the shortbread finger incident

For the first few months after being diagnosed, my state of mind was pretty good considering. In hindsight, I think I was in a state of shock. Also, there were so many different appointments, scans and minor procedures that my life was quite busy and I didn’t (seem to) have much time to dwell on things.

However, in 2012 which was supposed to be the year of ’emerging victorious’, I endured three separate episodes of feeling ‘clinically fed up’ with each one being more serious and more prolonged.

Thursday March 15 was a day I had been slightly anxious about for a while. It was the final day of my radiotherapy treatment. Over the six weeks of hopping on and off a sunbed, I had got to know the nurses on the Willow unit quite well so I thought it would be nice to buy them a token gift to show my appreciation for their kindness, professionalism and good humour.

The day before, I bought some shortbread fingers (Sainsbury’s Highland All Butter Shortbread Fingers) to be precise. As I dithered over my selection, I could feel the anxiety building – just at the very thought of giving them to the nurses.

On Thursday, I treated the radiographers to another surprise – by donning my Spiderman boxer shorts. This raised a laugh and provoked some conversation on my final session. When the short 5 minute dose of radiotherapy was over I got dressed in the small cubicle and stared at the orange Sainsbury’s carrier bag. Now I felt so on edge and nervous, I even contemplated leaving quickly via the main reception without even having the courtesy to say ‘Thank you and goodbye’.

I took a deep breath, told myself to stop being so bloody stupid and get my shit together. I opened the other door and walked back into the restricted nurses area. I approached one of the lady radiographers and withdrew the shortbread fingers from the Sainsbury’s carrier bag.

The acute sense of tension I was feeling was bizarre, inexplicable and embarrassing. I managed to blurt out and mumble ‘I just wanted to give you something to say Thank you’ before it started. I started crying. A grown man crying. For no reason. The nurse looked at the biscuits, looked at me and said ‘Oh – there’s really no need for that’.

At first, I thought she was referring to the biscuits but I am now sure she meant the sudden and unexpected outpouring of emotion. A grown man sobbing uncontrollably at the nurses station with the next patient imminent.

Then things got worse, much worse – I reached out and and hugged the nurse saying ‘Thank you for everything…’. I honestly don’t know who was more surprised – me or her.

Now let me put this spontaneous show of affection into context. I have been married over 20 years and during that time, I have hugged my wife twice. One was on the birth of my first child and the second occasion was in May 1999 when United won the Champions League Final.

Thankfully, the nurse didn’t scream out ‘Get off me, you bloody pervert !’ but reciprocated. She whispered  ‘Don’t worry – you’re going to be OK, you’re going to get through this’. Which was nice but didn’t really help.

Finally, I managed to compose myself but still found time to give my favourite nurse a quick hug and some ‘Maryland Deluxe Double Chocolate Chip Cookies’ before leaving, saying ‘Thank you’ yet again and pledging to come back and see them at some undisclosed point in the future.

With hindsight, I was probably ‘clinically fed up’ around this time which explained my unusual behaviour and fragile state of mind. Of course, the underlying reason is fairly obvious – in fact, it was even obvious to me back then.

I was coming to the end of one phase of the treatment. I would not be coming back to Willow unit for my daily visits. I would not be booking into radiography reception again. I would not be seeing the familiar warm faces and hopping on to the sunbed again. I would not be listening as the radiographers positioned me exactly and calibrated the machine until they both agreed on ‘89.4’.

I was leaving this comfort zone and being forced to face the next phase and the next phase was the big one – surgery. The surgery that my original consultant surgeon wouldn’t be able to perform as it was so complicated.