I’ve woken with a start. The soft glow of my bedside lamp casts shadows across the room. It seems that I’m now terrified of the dark. Next to me, Mr C sleeps, his breathing slow and regular. I snuggle in close, trying to find comfort. I match my breathing to his and in my head I repeat “It’s going to be okay, it’s going to be okay”. However, I’m struggling to catch my breath and I can feel my panic rising. “It’s just in my head” I tell myself. “Calm down” I shout at myself silently. But I can’t, so I bolt out of bed, clawing at my throat. I pace the room, being careful not to stir the sleeping house. I’m now frantically trying to reassure myself – this isn’t anything sinister. This is your head. It’s stress, you’ve had this feeling since Thursday, since that phone call. Breathe.
The Phone Call
“It’s your staging scan”. I held the phone to my ear, as my head struggled to understand what I had just heard. I knew what this meant. They were treating it as cancer. I felt like I was falling, the feeling of nausea rising in my throat and I sank into my chair. There had to be a mistake. I didn’t feel that ill. I had been worried that I was wasting everyone’s time and now I found myself trapped in this nightmare.
That phone call changed everything. I sobbed and I raged. I clung onto Mr C as I cried, my heart breaking as I listened to his reciprocal cries. The world carried on turning, yet we stood still, clinging onto each other. Eventually, we peeled ourselves away. We had to pick the children up from school and get to the hospital. We plastered our smiles on, we papered over the gulping chasm that was threatening to swallow us up and we made our way forward.
At the hospital we are shown to a small waiting room. There were already two men there dressed in gowns. I suddenly feel an overwhelming pang of guilt for bringing the children here. They seem nonplussed though. They are excited to be here and I’m trying my best to make it seem like an exciting adventure. They are thrilled that they have been allowed to choose any bar of chocolate from the hospital shop. Youngest has already gulped hers down and now she has a big chocolate smile around her lips. “Mummy” she tells me very seriously, her chocolate smeared face looking up at me, “you don’t need to worry because I have brought my doctor’s bag.” She brandishes her bag at me. “That’s good” I reply. Frantically blinking back the tears that are threatening to spill.
I’m asked to get into a gown and I pull the curtain of the small changing room around me. I look in the mirror and I take off my bra. Hang on, she said I could keep my underwear on, didn’t she? I put my bra back on. On the other side I can hear Youngest and Oldest talking. Life feels strangely normal but also very scary. I feel like I’ve become an outsider looking in. I’m somewhere that’s very familiar but now I’m not sure how to act or behave. I come out of the changing room to find that Youngest is now entertaining the waiting room. She has carefully laid out her doctor’s bag across the table. She has her stethoscope, medicines, blood pressure machine, everything that a doctor needs. She pats my knee, “It’s going to be okay Mummy, I’m your doctor”. I nod silently and smile at her. In the corner Oldest is reading her book, she looks up at me and gives me a reassuring wink.
I’m called for my cannula and I follow the nurse down the corridor, my bare feet padding the cold floor. In the room she admires my veins and I feel strangely proud. The cannula now in, I go back to the waiting room to join my family. Youngest now insists on pretending to take some blood. “Mummy” she declares “You have very good blood, you are going to be okay”. “Yaaaay, thank you doctor” I reply, whilst in my head I’m praying that really is the case, that it’s all going to be okay.
A radiologist comes into the waiting room and Youngest starts showing her the contents of her doctor’s bag. “Wow” the lady says, “That’s very impressive”. “Thank you”. Youngest is puffing her chest out and is clearly very proud. I’m not prepared for what she says next, and it floors me – “When I’m older I want to be a doctor”. I knew that was the case, she is always saying she wants to be a doctor. However, I had always taken it for granted that I would be there when she grows up. Now, I no longer take that for granted. I can feel myself about to bawl and I suddenly fling myself into the toilet. My family are used to me making frantic dashes to the toilet so they are none the wiser. Behind the closed door I stuff my fist into my mouth as I sob quietly, my body heaving silently. I have to be here for the girls. I won’t let this take me away from them. I look into the mirror and I mouth “I am strong” before opening the door and joining my family again.
It’s my turn for the CT scan. I’m told the instructions. I will have to hold my breath and then I will go through what looks like a big ring. Then the lady will come out again and the dye will be released into my veins. I have to put my hands up onto the top of the machine and I have to keep very still. I lay back, close my eyes and I start praying frantically as I go through the ring. “Please don’t take me away from the girls and Mr C” I repeat again and again in my head.
The lady comes back out – “You’ve left your bra on, you need to remove it”. “Oh sorry” I mutter embarrassed. I’m already hooked up ready for the dye and now I have to shuffle the bra out of one of my sleeves. As I drop my bra to the floor I feel a wave of something – vulnerability? shame? I lay back again and I’m warned that the dye is about to be released. I can taste an overwhelming tang of metal and then I can feel it as it gently seeps down my body. For one dreadful second I think I have wet myself, I haven’t, it’s just the dye. The room feels hot and I feel a bit queasy. I close my eyes again and prepare to hold my breath as I go through the machine. Again, I start with the frantic prayers.
After it’s all done I’m told that I did really well and I find myself analysing those kind words. Looking for hope. I have to wait ten minutes and then I am free to go. My arm feels strangely heavy and I can still taste the metal in my mouth. I clumsily put my clothes on and we escape the hospital. Outside I take a deep breath, and I gulp down the fresh air.
The next day I don’t feel well. I ache all over and I just want to sleep. We make small trips out but I just want to be back at home. Mr C tries to encourage me to eat but I feel hollow, I don’t want to eat. We are now trapped in some sort of awful limbo until I’ve had the MRI scan on Monday. Friday drags and I count down the minutes until the girls will be home from school. On Saturday we do whatever possible to keep us all busy. We end up at soft play and the girls screech around. Hurtling from one thing to the other. I decide to join them and I climb up onto the large climbing frame before going down the slide.
Piss Off Phyllis
I finally admit to myself that I’m feeling a bit peculiar and I take myself off to the toilet. I shut myself in the toilet cubicle. Outside I can hear the clamour of children as they rush around the play equipment. Their laughter filling the air. I stand up and I look down at the toilet bowl and I see it, lots of blood. Oh how cruel, now there is no denying it, I’m definitely bleeding. I stare at it silently. I can still hear the excited laughter of children. Outside are my family and I’m in here in the stillness of the toilet cubicle. I lean back against the door feeling scared before I feel a sudden surge of anger and I propel myself forward again. “Oh piss off Phyllis” I mutter. I flush the toilet, wash my hands and I slam the door hard behind me. Phyllis can bloody piss off because I’m joining my family, and with that I head back into soft play where the girls and Mr C are waiting for me.
If you have any symptoms that I talk about in this IBS post please don’t delay, get yourself to the doctors quickly.