Thursday, 14 January 2016

Another Milestone

I'm afraid that posters and Baveno are a bit delayed; this is a personal post following a much longer than usual appointments season.

This week, exactly seven years after I first met my oncologist to discuss radiotherapy and endocrine medication, I have been discharged from follow up and will re-join the National Screening Programme.

It has been a slightly strained appointments season this year.  Following my annual mammogram in mid November I was due to receive the results at my follow up appointment three weeks later.  However, this appointment was cancelled by the hospital due to planned strike action by junior doctors.  The re-scheduled appointment was for five weeks after the mammogram and while happy to wait for the appointment I viewed it as an unacceptably long time to wait for the results.  It was further complicated by the fact that I couldn't make the new date as I had a meeting I really did not want to miss and had spent the last eleven months working my diary around keeping the original date free.  Eventually I got another appointment, which was for eight weeks after the mammogram.

After something of a struggle I managed to get the results by phone from one of the unit's breast care nurses, who clearly did appreciate my point about the length of the wait.  However, I do find it worrying that she appeared to be in the minority and the unit as a whole didn't appear to acknowledge that leaving me waiting eight weeks for the results was not acceptable.

That aside, it was a good appointment and after I made my points I reviewed with my consultant my diagnosis, treatment and notes in addition to the usual examination.  All was fine and I'm now discharged, with thanks from me to him for his neat surgical work, his good wishes to me and a friendly handshake.

It feels a bit odd but strangely liberating.  For the last seven and a quarter years I have never been longer than a few weeks without being in possession of a hospital appointment letter or two and with the second Tuesday in December booked.

Obviously I'm not fool enough to think that this actually changes anything.  I'm fully aware that for ER+ breast cancer the risk of recurrence remains at 10, 15, 20, 25 etc. years after treatment and the "all clear" beloved by the tabloid press is a myth.  Side effects can linger and lymphoedema lurks, but follow up won't actually prevent any of that.  It is time for me to take over the responsibility for monitoring my own health.

I walked out of the hospital with a smile on my face, a feeling of satisfaction and the memory of the words spoken to me by an excellent oncology registrar when I finished radiotherapy, "You have done well."

At Christmas my brother gave me the CD 'The Race for Space' by Public Service Broadcasting.  One track is entitled "Go" and addresses the Apollo 11 lunar landing from the mission control side, featuring the Go/No Go calls of those responsible for various areas.  As I drove home from the hospital I listened to this, with the line "Surgeon - 'Go'" taking on a very personal meaning.

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