‘You’ve put on weight. I didn’t recognise you.’
Not many people can get away with those words. But the last time she’d seen me I was in a hospital bed while she cleaned the room around me and cheered me up with stories of life beyond the hospital walls. I do look different now: I have hair and weight. She gives me a big hug and tells me how they still talk about the card I’d written to thank all the staff for looking after me during six rounds of chemotherapy treatment.
I don’t spend so much time at the hospital these days but I still go for regular check-ups. My blood gets taken one day and I meet my consultant the next to discuss the results and anything else that comes up. There’s no urine test but getting my blood tested is the closest I’m ever going to get to being tested for performance-enhancing drugs.
There’s a whole lexicon that goes with cancer. I like to keep the language simple – I was diagnosed, I was treated, I finished treatment, I’m in remission. Because I’ve been in remission for a while I now attend a different clinic – for once, being downgraded is a Good Thing. But each blood test and appointment is always tinged with a bit of anxiety and ‘what if’. I always plan to do a nice thing later in the day so I can focus on something beyond the hospital appointment.
Today I’m seeing Dr Andrew. He greets me with ‘Hello. My name is…’ and we run through the usual Q&A: how are you feeling, noticed any lumps, any fatigue, any night sweats. Good, no, no, no more than a woman of my age. We talk about my weight. It’s proved resistant to any combination of exercise and food, and Dr Andrew makes his usual remark about oncology doctors being the only ones who don’t want to see their patients losing weight. He always asks whether I want a female nurse in the room during the physical examination and I always decline.
Then we talk blood. Mostly about the size of my blood cells – they’re a bit bigger than the usual size of blood cells but not as big as they have been. A bit like me. And the LDH levels in my blood are bit elevated – but not as elevated as they have been. Again a bit like me. Once again we agree we’ll keep an eye on the size and levels but we’re not unduly worried.
Dr Andrew tells me the hospital has changed its IT system and he needs to update my record. He asks whether I have any allergies. I tell him Tramadol doesn’t suit me and as I describe its effects he starts laughing: ‘I’m sorry. I’m not laughing at you. I started typing in Tramadol and it came up with ‘treacle tart’. ‘That’s some auto correct!’ I reply, and start wondering about the horror of being allergic to treacle tart.
We chat a bit more. I tell him about Freyathlon and he asks where I’m going to find horses for the dressage and showjumping then remembers there’s a stable not far from the hospital. He hands me the pieces of paper to make my next appointment and for my next blood test. We shake hands and he tells me he’s looking forward to hearing more about my project.
I leave the clinic and call Trace: ‘Same old same old.’
I walk home back up the hill. I don’t know how athletes feel after they’ve been tested but I feel grateful: that I’ve been tested, for the support and services of the NHS, for the people who’ve helped me so far, that my health is what it is.
Blood test and consultant appointment: 6 and 7 July 2015
Cost: Free, thanks to the NHS