As we approach new year’s eve, the start of another year, now nearly four years since diagnosis, I was thinking back to other new years – the feeling that I might be on the verge of the ‘end’ of breast cancer, that I was somehow almost done, that my treatment was nearly finished, that it was going to be all over. Hmm. This is new year’s eve 2007, my 37th doctor’s appointment in 11 months….
An extract from Being Sarah:
|25 December 2007, end of the first year since diagnosis
New year’s eve 2007. I sit and wait for an hour for my follow-up gynae appointment at the hospital. I am here to see my surgeon about the histology results from my oophorectomy. I eventually get seen by my surgeon’s registrar. I don’t think I have met him before. Well maybe I did see him briefly as he did the rounds before surgery, but he doesn’t act like he’s met me before. He looks at me blankly when I ask for the histology report on my ovaries. He scrabbles in the file and taps at the computer.
‘I don’t have your histology,’ he says.
He then tells me that there is backlog from the lab. I am obviously looking seriously unimpressed at this point.
‘But that’s what I’ve come here for, the histology results,’ I say.
‘There is a problem with IT.’
It’s been seven weeks since I had surgery and the results have not made it to my file. Of course, because I am lucky, because Alison Waghorn (my breast surgeon) is my real doctor, she has seen the histology and she has told me there is no sign of malignancy. But I want my gynae team to tell me this, to interpret the report. I want the service I am entitled to.
I don’t even know if he realises I had breast cancer, what I’m there for, what I’ve been through the last 11 months. I try to be nice to him, but I’m not getting through here. No, I think he has absolutely no idea what it feels like to get a cancer diagnosis, to lose a breast, to face treatment decisions that are weighted with life and death statistics, and the emotional impact of all that. To have this chemical and surgical menopause. Just what it feels like, I can tell he has no idea.
He says that if I am still having troublesome menopause symptoms in six months there are drugs they can prescribe, for the hot flushes.
‘Six months?’ I say. I am gobsmacked.
He looks blank. I don’t want to be sick for six months. I am so fed up. I think he can tell. It’s not that I particularly feel ill, it’s just my sleep is interrupted all the time and I am so tired.
He tells me it’s normal to feel tired, it’s part of the menopausal symptoms. Tired. I’m tired of all this, as I end the year with my 37th doctor’s appointment in 11 months. Tired doesn’t describe how completely worn out and exhausted I feel. Mentally and physically. I don’t know what I hoped for today. That these gynae doctors would have some magic solution. I think this is just what happens when you take the ovaries out of a young woman. Well young-ish. I’m sort of starting to get it now. I have to resign myself to feeling like this, to wait for it to pass.
He talks about oestrogen and progesterone for my symptoms if they persist. He just doesn’t realise. I tell him I had hormone positive breast cancer. And I am not a doctor, but I know that you don’t give more hormones to a patient who had hormone positive cancer. The hormones are part of the problem. He looks suitably put down by my comments.
‘And the bleeding?’ I ask.
‘Nothing to worry about, but we can do another D&C if it persists.’
He seems relieved when I finally stop asking questions. He smiles limply at me. I have another appointment at the joint breast clinic in five weeks with my gynae surgeon Mr A and Alison – he says I can discuss things with them. I should have just skipped this appointment and waited to see the proper doctors.
Then he tries to be friendly as we leave.
‘Well, happy new year then.’
I am so nearly about to tell him to piss off, but bite my tongue. He has been so ineffectual. I know better than to fall out with any of my medical team. I don’t know when I might need them again.
I leave the hospital in a bad mood, the sensation I have is of being completely hollow. I am so worn out by all of this. Happy fucking new year.