Where The Rainbow Ends – “I Regret To Tell You…”
In this blog I thought I’d have a change of style and display my serious and sensitive side .……. I think I’ve just heard the sound of jaws collectively crashing onto desks, along with the dropping of mobile phones by anyone who knows me.
This is in an attempt to add a new dimension to my writing. I was also inspired by a recent TV drama which was a true story of a woman’s cancer journey, which she was born from narratives she’d penned as blogs.
Mine isn’t an attempt to copy her style as this is a one off anyway! However, I wanted to try and paint a picture of the day(s) my life changed forever.
My apprehension was culpable as I woke on Wednesday 10th November 2010. Today my wife had an appointment for results of a biopsy of a breast lump, which had been picked up the previous week during a mammogram.
After waking that cold early winter morning, I looked up from my bed at the artexed ceiling. The quality of the it’s recent decorating usurped in priority with thoughts on how the day might pan out for the family.
Despite the nervousness which had kept me awake most of the night, I’d convincing myself that at around 10.30 am, in a consulting room at the Leeds General Infirmary (LGI), we’d receive news the lump was benign. After receiving the good news we’d give a collective sigh of relief and move on with our lives.
At around 09.00, I stood in my black hoodie which bore a logo of the rock band ‘The Who’ and a black coat (I did have other clothes on my bottom half as well I hasten to add) looking out of the window as I impatiently waiting for Karen.
My impatience was not really aimed at Karen, her movement was badly impaired at the time with joint pain. I was just desperate to get to Leeds General Infirmary (LGI) to hear news of a positive result sooner rather than later. We could then both relax and let the medical profession continue to try to get to the bottom of her long standing aches and pains, that had plagued her for a while.
Stood staring out of my lounge window, clicking my car key against my Strachan coat of arms keyring, I noticed the greyness of the sky was punctuated by colour from an incredibly vivid rainbow. This kaleidoscope of colour straddling the house at the far end of our cul-de-sac……. Ah, a good luck sign I thought.
However, as I pondered further, I began to realise that rainbows aren’t necessarily lucky. If anything, I reflected, they are a symbol of an unattainable pot of gold at a never to be found end. So far from being they are a symbol of good fortune, I was misguidedly banking on this sign of false hope.
In my irrational state I was now convincing myself that this rainbow signified something more sinister. All these thoughts were particularly unexplainable as I’m not a particularly superstitious person.
The only proverb I generally adhere to is, “ It’s bad luck to eat your lunch sat in the middle of the M1 motorway!” …. Oh, and the one about its bad luck to ask ex boxer Mike Tyson “Ok, then Mike tell me more about your feminine side!”
I was soon distracted from these illogical thoughts by the sound of Karen’s dainty size 4’s slowly plodding down the stairs. Once at the bottom, she questioned whether I was ready. I declined to tell her I had been ready for 15 minutes. Or that during that time I had been stood like an agitated Meerkat wondering what the true significance of the rainbow in the distance was!
At this point Karen picked up her handbag in the laboured fashion that had recently become her trademark, the consequence of mobility problems in her back and hips. We then exited Chez Strachan, subsequently alighting our trusty old black Vauxhall Vectra and we were on our way to the LGI.
As I followed the loop traffic around Leeds city centre, I sensed an air of apprehension in Karen that she hadn’t exhibited prior to today. She’d appeared positive all week since her biopsy was undertaken; re-iterating on several occasions that everything would be fine.
As I don’t naturally possess her positive streak, her newly exhibited nervousness raised my anxiety levels a touch. However, in my head I kept telling myself that she would be fine, and then wondered whether I’d turned the gas fire off! ….. I then realised we haven’t got a gas fire, so that was one less thing to worry about.
As I recall, Karen kept re-assuring herself the lump would be benign, as she knew two women recently who exhibited similar symptoms that were given the all clear. I didn’t subscribe to this logic as in millions of women over centuries it has been malignant. However, if it kept her anxiety and her coping at a manageable level it had to be a good thing! … Shouldn’t it?!
Anyway, her logic probably had more basis and validity than my thoughts, which were she would be ok because “Cancer affects other people not us!”
After twenty minutes we arrived at the LGI. This hospital is made up of an amalgamation of buildings of different ages and styles close to Leeds’ historic Town Hall in the centre of the city.
Don’t ask why its historic as I’ve not researched that bit….I’m not a chuffing tour guide! …. Come to think of it I’m not sure if there is a Leeds City Bus tour! …. Anyway, if you really want to know its historical significance, I’m sure that Google or Jeeves will be far more obliging than I’ve been.
At the parking space, I let Karen vacate the car, prior to parking up. She was having lots of issues getting out of the vehicle at this point, so thought it was prudent to avoid her trying to vacate the car in a tight space. After eventually managing to find £2.60 in change with my ever freezing hands, we slowly commenced the ten minute walk toward the Brotherton Wing, location of her consultation.
As we walked we linked arms to support each other. I assume it was in support as we normally never link arms. Last time we linked arms was during a three legged race at a school sports day. Karen and I won, but were later disqualified for tying together the wrong limbs.
We have held hands, but rarely linked arms. I am probably talking crap and done it loads (linking arms that is, not talking crap …. although then again!!) but if we have I cannot recall it! ….. Anyway, I digress!
Once in the Brotherton Wing, we took our seats in the packed breast clinic waiting room. A quick look around was proof, if any was needed, that this rancid disease doesn’t discriminate against any particular age group, race or creed. They were all suitably represented here.
It was at this point that my nerves kicked up a gear, and I started thinking about the unthinkable. Bloody hell what if Karen’s lump was malignant?
I liked to think I was supporting her by squeezing her hand to give re-assurance. However, in all reality, it was probably more that I was trying to re-assure us both. The coldness of our hands (which were yet to warm back up) made it more of an uncomfortable experience than having any positive results.
We weren’t kept waiting for our appointment, and at precisely 10:30 we were ushered into a consultation room. As we both walked into this spacious room the full magnitude of what we about to be told hit me. As soon as I saw three people awaiting to speak to Karen and I it immediately registered what we were about to be informed.
I was no expert on the protocol for occasions like this. However, I was certain that if your wife was just about to be given an ‘all clear’ from cancer, three people would not be waiting to tell us…… My heart sank.
We both sat down and, before we were told anything else, the consultant asked Karen for the symptoms of her bone complaints. Following an inspection behind a curtain by the consultant and the MacMillan nurse, everyone sat back down.
At that point she was informed by the consultant that regrettably the lump in her right breast was cancerous. In addition it had spread to her lymph nodes.
She was then told that further tests, via bone scan and CT scan, were required to see if it had spread further. The best case scenario was that it hadn’t spread and these aches and pains in her bones were in fact arthritic issues. Under this scenario a breast operation (potentially a mastectomy) would be undertaken by the consultant.
However, if the cancer cells had spread then it was incurable and the only thing they could undertake was to try and contain it for as long as possible.
We then went to speak further to the MacMillan nurse in a separate room. Everything was a bit of a daze at that point, but I can just about recall the nurse re-iterated what we’d been informed by the consultant, to confirm we fully understood the magnitude of what we’d just been told.
It had more than registered with me, Despite Karen’s endearing naivety and positivity that the bone issues were arthritic, I realised that these pains in her bones, which had hampered her for months, would be the result of secondary tumours.
As we left the hospital I was numb all over; not just my hands like when we arrived. One of the first things Karen said to me as we headed towards the car park was she needed to buy some Christmas cards. They must be sparkly, cheery one’s, she added, as it might be her last Christmas.
I never told Karen I knew what we would be told the following week at our next appointment post-scans. Although shaken to the very core, I didn’t want to dent her positive mood. Subsequently, I spent the next seven days breaking down regularly at the thought of not growing old with my 44 year old wife, who I wed twenty two years ago.
A week later my worst fears were confirmed when we were advised by the consultant it had spread. Karen also had tumors in her liver and bones (including her spine, ribs and skull).
After the confirmation that it was incurable, in addition to making appointments to discuss plans for containment, we left the LGI.
As we walked towards Millennium Square, Karen remarkably asked if we could do some Christmas shopping. So we spent around an hour shopping before eating lunch in All Bar One, then returned home.
On arrival home, I entered the living room of chez Strachan and promptly broke down. Remarkably, Karen went upstairs and cleaned out the bathroom. I’d like to clarify her cleaning the bathroom wasn’t the remarkable element of her behaviour. It was her response to receiving news she had incurable cancer.
It was an unbelievable show of strength, bravery and determination after receiving such terrible news. It is a mantra she has shown (and still continues to show) through nine months of chemotherapy, scans, treatment, lumbar punctures, pain, hundreds of hours in waiting rooms just to name a few.
All this with a back drop of very little support.
Anyway, I’ll close this blog with the intention of going back to a more light hearted style of blogging. I may at some point write another blog telling further tales of this continuing rollercoaster ride.
I may touch on subjects such as breaking the dreadful news to the kids, family and the journey which we don’t want to be on, due to it’s awful ultimate destination … I might not though, as these aren’t as easy to write as whimsical narratives … We shall see!