On Thursday I went for a scan on my spine. It was an MMR scan and although ordered by my oncology consultant, I was not too worried as it was meant to be checking out a long-term lower back problem which actually pre-dates the cancer. Not too worried in theory - but in reality any scan makes me sick that something horrendous will be found.
And because I was not worried, I took myself off on my own. My friend was looking after Hattie and the kids were at school. To be honest it didn't really occur to get Rog or my mum to come with me. I've had enough hospital appointments to know what I'm dealing with. Or so I thought.
Walking through the oncology department where I have my check-ups, where I had my radiotherapy; walking behind a nurse who looked after me when I was at my illest during my bone marrow transplant, who didn't recognise me - that was all ok.
It was when I was sitting in the waiting room for the scan that things began not to be ok. In the small, cramped room were people waiting for CT scans and MMR scans. Mostly old people as they always are, needing scans for all sorts of reasons. Chattering and nattering away - seemingly entertained by the novelty of a hospital appointment: for some one can't help but wonder if having something worthy of an appointment is almost an event to celebrate. But opposite me was a woman - younger than me. She had no hair; was thin, pale, crying and was retching as she tried to swallow the liquid which one has to drink for the CT scans. She was hanging onto her boyfriend who was trying to shield her a little and give her some privacy from the prattling around her.
And I knew. I knew how ill she felt. I knew how scared and angry she felt. Because three years ago I had many scans when I too was sitting, holding onto Roger and trying to hide my vomiting. I remember being petrified about the results - my whole life hanging suspended, waiting for the call to tell me what the machine had revealed.
I wanted to say to her that I had been where she was now and that my prognosis had been so terrifyingly poor. I wanted to say, "look at me now!". But of course I didn't. Instead I concentrated on hiding my tears of horror and stared down at the blurred page of my book.
Called into my scan - I burst into tears as the surprised technician sat down to take me through the details of my test.
"Couldn't you find that poor girl somewhere else more private to wait?" I sobbed. "Can't you see how ill and scared she is?"
And then I lay down in the jaws of a machine which resembled a tube as claustrophobic as a coffin. I've only ever had an MMR scan on my leg, so I didn't have to lie right inside. I've had plenty of CT scans which are unpleasant and scary but quick nevertheless.
I hadn't read the information which came with the appointment booking. I hadn't realised that I would be inside this contraption for up to 50 minutes, wearing headphones to try to block out the horrendous clanking, grinding and scraping.
I was pushed into the tube, lying on my back, my nose a few inches from the top, my hands on my stomach holding an emergency buzzer if things became too much, my arms pinned to my side. And the scan began.
I started to cry. Lying alone, deep inside the machine, the tears fell straight down my neck into my hair. I couldn't move my arms to wipe them away.
I think it was a kind of panic attack. I don't do panic attacks. I'm quite a down to earth person by and large. But I had terrible flashbacks in that machine to my radiotherapy. I hadn't thought about the radiotherapy, I don't think, since I finished it. But all of a sudden I could picture the way the little cogs wouuld move and change above me to emit the damaging radiation deep inside my chest.
I tried to calm down, telling myself that apart from anything else if I buzzed for them to take me out, the whole thing would just last for longer - and if I refused to have the scan, there would be that uncertainty and worry at the back of my mind: what if there was something to find after all?
So I summoned up all that I had and took some deep breaths. I closed my eyes and pictured a walk I love step by meticulous step. From time to time I looked up at the top of the inside of the scanner and focused on a tiny dot in the plastic. The roof was so close to my eyes that it was hard for my eyes to focus and the dot kept dividing into two. How many others had done the same thing?
After 20 minutes they pulled me out and injected some contrast dye into my arm. I'd managed to surreptitiously wipe away the tears by then. I wasn't ashamed of crying - I just couldn't deal with talking about it at that moment at all. And back I slid into the depths.
The second half of the scan was easier. The shock at the strength of my feelings had passed. And now I knew how claustrophobic the scanner was. I spent the rest of the time thinking how I was going to make the kids' hyena costumes for their performance (almost as stressful as a scan for un-artistic me, and certainly distracting!!!!), and picturing my drive home to fetch Harriet. I was relatively calm by the time all was finished - but felt absolutely washed out and exhausted for the rest of the day, and was really shaky on the drive home.
I don't know why I'm surprised really - but I am nevertheless - at the degree to which my traumatic memories can come up and grab me by my throat in dreams, or sometimes still in my everyday existence.
I haven't had the results yet.
Hey, It's Okay
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