This week I hear a terrible story about Alex, our toothless roofer, and feel rather bad about myself for making jokes about him, albeit affectionately. Apparently a few years ago he was a taxi driver in another city and took a fare of a group of young men. When they arrived at their destination, they ran off without paying and he gave chase. He caught up with them and they beat him senseless. stamping on his head and knocking many of his teeth out. He was so traumatised he couldn’t recognise the men the police paraded in front of him and didn’t even know if the man who was with him when the police arrived was helping him or was one of the attackers. Subsequently, on huge doses of pain killers, he became quite paranoid and left the city because he couldn’t stand the way he was feeling. He has sorted himself out to a large extent but I’m pretty sure he has PTSD by the way he behaves. He seems to have done a great job on the roof to the extent that he is obsessive about details eg “That pantile on the garage is set at a wrong angle and is driving me mad. Do you mind if I get up there and put it right?” So, I apologise profusely.
We also have a big date with the oncologist. The appointment letter says to go to the ante-natal reception and, sure enough, that’s where the clinic is being held. We sit amongst posters of mother and baby groups, how to wean your baby and loads of other baby-related paraphernalia and I think it is more than a little insensitive for the younger women there and it makes me think of my lovely friend, Ms De Roeck, who has had so much stress and heartache over this very subject. Chemotherapy can put you into an immediate early menopause so for women who are diagnosed young, this can be a double whammy. Depending on your hormone status, you may also need to have your ovaries removed. Putting women in an ante-natal clinic just seems stupid although I suspect it’s about using available space. It’s still stupid and insensitive, though. After the traditional wait, a tall Greek man calls me in, sits me down and shows me his badge with his name on. With a name like Virgil he is either Greek or a Thunderbird. After a bit of internet stalking, I discover he is probably Romanian. He says “What can I do for you?” and seems not to know why we are there. I explain about moving and wanting to change my care to Pilgrim Hospital and he shows me the file and letters he has. There are half a dozen pieces of paper in a folder and that seems to be about it. He has a letter from my GP, a list of my medication and an old letter from my oncologist. Clearly it’s going to be a challenge to sort everything out and at first he seems quite stressed and angry. Luckily I have taken my red book with me (the one that records every dose of chemotherapy you have including your latest blood tests) and I can fill him in on dates when I was taking one chemotherapy and dates when I had a break because I was too ill. He starts to relax when he realises I know quite a lot of detail about my medical history and as he works out a plan in his head. My next chemo session is scheduled for 13th May together with an echocardiogram (Herceptin and Kadcyla can both damage your heart so I need regular checks to see it’s functioning well) and he starts to think he may be able to give me chemotherapy at Pilgrim instead of travelling down to Charing Cross (“unless you want to” – in which case I’m not sure why we would be there). The only thing he says which disturbs me is “you cannot tolerate chemotherapy” and he lists those which have given me unacceptable side-effects. But Kadclya is surely a chemotherapy and there are others I haven’t tried. For a moment it makes me feel that the game is up – when Kadcyla fails me, it will all be over. But we’re not there yet and I would fight tooth and fragile nail to be prescribed something else. Once he calms down, I think I might like him. I need someone who will listen to me and think around the problem. He reminds me a bit of Dr Bossy and I wonder if he likes cakes as much. By the end of the meeting he has grabbed me by the shoulders (in an affectionate way – I still have my stick with me and, although he’s much bigger than me, I think I could take him) and suggested we meet in a week by which time he might have had more information. He thinks on the basis of what I have told him he would sign the prescription for me which sounds good.
We leave the hospital and immediately I feel as though I can’t breathe. I am trying to gulp in huge amounts of air and failing to stop so I concentrate on breathing out. It’s like a panic attack and I wonder how much worry has been sloshing around in my subconscious about this meeting. Eventually I get my breathing and crying under control anf for a special treat, Mr Mason takes me to Matalan to buy a storage unit for the bathroom. He knows how to show a girl a good time. I feel things are starting to come together both medically and with the house. Over the weekend I spend a huge amount on bookcases which will help sort out the other, bigger, sitting room. Alex should finish his work this week and in a way, I’ll be sorry to see him go. His stories are amazing and, although he likes to repeat them endlessly, I now feel I have a little more tolerance knowing something of his background. And I’m secretly hoping that Virgil is also a part-time Thunderbird.