I had my regular 6 monthly oncology check up yesterday. It is now two years since I finished the acute stage of treatment. I'm delighted to say that all appears to be well.
The "how are you doing?" conversation, which starts as I enter, always carries on while I'm undressing for the 'grope and poke' with which the consultation starts. I'm not sure if he does this to save time or whether he feel it helps dispel any awkwardness that might be felt. Whatever the reason it seems a businesslike approach that works for me. Afterwards he always tells me to take my time getting re-dressed and shuts the door, going back into his office - presumably to have another quick squint at my notes before I get settled into asking questions!
We spent some time discussing how I'm doing on Aromasin and going through the results of my bone density scan. In spite of some ominous rumblings in the letter he sent me back in November with the scan results, it seems that he isn't too worried about that. As I'm now on a weekly bisphosphonate that I seem to be "tolerating well" (and 'tolerating' is probably a highly appropriate word here!), he is happy for me to continue on Aromasin until the five years are up. I'm very happy with this. Although my joints are much stiffer and ache more, my hair is thinning and there are other side effects, I'm feeling so much better in myself than I was on tamoxifen.
But the Big Story is that he feels I can go from 6 monthly oncology checks plus annual mammogram and check up down to a single annual check-up next year. And as the surgical team does the mammogram and subsequent check up, he doesn't plan to see me again. He did make it clear that he isn't dropping out of my follow up care completely as he will liaise with my surgeon before and after my appointments. But yesterday there was no orange form for me to drop in the box at reception as I left; the form that tells the clinic secretary that another appointment is to be made.
I'm left slightly torn between two emotions. The stronger is my delight that he feels it is safe for me to drop to annual check ups, not to mention the less frequent anticipatory anxiety. At the same time, it is a bit scary. It isn't that I feel in any way that I'm being abandoned and I know that the door is open should I need to return. It is just that there is now less of a safety net, and possibly that I'm now taking back more responsibility for monitoring myself. On balance I'm actually very pleased.
As we shook hands and the end of the consultation and hoped (in the nicest possible way) not to see each other again, I was aware of a nervous thrill at the fact that I am now moving away from paddling in the shallow water lapping at the shores of the island that is diagnosis and treatment. Instead I am starting to swim in the deeper waters of the sea that takes me to the land of New Normal.