As soon as the doctor called me in from the waiting room, I knew there was something wrong. She’d been quite smiley when she first examined me three weeks before. Now she was grim-faced. I’d been seeing this appointment as a routine chat, leading to my discharge with a clean bill of health. A bit of NHS time-wasting to tick me off a list, when they could have easily phoned me with the results. I was humouring them, and respecting the system, by turning up like a good girl. But this serious expression wasn’t part of that script. As we followed my doctor into the little NHS cubicle, I felt the first jag of doubt. But I told myself it would all be fine.
“I’m afraid it’s bad news,’ she said. She kept on talking, but in my head there was a pause while I tried to force these words to mean something different. We’ve seen it on the X Factor often enough. ‘It’s bad news …. you’re going through to the next round,’ says the callous presenter to the hapless contestant. It’s cruel, but we forgive them because it’s good telly …and, ultimately, good news. But this time, there was no twist. The bad news was staying bad, and getting worse.
‘It’s malignant melanoma, it’s very deep, it’s bad, it’s skin cancer ….’ These were the words sliding around my head, none quite settling long enough, at first, for me to grasp.
Then came a pause. The nice doctor was looking expectantly at me. By this time, terrifyingly, a ‘cancer nurse’ had also been produced, and was looking my way too. They were expecting questions. I tried to think of some. It was hard, though, because when I had previously landed on a malignant melanoma site the week before, I’d shut it down as quickly as I could. I’d been there just long enough to see that the mole I’d had removed filled all the so-called ABCD criteria for melanoma. I knew there were things I should be asking, I just didn’t know what they were.
We started asking about prognosis, about outcomes, about, basically, what was going to happen next. But there were no easy answers. The doctor told me several different ways that she couldn’t give me certainties. The cancer nurse said I was now on a pathway.
A pathway! I thought irresistibly of the Yellow Brick Road, which leads to the great gleaming scam of the Wizard of Oz – but then to home. There’s no place like home. I went home, to think about it all.
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