15th November 2019. I was working from home as I had an x-ray booked in at the hospital over the road in the morning. Peta was off in Wales visiting a friend. The boys were at school.
I had been tired. Very tired. Falling asleep at work tired.
And I had lost weight. I had brushed it off but friends were starting to comment. It was when my business partner Matt mentioned something I thought I would weigh myself. I had lost 2 stone in the same number of months.
I had always been skinny (except for the post-40 beer belly). But even then I knew two stone was a lot of weight to lose. And it wasn’t like I’d lost my appetite. I was eating fine. I had a blocked nose all the time. Like a constant allergy or cold. I put this down to smoking. I’m terrible at remembering things when I go to the doctor. TLC - the mnemonic of symptoms I taught myself to remember: Tired, weight Loss, Cold. Don’t go chasing waterfalls.
I saw three different doctors. The first thought it was related to depression. The second doctor thought it might be a virus. It will play itself out but we’ll do some blood tests just to be sure. They came back fine. By now I was pretty much convinced that 1. I am a massive hypochondriac and 2. at the top of my medical records it says “Cole is a massive hypochondriac”.
The third doctor listened. She understood I was worried and wanted to know what she could do to alleviate my concerns. She reassured me that if I felt unwell that needed looking at. She would organise some more blood tests (LOTS of blood) and - as I was a smoker - she would book me in for an x-ray.
15th November 2019. 1.15pm. The phone rings and I miss it. I usually have my phone on silent. I go outside for a cigarette to check the voicemail message.
“Dr Henley. We’ve had the results from your x-ray. I think you need to come in to discuss them. I’ve made an appointment for you this afternoon. Bring your wife.“
I put the half-smoked cigarette in the ash tray. I don’t know what to expect but I know that it is probably serious. They never call me “Dr Henley.” I don’t call Peta. I don’t want her to stress out and - besides - she should be back from Wales by then, won’t she. The kids come back from school, oblivious. I don’t want to tell them until I know more and have spoken to Peta.
Peta is not back. She’s running late. I send her a message to ask when she’s home. I never usually send a message to ask when she’s home. I tell the kids I’m popping over the road to the doctors. “Tell mum where I am if she gets back”. They grunt or similar, acknowledging that something was said but barely shifting focus from whatever it is they are doing. Video games probably. I’m cross. They should care more but they don’t know. Nobody knows.
The doctors is a five minute walk. I try to make it slower.
I see a doctor I’ve not seen before. It is rare these days to see the same doctor twice. She is very friendly but serious. During my x-ray that morning the radiographer had seen something on my lungs. They immediately told somebody in Bath who rang my doctors surgery. I’m now sitting here being told by the friendly but serious doctor that I had “life changing news”.
They don’t know what it is - they expect to do more tests. I would be referred to the hospital in Bath and see a consultant in the next week or so. But I am told to expect cancer. That word you hear so often affecting so many people but not you. That is what happens to other people. I hear the word cancer again but my mind keeps focussing instead on the phrase “life changing.” What does that mean? Is life changing a euphemism for death? I suppose death is the ultimate life changer.
Over the next few months I will hear similar phrases a lot: “life changing”, “life shortening”, “life limiting”. It is weird the platitudes and lengths we will go to to avoid saying what we mean. Perhaps we just don’t have the vocabulary for saying “you might have a debilitating disease that will slowly kill you, put your affairs in order” in a concise and friendly manner. I bet the Vulcan’s have a word for it.
I can’t recall much of the rest of the conversation. I ask questions that she couldn’t possibly know the answer to. I think I try to remain calm and - as usual in difficult circumstances - try to alleviate the tension with humour. The only defence mechanism I have left. The one thing that does stick in my mind is how serious she is. She has a pained expression on her face. She knows she is giving somebody bad news. Terrible news. She has done this before.