Six years ago today I was told I wasn’t going to die.
Those weren’t the words my consultant used, but that is what I heard her saying. I have written recently about the mistake that was made by the radiologist whose job it was to discern the effect of the chemotherapy treatment I was receiving for my tumour of non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
Nine days after being told my tumour was growing when it was in fact shrinking, I sat in The Quiet Room off the day case ward where I was treated, with my wife and mother and father. We were listening to my consultant describe the next steps of my proposed treatment, the first course of which having been deemed a failure.
I wrote The Quiet Room to commemorate that moment, some four years later. I was coming to the end of a long period of counselling, the venue for which was the very same room, on the same sofas. The coincidence that I learned about the prospects of shortened life and how to come to terms with the proposal of having it increased, in the same room, seemed too unreal, and therefore corny, to mention.
It was one of the few moments in my experience of treatment for cancer and its aftermath when friends did not say ‘You’ll get a poem out of that, Anthony’.
So it only seemed right that I did.
The Quiet Room
for Louise Page
Where Jörn told us what a hickman line was,
what the next steps were, their chances,
and ‘If you’re handed a shit pack of cards
that’s what you have to play with’;
where nine days later there was a knock,
then a suit, then a whisper,
a letter brandished in silence,
my results now wrong in the right way,
how it might have happened, what that meant;
where now I come out of choice,
every week if I could, and for free,
going beyond myself in questions
all in confidence, one drug
I don’t want to be weaned off;
where, from nowhere, I find myself praising
those smokers at the gates,
their banished impromptu coteries
of cleaner, auxiliary and line manager
offering a light in all weathers, especially
the one-legged gent on crutches
sticking two fingers to the traffic.
from Riddance (Worple Press, September 2012)
Later this year you will be able to read the full account of this story in Love for Now, a memoir, forthcoming from Impress Books, and in Riddance, forthcoming from Worple Press, both available in September.
You can read about my diagnosis of cancer here