Usually I would start penning a letter to someone significant with “how are you?” or perhaps “hope this finds you well”, but both of these conventional niceties seem wholly inappropriate when writing to you. I don’t particularly want to know how you are doing and I certainly don’t want to encourage your well-being. It has now been three years to the day since we kicked off this unusual relationship of ours and I figured I should mark this latest and unexpected cancerversary by recording some feelings and reflections.
Three years. Who’d have thought it? Three years ago today I was lying on a trolley in an American ER being put through a battery of initial investigations. I was in horrendous pain. My kidneys had given up the ghost. I left my dignity at the automatic doors of the hospital as I underwent the necessary intimate examinations. Scared doesn’t even come close to describing my emotions, as I processed all the clinical information and the terrible, unimaginable truth began to dawn on me. Yet constantly through all this I was forced to maintain the strong public face for Chris and shield him for as long as possible until we knew for sure what we were dealing with.
I will never forget the breakdown in John & Jen’s garden just a few hours after I was discharged from that very first hospital admission. I cried so hard my whole body trembled. I cried until I had no more tears. Why had you come along to ruin our lives? Abolished dreams of having my own family? Stolen my lifelong ambition to become a Consultant Geriatrician? Chris and I would never grow old together and be able to spoil our Grandchildren… My hopes for life before you arrived really were that universally simple – a happy family and success in a career that I loved.
In the beginning I thought about giving in and letting you take my life. I thought long and hard about taking my own life. But from somewhere inside, I’m not sure where, I found the strength to get through to here. However crazy it sounds all I wanted to do was go back to work; see another patient of my own; be normal again. And I defied the odds to make that happen. Do you think you could find it within yourself to let me get to March next year? Because on the 7th March provided I have no more sick leave I will complete my training. I’ve never wanted my CCT quite as much as I do now. I know I will never be able to work as a Consultant and let go of that dream ages ago but this small personal achievement would mean the absolute world to me.
So here we find ourselves in no man’s land yet again. We’ve been here before haven’t we? You’re that ugly gremlin sitting on my shoulder waiting to give me a firm prod at the first opportunity. For the past few weeks I have started to feel more pain and more fatigue. Every little twinge makes me wonder whether it’s you. I’m not sure I want to get back in chemo boxing ring again. I’m not sure my body can take it. I’m running out of the inner strength that has sustained me for so long and my bone marrow is certainly starting to complain.
I don’t know if I’ll still be here to write my fourth cancerversary letter. I suspect I probably won’t so let me conclude by saying it has been quite a rollercoaster getting to know you over the past thirty six months. You’ve forced me to stop and reassess everything about my life; my priorities; my ambitions; my wishes. You’ve made me into a better person; a more considerate one with far more patience; hopefully a more empathic and patient-centred doctor too. You are the reason for us having to concertina our fifty years together into just a precious few.
But for now all we can do is to keep looking forward one day at a time. I have a University course to complete, a skydive to conquer, £250000 to raise for the Yorkshire Cancer Centre and a brand new niece to meet in early October…