On Tuesday the 8th of June I had to present myself to Garry Weston Centre, in Hammersmith Hospital, for tests, before the start of the dreaded chemotherapy. Who was he, I wonder? Terrible name, and no doubt he is sadly no longer with us, so I won't look him up.
Got up very early and tried to make myself look civilised but how should one dress for this sort of thing? I decided on a neat, professional look, upbeat as if I was going for an interview. Then I sat on the bed and had a cry, just a small one, I didn’t want to risk really getting going in case there was a waterfall inside. Ticked myself off; this has to be done, it’s only a procedure, this is all for your benefit, think yourself damn lucky etc.
Outside the weather was rainy, it felt fresh and on the bus among the wet coats and brollies I felt calm again. When I arrived at Garry Weston, the sight of so many women sitting about in headscarves made me want to scream in terror.
This is the cancer clinic, the place which haunts the modern mind rather like the freezing tip of hell in the Medieval imagination. The place where the doomed, hungry and silent victims, their heads shaved, sit patiently trying to stave off the inevitable with infusions of poison. In fact it was quite a pleasant area, with lilac coloured chairs, coffee and Danish pastries.
Anyway I’m here, so better sit down and make the best of it.
My appointment was for 10.30am but I was an hour early as I couldn’t settle at home and like to get places early, partly being a journalist I don’t want to miss anything, and on the off chance that I might get seen and away early. This business has taken up nearly half a year of my time already.
Waiting for a blood test I forced myself to speak to someone, one's main impulse is to keep very quiet and introverted, but I chatted to a little Indian lady, who told me she was eighty eight. She has ovarian cancer but is too frail for an operation. I should think so remembering the tough love we got on the Victor Bonney ward. She was on her third dose of chemo but looked well, and hadn’t lost any hair. Her daughter was looking after her. I sensed a sad story there, but of course everyone in there has a story to tell.
At the coffee counter I rubbed up against the actress Rula Lenska. She has thick red/gold hair. If it’s a wig it's a very expensive one. I decided not to intrude on her, passing up on a possible diary story for the first time in my life. In reality I couldn’t speak to her as I still felt too emotional. In the loo I caught sight of my face and unlike the cool, collected, coiffured Rula, I looked like a mad woman. Something by Fuselli, or a Victorian lunatic, white faced with staring eyes.
At 11am, a young research scientist called Wendy Wang appeared, at least I assume that is how she usually orders her name because she called me “Kelly Jane.”
Her stuck on grin stretched even wider when I told her that, “Jane is a Christian name.”
She asked me to take part in some clinical survey and I agreed of course. Then I asked her how much longer I was likely to wait.
“Hardly any doctors here today,” she said more cheerful than ever. “Only two doctors here. Rest have gone to big conference in America. It will be long wait.”
She mentioned two doctors with unpronounceable names whom I’d never heard of before. I felt furious, about the waiting and having to see another stranger who would not know anything that went before. I longed to see the previous doctor, the smart young woman with the sapphire engagement ring who had been so efficient previously.
While I was fuming, I got a phone call from the Sunday Times asking if I could write a feature about prisoners converting to Islam in order to get special privileges in prison. I wrote a book in 2009 about my time teaching in prison, and recently wrote an article for the Salisbury Review about the film, A Prophet, which is set in a Paris prison and involves the struggle between gangs of Christian and Muslim prisoners.
I have not been offered work by the Sunday Times for over four years – and they decided to do it now, when I am trapped in a world of high backed seats and old copies of OK Magazine.
I had to decline, but I could certainly write a piece about the pains of being kicked out of hospital too early, which is also in the news. The new government has decided to fine hospitals that push people out who then have return as emergency admissions.
Sit there writing the piece in my head until 12 noon when I feel I might cry again, this time with sheer annoyance and fatigue at waiting.
Then I get in to see a doctor. She is tall, dark, smiling, or so it seems before she dashes out again. When she comes back I tell her that I am worried that the cancer has returned, because of pains in my neck, and my funny fingers. She seems very amused at this and dismisses it. Then she dismisses me – my wound is not yet closed up enough for chemo to start. I will have to come back on Tuesday and Wednesday next week.
I dashed home with one thought in mind – to get under the duvet with Maisie, Lord Peter Wimsey, and Dr Finlay's Casebook, and stay there for as long as possible.