It has been almost a month since I sat in the oncology clinic at my local hospital, eagerly awaiting the results of my latest scan. For obvious reasons, I find these appointments stressful. It isn't just the fear of knowing that a few lines of print, hurriedly faxed over by a radiologist might be enough to change the course of my life forever, it's also the waiting, the observation of other patients, some younger, mostly older, often with other family members coming to terms with their new or existing life. Since I take tablets every day, and have three monthly zoladex injections at my GP office, for most of the time I can avoid being drawn back into the world of cancer with all its cruel accessories. I don't have to look at the headscarves, or the obvious wigs, or the wheelchairs, or sticks or frail bodies that I encounter every time I walk into Guy's hospital. I'm part of the world that is (as one psychologist termed it) blindly optimistic every day. I cross the road without giving a thought that at any moment a car might not stop at the pedestrian crossing and hurtle into me. I walk into bars and pubs not worrying whether a fire might break out and I'll be trapped inside. If I thought about every possible eventuality that could hasten my demise, I probably would think twice before getting up in the morning. And yet, these occurrences happen every day to other people in other parts of the world. Just not to us, because of course, we're unique. This is I guess, what the psychologist meant by blind optimism - the idea that traumatic, life-threatening events only ever happen to other people. Not us.
Every three months while I sit in the fawn coloured faux-leather chairs and wait patiently for my name to be called, my eyes study the other patients entering the room and my mind wanders as I try to imagine their lives and their prognoses. Usually, I welcome the distraction. I'm usually too agitated and too anxious to calm myself down and whatever thoughts I can put into my head to stop the sweatiness of my palms and the palpitations in my chest, are given my full attention. But this month was different. After having to delay my appointment by a week (at the hospital's request), I plucked up the courage to email my doctor to find out the results of my scan. Was I scared shitless at the prospect of being told by email that I might well need another course of the dreaded chemo ? You bet. I deliberated for days. To contact her or not to contact her ? Would it be better to live for a few more days in blissful ignorance, and then hear the results in the usual, stressful fashion ? But if I decided to check the results before the clinic appointment, I'd give them time to think of a plan B well ahead time.
And so I did. And I waited, and waited and heard nothing. No response from my email, not even a telephone call. I decided to convince myself that this lack of a response meant that it could only be bad news and before the day was out, I imagined myself back to where I was five years ago, wearing an icy cold cap while attached to an IV, clutching a hot drink to keep warm. After a long week of waiting followed by the prospect of sitting once again, sweaty-palmed in the waiting room looking for a reason to halt the thoughts swimming in my head, I received the reply I'd been waiting for. Just a few lines, but enough to tell me all I needed to know.'You'll be pleased to hear that the results of your recent scan show no change'. I could've leaned into the computer and kissed those words off the screen. My weekend celebrations lasted well beyond the weekend and when I saw my oncologist the following Monday she gave me a big hug as if she was greeting an old friend. When I tell her that I was secretly worried by the silence after emailing her, she laughs it off and tells me how bad she is with email. If only you knew, I feel like telling her. If only you knew how much difference that email made to the next 48 hours of my entire existence, you would have sent it straight away.