By Gideon Schneider
October 3, 2008
"Don't hug anyone for the next two days. Especially children", she said as she injected dye into my bloodstream. No, I wasn't in some seedy tattoo parlour in Soho, but a mile north in University College Hospital (UCH) being prepared with a radioactive liquid designed to show up in a PET scan.
"You're going to be toxic," the nurse added casually. I was seized with visions of Chernobyl and my young cousins spawning third eyes at my very touch.
My consultant had arranged a PET/CT scan for me. Until recently cancer patients only received CT scans which showed doctors where lumps are. But the PET scan gives a more accurate picture of the cancer's spread by showing where in the body too much energy is being used up, thereby indicating where cancerous cells exist.
"You're going to have to lie still for a whole hour so the dye can spread". I wasn't even allowed to read since turning the pages would qualify as excessive movement. "Then you'll lie in the scanner tube for half an hour and again it's really important you don't move." This to the guy who can't sit still long enough to get his hair cut. When most kids were swallowing Smarties (until they stopped being kosher) I was restricted to Ritalin. So even in the relative calmness of my adulthood, one and a half hours of inactivity was as torturous as an afternoon at the Oval.
After being slid on a tray backwards and forwards through the claustrophobically narrow tunnel for thirty minutes, like some human pipe cleaner, the test was over. My frozen joints melted slower than Hilary Clinton's froideur towards Obama following her defeat. In four days I would now know what stage of cancer I had. The nail biting wait for my degree grade was nothing compared to the anxiety I felt for this test result.
When I saw Titanic, the inevitability of the outcome heightened the sense of drama preceding it. There were no icebergs in my path, but I was about to start a course of very powerful drugs which might make me feel worse than I had ever felt. Like the convicted criminal on short parole, I felt the urge to cram as much activity in to my time before my impending course of chemotherapy. London's West End clubs became my nocturnal habitat. My nights were shared with students, the unemployed and the generally sleep deprived, in dimly lit rooms with a pounding beat. Who knew there was such a large midweek market for grossly overpriced drinks and tinnitus?
In order to make the most of my day time, I joined Chai Cancer Care's art class and Pilates class. Not since I famously stormed out of my A-level art class over the controversy of Hasmonean's ban on nudes had I picked up a paintbrush. Maybe it was the beautiful interior design of Chai's second floor, with its never-ending windows streaming in golden light, or maybe it was act of painting itself; but two hours in and I was far removed from the turmoil of my current life.
Some people choose to continue working through their treatment, taking leave whenever the treatment or nausea dictates. However I had just quit my job a few weeks before my diagnosis, frustrated with the monotony. As such I didn't think it worthwhile trawling through at the JC classifieds before knowing how my body would react to the drugs. Instead I was happy to make serious inroads in to my ‘things to do before I die' list. I brushed the dust off my teach-your-self Spanish and finally booked that ticket to go visit my close friend in Cornwall. I feel like I'm on an extended holiday for now, I had told Vivienne in the Chai Cancer Care office. "Well I've never heard cancer referred to like that before," she replied.
But for me that's the point. Since being diagnosed I have found it far more useful to work around the imposition of the illness, rather than being overwhelmed or depressed by it. That's why I view this cancer as having given me an enviable holiday. While many people are stuck in jobs they hate, my nine to five sees me exploring parts of London I never knew existed. I've been spending quality time with friends, raising money for charity developing my writing skills and feeling more alive than ever.
So whatever the outcome of my test in the upcoming week, and despite the fact I'm banned from hugging, you'll find me appreciating how lucky I am.
Gideon is raising money for Chai Cancer Care. Please visit www.justgiving.com/gideonschneider