Diagnostic Doom by Roger Knight
Seven years on, the psychological rewind of that initial clinical confirmation still helps to maintain some perspective and make sense of an unprepared and unforeseen event.
The casualty doctor could not have been more empathic, as he leant forward, as though to soften the blow that would follow and sow the seeds of dreaded possibility.
‘It might be nothing, but then again it might be cancer, so you will need to have a scan,’ he said.
Not having a GP, I walked over to the Imaging department of the St. John of God hospital that afternoon, having had my scan earlier, to collect my CT result. The scans were in a large white envelope, but it was the radiologists report, that I knew would spell out the verdict. Despite being couched in radiological jargon, it made for grim reading, in fact it couldn’t have been worse. It was the worse possible news I had ever received, and made failing an exam, or missing out on a job application, quite inconsequential by comparison.
My life was now clearly in jeopardy, and what had been revealed by the scan seemed past any oncological or surgical remedy. At least that was my assumption, that fateful Friday afternoon, standing in the reception of the Imaging department, of the St. John of God Hospital, in Perth Western Australia, where I was ironically recruiting medical specialists for the new Fiona Stanley Hospital. I therefore, had no shortage of doctors I could discuss my radiology report with.
One of my recruits, that had been recently appointed as a Co-Director, kindly arranged an appropriate referral, so at least I had been set on the right path of further investigation. However, my first post diagnosis weekend had to be endured. My initial inclination, when I returned to my apartment, was to put my scans out of sight, at least that would assist my denial for the time being. As a member of a sailing crew, I would normally sail most weekends, so decided, It would be preferable to keep on sailing, rather than ruminate on my diagnosis on my own. It certainly helped, having to focus on the intense, team orientated activity, was a welcome distraction.
Two weeks later, I was admitted for a biopsy at Fremantle Hospital, that resulted in a post-operative bleed, necessitating readmission, traumatic enough in itself.
A week later, I was waiting in the outpatient’s clinic, for my histology report. The specialist delivered the grim news very matter of factly, only confirming my worse fears. He said that it was a high-grade cancer, and if untreated, I would probably not survive more than two years. It sounded like an unequivocal death sentence, and I did something quite similar to what Raymond Carver wrote in his poem, ‘What the Doctor said.’
‘I jumped up and shook hands with this man who’d just given me something no one else on earth had ever given me.
I may even have thanked him habit being so strong.’
I wasn’t sure really what I was going to do next. My mind was still frozen. It was just two weeks to Christmas and getting a flight home, was bound to be difficult. There seemed no further point in remaining in Australia if I wasn’t going to be able to complete my contract. Fortunately, I managed to get a booking with MAS, via KL. When the flight finally touched down at a wintry Heathrow, it wasn’t without a huge relief, as though a chink of optimism had appeared in returning and seeing my family again.
Back in Scotland, I delivered my pathology report to my GP, who quickly set the wheels in motion. It took only six weeks to schedule my surgery, involving two highly skilled surgeons, both of whom were on the cusp of retiring, so I considered myself very fortunate to have been the recipient of their expertise, which was life saving, life changing surgery.
For the next five years that followed, the whirl of the CT scanner became more familiar as every year I would receive an investigative scan and then wait for the result like a defendant awaiting a jury’s verdict. As each year went by with no evidence of any further spread of cancer, I cautiously grew more optimistic.
This was more of a reprieve than I could have ever hoped for. Had I now reached the stage where I could unexpectedly believe that the monkey was finally off my back?
Then as if to eclipse my diagnosis, Covid came along to further add to the risk of dying before my time was up.
With each passing year I become more resigned to my fate, maximising the moment more, grateful for smaller mercies. My injury time has been longer than I could have ever imagined it could be. I should treat it as an unexpected bonus, there are many who have not been as fortunate as me.