancer has taken me on and I will find out what I’m made of. There could be only two possible outcomes: Either I’ll live or die. But I’m going to fight harder than I’ve ever fought before. I remain calm. I’m convinced I can survive. This will not end me. As I try to think positively, I hear the scanner humming back and forth, clunking overhead, only centimetres away from my face. Afterwards, I talk it over with my wife, Michelle, and mention the song.
“Anything that takes you on has no chance,” she says.
This is the single most important thing anyone has ever said to me.