A mass exodus of war-zone refugees is less chaotic than Oxford Street, two days before Christmas. An impenetrable wall of harangued and fatigued gift-hunters surge forward, escaping the crush by veering off through the doors of Selfridges and HMV. Salmon may swim upstream, but there’s no hope for the pedestrian trying to walk against this tide. Impervious to vehicular traffic, they stray in to the road, weaving through moving cars like lab rats in a maze, as if their countless carrier bags - slung over shoulders and dragging by their heels – will somehow act as a buffer between their bodies and the oncoming double-decker. Watching the insanity from my seat at the back of the bus, desperate to reach the hospital on time for my 2.15 appointment, I rued my decision to avoid the underground.
I’m no Scrooge – let them have their festive fun – but this appointment was of particular importance. Waiting for me at the hospital were the results of my PET/CT scan. If the cancer still remained in my body I would face another three months of torturous chemotherapy – an eventuality I was desperate to avoid. While holed up in traffic between Fenwick’s and BHS, I staved off thoughts of the worst case outcome by reminding myself of the Alcoholics Anonymous prayer: “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change…” But, those poisonous thoughts rumbled on, persistent as the hum of the bus engine. Forget the Twelve Steps, a double vodka would have gone down well.
Greetings cards, tinsel and tins of Quality Street lined the counter of the hospital reception. “Sit in the waiting room and we’ll call you when Professor Goldstone is ready to see you.” I found a chair and fretfully watched the second hand inch round the clock. The last month of chemotherapy had been taxing – the stress, the anxiety and the incessant nausea. “I can’t cope with any more of this,” I decided as my eyes welled up. “Take a deep breath,” I told myself, holding back the tears, “There’s no point worrying and if the news is bad, of course I will cope.”
My name was called and quicker than Joan Rivers’ wit, I jumped up and bolted for the consultation room. “It’s good news,” the professor said. Dumbfounded, I collapsed in to the chair and listened as he explained the scan had come back ‘negative’ which meant the drugs had been effective. I didn’t hear much more because those tears I had stoically held back in the waiting room now gushed forth in a torrent of emotion. I wasn’t feeling joy, I was just feeling. It was uncontrollable and through snatched gasps I stuttered an apology for being such a wet mess. “Don’t worry. Your reaction is pretty normal,” the Professor reassured me.
An appointment was made for two weeks time to arrange the start of my month of radiotherapy. Still sobbing, I walked back in to the reception area and as I waited for the lift, I scanned the room full of patients with their ongoing treatments. I felt guilty for my voluble reactions, knowing I was now leaving them all behind. “Happy holidays and happy new year,” I blubbed to one of the nurses. “What a great way to end 2008,” she replied as the lift doors slid shut.
Standing outside the hospital in the cold, I suddenly felt drained. I needed time to take in the news. I cancelled the lunch I had planned with my mother and drifted towards Tottenham Court Road Station to get lost in the crowd. I felt as an athlete must after a gruelling triathlon. He may feel proud later, but for those moments immediately after the race, he’s held hostage by exhaustion.
Ten hours of deep sleep failed to refresh me. I woke with puffy eyes and aching muscles. Again I cancelled meetings for the day and planned to veg out in front of the TV. A friend called and I thought to ignore it, not wishing to converse with anyone, but answered none the less. Something in his voice calmed me and we chatted for an hour. By now I felt ready to face the world again. I rescheduled that lunch with my mother. Over pizza and diet coke we talked about everything other than the great news, and the reality of my good fortune finally hit me. The end of my treatment was in sight and the worst of it behind me. Sinking my teeth in to a slice I thought, “what a great way to end 2008”.