The oddest phase of my experience of cancer six years ago was the period of time after my chemotherapy treatment had come to an end. As midsummer approached, I was given my final infusion. My doctors booked me a PET scan, after which they said they ‘would see’ if more treatment was necessary.
A PET scan is a much more sensitive instrument than the usual CAT scans I had been used to. The machines are also much more expensive. As the hospital which had been treating me did not have such a machine, I had to travel some distance to be given this scan.
The results came swiftly, only two days later. I was told there was evidence of ‘activity’ of cells on what was left of my tumour, but precisely how much the doctors could not be sure. There followed a period of two weeks while I waited to find out whether I would be given more treatment or not.
The doctors had already dropped hints to me that this treatment, if and when it came, would take the form of radiotherapy, and in another part of the hospital, away from the specialist haematology unit that had treated me to date.
It was a puzzling and frustrating time. My hair began to grow again. I found I could sleep for long stretches, without coughing or sweating through the night. Now that I was no longer on steroids I began to eat almost normally, that is, at mealtimes, no longer prey to the sudden pangs of hunger which had seen me raiding the fridge and consuming all manner of foodstuffs, while still standing, in any number of unsightly combinations.
It was around this time one of my doctors told me neither they nor their colleagues could ever be 100% sure if they had removed all of the cancer in any given patient. ‘You get to the stage where you realise that Western medicine is an art as much as a science,’ they said.
I had been told the chemotherapy infusions had shrunk my tumour from the size of a large lemon to that of a split pea. ‘And what’s left of that is just grit,’ they told me. Clearly the awful medicine I had been given did work. But this new piece of information gave me pause to doubt the whole process.
Though I was given to understand the worst was now behind me, the prospect of more treatment with a still uncertain outcome meant I felt not elation but a kind of resolute numbness, even as my energy returned and the days stayed light into the evenings.
You can read the full account of my story of cancer in my memoir Love for Now (Impress Books, September 2012).