Everyone loves an operation. There are hospital anecdotes and scars and dressings and legitimate afternoon naps.
There is the right to make wholly unreasonable demands on others in terms of cups of tea and television viewing preferences, and permission to glide delicately round the home in pyjama bottoms and a hooded fleece with bad hair in a fug of painkillers.
We had visitors the day after the operation which was lovely although it could have been grim.
Part of me felt like Exhibit A but I also understood why they had come and was very happy that they had. My sister and niece whizzed down from Aberdeen on day return tickets, I think to confirm that I was in the land of the living, and we chatted and they joined in with my arm exercises and ate soup and sat on my bed in the afternoon when I retired and showed me photos of their trip to Lochinver. I stared into the moors and at Suilven in the distance and strode into the icy waves at Achmelvich and scrabbled across rocks and along peaty tracks, all from a semi-prone position in a king size bed.
They are my only relevant relatives and it was a treat to see them. My niece is a geography student at Cambridge University and my sister works in a National Trust castle and they brought utterly different and healthy worlds with them into the sick bay. They left and for the next few days I eased off the painkillers, forced myself to do the exercises, managed a shower, allowed Suz to remove the outer waterproof dressings, and tried not to think.
A huge and beautiful bunch of flowers was delivered from Suz's work colleagues, full of sunflowers and roses and colour and joy. They filled three vases and made me happy.
After the weekend Suz went back to work and I was by myself for the first time. I watched endless episodes of Murder She Wrote and NCIS. I watched cooking programmes at lunch time and Place in the Sun in the afternoon. I developed retro tastes in food and ate mashed tinned red salmon on buttered white toast for breakfasts. And lunches. In the evenings we ate a lot of battered cod, peas and chips from the freezer. Fish is good for you.
I had a letter from the hospital to hand in to my GP and on Tuesday I set off walking the half mile or so to the surgery. The two flights of stairs to the street felt perilous and once outside I crept along the pavement, not catching anyone's eye and holding onto my arm in case I got jostled. I managed two hundred yards and sat on the same bench that had witnessed my pre-operation late-night kebab-shop meltdown the previous week, and watched the traffic lights changing, and the green man peeping me to cross, and I watched this whole cycle several times until I felt able to stand up and get myself carefully back along the street again, still with the GP letter in my pocket.
I climbed the stairs, got inside, and sat on my bed, motionless and exhausted.
Days passed. Suz looked worn out. More days passed. Sometimes I sat on the edge of my bed and cried for no reason and a thousand reasons and then blew my nose and got going again. I started to drink again after a five day desert and we dabbled in tropical cocktails with pineapple juice and rum, and giant clinking ice cubes, preparing for the Olympics, and we cycled in blistering sunshine round Rio for four hours with the men's road race on Day One.
But the Topic of Cancer was still with us and exactly two weeks after he had operated we revisited the consultant. 'The operation went well', he said. 'Very well indeed. I am pleased.' Suz and I allowed ourselves to be pleased too and I said to the consultant, 'That's good news, isn’t it?' 'Yes,' he beamed. 'There is no cancer in the margin around the tumour, I removed all the lymph nodes and they are clear. Apart from one.' 'Apart from one,' I echoed. And he said chemotherapy was now his recommendation as a systemic treatment to ensure that nothing has spread far and wide, hither and yon, over the margin and far away, to be followed by radiotherapy.
He gave me a white envelope that he had prepared earlier and we left.
A nurse came and drained a seroma (collection of fluid around wound site – normal, harmless but uncomfortable) and chatted. I remember clenching my fists very tightly and managing not to run or to speak. 'Just think! You'll come back in a year's time and wonder what all the fuss was about!' I am finding her fakey phoney cheery nursey 'been on a half-day cancer counselling course' chatter to be less than adequate. I did not complain as she had her large needle stuck in my arm pit. Another nurse, an even worse nurse, said something about wigs. 'I do not want to speak about wigs,' I managed through clenched teeth. She exited, leaving me with nurse one removing two hundred mls of liquid from a lump that felt like a tennis ball.
So once more we turned and left, shattered and clutching more booklets, this time about chemo and radiotherapy plus the white envelope containing the 'letter of introduction' to the oncologist who deals with chemotherapy, and headed to a café where we drank coffee and shared a cheese toastie. Then we went to Marks and Spencer's to investigate ready meals for the days of sickness and fatigue as the last thing I want Suz to be doing after a full time job all week is to be trying to prepare special food for a nauseous patient.
Cod in cheese sauce, and fish pie, and avocado dips all caught my eye. Aldi was next door so we did the same there, spotting cauliflower cheese and broccoli cheese.
Six cycles three weeks apart takes us to the end of the year. Add on three weeks of radiotherapy and it is February 2017. I hope I have packed enough stamina for this unexpectedly long journey.
To be continued...
Episode 1 can be found here.
Episode 2 can be found here.
Episode 3 can be found here.
Episode 4 can be found here.
Episode 6 can be found here.
Episode 7 can be found here.
Episode 8 can be found here.
Episode 9 can be found here.
Episode 10 can be found here.
Episode 11 can be found here.
Episode 12 can be found here.
Episode 13 can be found here.
Episode 14 can be found here.
Episode 15 can be found here.
Episode 16 can be found here.