The Royal Marsden Hospital


I have an appointment with Dr Gavaghan at The Royal Marsden and Michelle comes with me. This is a really important meeting. I heard he got his IMRT experience in the USA and then returned to England to set up a unit for this new radiotherapy treatment. He is relatively young, in his late thirties, has short brown hair, glasses and a considered, caring and intelligent manner. He begins by saying he’s read my notes and looked at all my scan results. His conclusion is there’s no need for chemotherapy. Relief hits me full on, as the little I know about that drug is it strips the patient to almost bare bones.

“But…” Dr Gavaghan continues “… I have to warn you about the severity of radiotherapy through your brain.”

He went through all the possible side effects, which mirrored those given to me before, so I was ready this time. The added twist is there’s a possibility the radiotherapy itself might kill me. Later that day, I read some information that explains this type of radiotherapy can either kill the cancer cells or the patient. If neither of those happen, the cancer will kill the patient. Then, something Mr Hogan mentioned came flooding back, “There is a possibility you will not have to go through chemotherapy. But, never underestimate radiotherapy. That can be a very severe treatment and, in my view, its effects are worse than chemotherapy.”

Given that Mr Hogan accurately predicted the radiotherapy I would receive was IMRT, I take his words seriously. I’m convinced that, between Mr Hogan and Dr Gavaghan, I am in the best possible hands. A feeling grows that these professionals can save me.

My next appointment at The Royal Marsden is to make the mask for radiotherapy. I enter a room, strip to the waist and lay down on a treatment bench. Two nurses bring out a green plastic sheet about half a metre square that has been put in warm water to soften. They place it carefully on me. The nurses mould heated plastic to the shape of me by pressing all around my head and shoulders. It’s not pleasant because, although the plastic is perforated so I can breathe, it feels like Chinese water torture and breathing is laboured. After about five minutes, the plastic cools and the mask is beginning to set to the required shape. Following that, I go for a blood test and another CT scan before heading home to rest.

A few days later, I’m at The Royal Marsden for an appointment with Mr Davies, who undertakes a full examination of my eyes so they know what they are like before radiotherapy. I have near 20:20 vision and no problems other than marginal red/green colour blindness. This is all good news and I’m sent for another MRI scan.

With alarming speed, my radiotherapy appointments are arranged. I will have thirty sessions over a six-week period and am given a sheet of paper listing the dates, times and places. The sessions will take place during the week, giving me weekends to recuperate. The momentum of it all makes me worry if I have a future. I attempt to be measured about this, but it feels like I’ve been been pushed screaming over an abyss. I’m trying my best here, but I am staring into the darkness.

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