108. Waiting for the results

ONE YEAR AGO. "Come back next week," my consultant had said.

1 April 2014

So I've been waiting.

I went to see mum, who has deteriorated. I sat at her bedside and pondered the beauty and fragility of life; how it is absolutely in the scheme of things that she weakens in old age, and perhaps how lucky she is (and we are) that her life fits into such a scheme.

But all the time there is this awareness. Some people get ill when they are younger. If I get cancer at the age of 50, then that is also in the scheme of things.

A lifetime ago... Visiting my mother at the end of March 2014, in-between test day and results day

In the meantime, life is strangely on hold.

I cannot know what the results will be so I have tried, and mostly succeeded, to push it to the background. I have prepared as much as I can. I worked hard so that I can take time off if I fall apart, if the news is bad. I even took my work laptop to Holland. I had planned to take those few days off work but there's a grant proposal to submit, a week after my appointment with the consultant - and I am quite aware that there may be very good reasons why I won't be able to focus on it then, so I'm getting ahead.

I met up with the hospital's Lead Cancer Nurse yesterday (she was an advisor on one of my studies so I know her quite well), shamelessly bypassing the hospital systems. I needed to know the best and worst case scenarios. She was wonderful, understanding, compassionate, and (crucial for a healthcare professional like me) more than happy to take me through the ins and outs, the procedures, the possibilities, the technicalities. I found it helpful to hear that if the lump turns out to be benign, they'll still want to take it out. Now, at least, I know for certain that I am looking at surgery. A lumpectomy, minimum.

I have thought about who, if anyone, should come with me to that appointment.

We decided that it will have to be my husband, however much he dislikes medical things. This affects all five of us.

[Let's just stop and pause there for a moment. Looking back, I simply cannot believe that I contemplated, even for a moment, going to that appointment to get the biopsy results by myself.

"Will you take anyone with you next week?" my manager had asked when I sat and sobbed in her chair, straight after all those tests.

"I don't think so," I answered in all seriousness.

I think that was because I thought (naively, I now see) that this was just something for me to deal with - why burden others? Plus, I could just about cope with my own emotions; the last thing I wanted, I thought, was to sit there worrying about someone else's as well. I certainly didn't want to trouble my husband.

Perhaps I should take a friend? But what kind of friend? Someone who could hear bad news without falling apart? But how about all that waiting? I would just worry about them being bored or wasting their time in the waiting room.

The Lead Cancer Nurse had also advised me to bring someone along, partly because if it's a cancer diagnosis, patients forget about 90% of what the doctors tell them. But I was absolutely sure that wouldn't apply to me; I'd remember every word. (And I did turn out to be right about that. I've always understood and remembered every explanation, every detail the doctors have given me.)

"Well, I would really think about it," my manager said gently. "Perhaps your husband should come with you. Having to ring people up to tell them your results is not easy either."

She was right again. Of course. I cannot now imagine having gone to such appointments without my husband. Not only did he turn out to be my rock; it was also pretty obvious, as soon as the word "cancer" was uttered in the doctor's office, that the bad news wasn't mine alone.

But back to the diary, because at the time of writing, I didn't know any of this.]

So far, I have been alright.

But today I suddenly feel incredibly nervous, a lurching stomach, protesting bowels.

Perhaps not alright after all. So that's why I am making a start writing this diary, ahead of tomorrow's results. And if tomorrow brings the news that my lump is benign, I can always use it for research, turning this into a notebook of hospital field notes. I have never spent a night in hospital, ever, so that 24-hour admission to get a lump removed could be a good opportunity for some participant observation.

Because I am not a patient. Not me. I won't be any good at it.