Yesterday’s visit to my oncologue in Montpellier, Doctor Kerr, was to be a routine affair. It is too early for the doctors to do scans or MRIs to check if there is still a cancer – that happens next year. It is more a checkup following the radiotherapy sessions of the summer.
I had to wait a long time as there was an emergency case: a teenage boy was wheeled in on an ambulance stretcher, covered in tubes and oxygen mask. His unsmiling parents watched as the stretcher was wheeled past. His father reached out and touched the stretcher in a gesture of anguished impotence which really upset me. The occasional sight of really ill patients serves as a reminder that there are so many people worse off, and it is particularly gruelling when they are young.
I heard Dr Kerr take leave of the family before coming to the next room to see me and liked the warmth and concern in her voice when talking to a patient she obviously knew well. It made me feel apologetic about producing my list of trivial concerns following my treatment. Dr Kerr said immediately how well I looked and was clearly pleased with how I had fared during the radiotherapy. She too reassured me that the bladder and intestine problems were temporary and I could expect to return to normality in a few months time.
I raised the subject of the dreaded compression stockings, which I hate, and had confidently expected that she would agree with me that since I have no signs of swollen legs, I could just use them when travelling or immobile. But no, I have a life sentence of compression stockings if I do not want to risk oedema.
The trouble is that with the complete removal of lymph glands in my abdomen the lymph nodes in my legs, which normally carry fluid out of your legs, no longer have anywhere to go. I had already been told by the surgeon that eventually the body will create other channels for taking fluid out of the legs but this will never be as efficient as the lymph glands.
Why do I hate them?
- Wearing them was hell during the hot months of the summer.
- Mine are covered in runs and holes and I’m only entitled to two new pairs every few months.
- You have to use a contraption for putting them on and a shoehorn to take them off. I’ve actually got quite good at putting the stockings on but it is another thing to do when dressing, plus you can say goodbye to travelling light.
- Now that I’m more mobile, my main problem is keeping them up! They gradually slip down to my knees and walking to Serres this morning I had to heave them up three times. Fine when you are strolling through deserted countryside…
My final little (apologetic) moan to Dr Kerr was to ask if she could explain why I have lost about half my hair, given I did not have chemotherapy. Understandably she did not think this was very important and was probably caused by the operation and the difficult month that followed, but she has recommended blood tests to eliminate various things such as thyroid problems.
My journeys to and from Montpellier were pleasant affairs. I was greeted by the four taxi drivers (bit of a relay system) like an old friend. We are so lucky to have this service, though goodness knows how long it will survive. One leg of the journey back I shared the taxi with a dialysis patient. Imagine doing this journey several times a week for the rest of your life!