Wednesday, 21 September 2011

A Sweet Way to Say... Thank you

Ok. So for now, my ranting days are over (see last post for this statement to truly make sense). I'm done with the anger, I'm so over the rage and I'm saying hello again to my old benevolent self.

What has brought on this sudden feeling of inner calm and serenity ? Well, my last (and hopefully last ever) visit to my surgeon, that's what. Last week, I had my final check-up to close the chapter on an episode that has spanned three months and involved way too many visits and drainage bags for my liking. To toast this very special occasion, I bought him a small but luxury box of chocolates which were beautifully presented in a Chanel-style gift bag. I can't say that I'm aware of the protocol when it comes to giving gifts to your doctors but I was feeling so thankful that I no longer had to brave the streets of London wearing a colostomy bag as a fashion accessory, that I wanted someone, anyone to know this and I guessed it should start with the person who was responsible for relieving me of this sad, sorry little item.

I also bought a box for my oncologist and while I sat on the train on the way to my appointment to see her, I couldn't help thinking about the irony of the situation. Here was I thanking two individuals for filling my body with toxic poisons; poisons so toxic that they made my hair fall out, my nails discolour, my eyelashes, eyebrows and nose hairs disappear. I was thanking them for pumping me full of opiates, for cutting into me and taking away some important, but not vital parts of my body. I was thanking them for giving me pain, fatigue, immobility and wildly erratic mood swings. And at the end of it, neither of them could say for sure that in the future, I would not have to walk down this rocky road again. Was I mad for giving them presents ? Surely I should be lacing the chocs with arsenic and getting my own back after the ordeal that they put me through?

But of course, that's only half the story. Of course they did all these things to try to save my life. And if they fail to do this, prolonging it will have to do.  But what really impressed me about these two individuals who somewhere along the line, I couldn't help but fall in love with a little, was the dedication they showed to the job. I liked the fact that they cared - so much. And I didn't get the feeling that this was done for selfish reasons, like ego, or reputation or simply because they enjoy the fat salaries that the this profession obviously offers. My surgeon had strode in on the day of my operation looking exhausted and stressed and proceeded to tell me that he'd had umpteenth conversations about me with a variety of oncologists. He wanted to make sure that he was doing the right thing by operating on me. He didn't want to get it wrong. Similarly, my oncologist who, instead of being annoyed that I requested a second opinion, positively welcomed the move and honestly told me that since my case was unusual, she wasn't really sure how to treat me. She thought it would be helpful to hear from someone else in the business. She too, didn't want to get it wrong. We all know that for the drug companies, the business of cancer is a big one. We know that medical consultants get paid shit loads of money for what they do. We know that sometimes doctors do get it wrong. But it's nice to know that sometimes they can admit that they're human. That they don't know it all. And that they can feel vulnerable too, just like us. I appreciated their honesty and integrity and it meant a lot to me to know that I was more than just a hospital number to them. So the chocs were a way to say thanks for admitting to me that you're human, and thank you too for treating me like a human being. My surgeon looked pleased but a little perplexed when I presented him with the very stylish but feminine-looking gift bag. My oncologist, a woman after my own heart, just looked ecstatic to be given a box of chocs. She told me that the gift had been a lovely end to a very stressful and emotionally draining day. She'd spent the whole day being the bearer of bad news. I know well enough how it feels to receive that news. But I have no idea how it must feel to be the person who breaks it.

As a cancer patient, I thought it would be a long time before I could ever be in a position to make someone's else's day. And here I was doing just that. That day was a special one. That day, I realised that it is possible to move on and close a chapter while still leaving the rest of the book open. Today I had herceptin, tomorrow I'll feel knackered, but for now I feel fine. And hopeful. And ready to enjoy life again. Even though I have no idea what could be around the corner. And for me that's okay. For today, anyway.

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