My cancer diagnosis - part 2

The problem with being diagnosed just after your husband has finished treatment is that you have a tiny amount of very specific medical knowledge.

You know what MST and Gabapentin are, you know what the side effects of chemo look like, you know that consultant Clinic runs on Tuesday, treatment Clinic on a Thursday, you know what an MRI, a PET scan and an ECG is, what Neutrophils do and why they’re important.

There is no ignorance about what’s to come. However, this knowledge is also mostly useless because nowadays treatment is very tailored; to the cancer, the stage, the grade, the individual.

My biopsy takes around 30 minutes. Dr Elder tells me he uses paediatric needles as they are tiny and very painless, and he’s right, I don’t really feel anything as he injects the anaesthetic. I am not sure what what vein system they inject it into but one small injection numbs my entire right boob.

I can remember Keith’s biopsy clearly because biopsy needles make a horrible loud clicking noise. It sounds like a giant stapler, or a mouse trap, only it’s inside you. This is by far the worst part of the process, even though it’s painless.

Building the team

Having now been on both sides of treatment, Cancer is definitely a better spectator’s sport. I make this joke during the biopsy. One of the best characters of the NHS is the camaraderie and the dark, funny banter medical teams have. Or, at least the medical teams that we’ve met!

Dr Elder, the nurse, Keith and I laugh and joke and chat whilst biopsy parts 1 to 5 are snapped out. About Keith’s treatment, the dramas, my own, the things you remember, the things you don’t. The nurse repeatedly checks on Keith to ensure he’s not feeling unwell watching. He looks it.

Once Dr Elder has finished fishing around inside my boob I had the chance to ask all of the questions in my head:

  • Is it in my lymph nodes

  • Is it anywhere else

  • Where else could it spread

  • Will you cure it

  • Will it come back

  • When do I get a PET scan

  • Do I need an MRI

  • Do I need a CT

  • Who will do my surgery

Returning to the intro, the problem with a tiny bit of medical knowledge is that it’s mostly useless. It’s not founded or within context, I ask if this is annoying and Dr Elder assures me it’s not but reminds me that we have very different cancers. That they’re completely unconnected. Therefore I won’t get a PET scan, I may get a chest X-Ray to check my lungs, I will get an MRI to check my bones and other organs. We’ll skip the CT.

At the end of the biopsy Dr Elder walks us to meet Alison, my Specialist Breast Cancer nurse,, and we’re left in her fantastic care. A team is being built around me, ready to treat, manage and counsel, in the same way they did with Keith.

Someone once told me the best way to watch scary movies is to put your fingers in your ears, because all of the tension, suspense and fear is created by the sound. I might take this approach to Cancer treatment from now on.

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