Over The Years
One autumn afternoon, I’m at The Royal Marsden Hospital for a check-up with Dr Gavaghan and the latest CT scan result. It pours down as I walk along the South Kensington streets and pause by the green doorway to reflect on how ill I’d been there. I get to the hospital, check in and wait for an hour, flipping though newspapers and messing about on my iPhone. Eventually, I’m called into a small room and wait there alone. The familiar feeling of fear is in the pit of my stomach. My breathing is quicker and I can feel sweat on my brow. Heartbeats seem to reverberate at the front of my throat. Dr Gavaghan walks in and wastes no time in checking my neck and doing a nasendoscopy. I close my eyes and gag during the procedure. He sits back in his seat, looks over the top of his glasses, smiles and puts two thumbs up.
“The two year point from diagnosis is a really important timescale. Some patients don’t get here without a reoccurrence of cancer. If it was to reoccur it’s more likely to have happened by now, so well done! You will still be under our care for the next three years but cancer is less likely to come back in this period. After five years, we really start to relax,” he explains. A firm hand shake and I leave his room with thanks, a big smile and deep sense of relief.
On the five-year anniversary of my cancer diagnosis, I’m aware that I have lived every day since the all-clear with the knowledge that cancer can come back at any time. This week, I have an appointment with Dr Gavaghan who announces there is now a 99% chance the cancer won’t come back. He decides to keep me as an outpatient. A few days later, I receive a copy of his letter to my doctor confirming my “Complete remission.” He writes “I am delighted with his excellent progress.” This puts my everyday fears into context. Blowing your nose or a sneeze barely registers to most people, but it is something that stops me every time. I look down, hoping not to see blood.
Seven years on from getting cancer, I have a consultation with Mr Harker who explains The Royal Marsden usually discharges patients after five years. I’m expecting to be officially discharged during this consultation.
“You’ve had a particularly difficult cancer and we can’t be sure when it began. It may well have been slow growing. The previous surgery was inconclusive regarding cancer. So, Dr Gavaghan and I have decided to keep you as a patient for at least ten years.”
“Better safe than sorry,” I reply and shook his hand with a smile.