The big day arrives. I have a Wednesday appointment at 3:30 p.m. with Mr Harker to hear his post-operative opinion about the cancer. If the radiotherapy has worked, the cancer will be gone; if it has not worked, I would have to face the “Potentially horrific” consequences I had been warned about.
I arrive early for the appointment and find a seat in the packed outpatient waiting room on the first floor of The Royal Marsden Hospital. This is where I usually wait for consultations and blood tests. I feel in a better state now than I was a few months ago. Sure, my hair has not grown back, but at least I do not always feel nauseous. It must be a positive sign. I’m a full thirty nervous minutes in the waiting room, where every patient tends to mind their own business. Even people giving moral support to patients rarely speak here. Most have been hit hard and handle it in their own way. No one stares at anyone else, no matter how gaunt or frail or bald patients are.
A nurse calls me through to a small consulting room, only about two by four metres. She leaves, closing the door behind her. I look around at the adjustable bench, sink and little workstation crammed with wipes and various medical paraphernalia. I sit on one of the two chairs. There is no window. Instruments and boxes of vinyl gloves are attached to the wall. Coloured charts showing the head and neck break up the pale beige room. I wait a further fifteen minutes. My heart pounds and I breathe in and out, fast. I am sweating and staring into space. This is the most important and nerve-racking point in my life. The moment of truth. Live or die. I have to sort it out and forced myself to calm down. Eventually, Mr Harker comes in, poker-faced. He sits opposite me and looks intently.
“It’s good news,” he says and beams a wide smile. My heart leaps as so many emotions rush over me. I feel dizzy and try to concentrate.
“The operation went very well and I can say for sure you have the all-clear. I tidied up your nasal cavity as the radiation had made several crevices. I checked everywhere and the cancer has gone. What I am certain of is the surgery to remove the tumour did not eradicate the cancer. But the radiotherapy did its job and killed the cancer cells off.”
This is a lot to take in. And it is the best possible outcome. The team of medical professionals, from surgeons to oncologists to radiotherapy operators and nurses, have all saved me.
“There is still a danger the cancer will return,” Mr Harker continues, “but this prospect reduces on a day by day basis. Even though you’re not out of this yet, congratulations, you’ve done well… very well.”
I thank Mr Harker for everything he has done and grab his outstretched hand with both of mine. Then I am out of there and, after the usual journey, home to tell Michelle the good news, my voice cracks with emotion. I will still be under the care of The Royal Marsden for at least five years from diagnosis, and the risk of cancer returning is significant until the two-year mark. Thereafter, the risk is still present but reduces over time.