facing your worst fears

It was early evening in June 2012 at the Royal Marsden hospital in Chelsea. My wife had left to return home. A nurse had just been in with my cocktail of drugs that precede tea. I was looking forward to some Euro 2012 fixture involving two teams I knew little about and cared even less about the result.

The nurse was chatting about how I was feeling and I was telling her I was a little frustrated at my lack of progress. I still got breathless after the most minor exertion and could not get back into bed without help as I couldn’t raise my legs up.

The nurse made some reassuring noises about not expecting too much, too soon after such radical surgery but then took me by surprise by pulling up a chair and sitting by my bed.

‘What are you most afraid of ?’

Oh God – she must be studying for her ‘Counselling’ module and using me as a case study. I’m not sure I have time to get into deep, philosophical discussions about the meaning of life. Particularly, with kick-off just 15 minutes away.

‘Come on, Norman – what are you most afraid of ?’

‘Well – I guess – oh come on – we don’t have to do this now, do we ? Surely you’ve got other patients to see’.

‘No – the ward is 1/4 empty. I’ve got all the time in the world. What is your biggest fear ?’

‘Well – I guess it’s been 8 months now and after all this being strong, being positive and putting on a brave front, what I am most afraid of is – it happening again. I’m just not sure I could cope with that. All that torment, the mental anguish, the tears, all of it. I’m just not sure I could be that strong again – it would break me…’

‘Ah yes – that’s a very common fear – recurrence or spread. Every cancer patient lives with that but you mustn’t dwell on that. You are cancer free and that will….’

‘Oh no – sorry you don’t understand – I’m not talking about recurrence or spread. I’m talking about City winning the Premiership’.

Seriously though, I was talking about recurrence and spread and that remains my biggest fear. You may be cancer free today and who knows you may remain so for the rest of your days but there’s always the lurking spectre of the next scan and worse, the results of the next scan.

And so our little chat continued until the nurse pushed me over the edge with the topics that are guaranteed to set me off – how my wife and children are coping. Of course, they are all coping admirably – on the outside at least – but that doesn’t stop me being consumed with guilt at having to put them through all of this.

And so, inevitably, it came to pass – the nurse who had brought me to tears with her deep, probing questions into the darker recesses of my mind exposing latent thoughts and private fears, I had been thoroughly content bottling up inside until now. The nurse now seized her moment and made her offer. The offer we all knew was coming and was perhaps the underlying reason for this little chat.

‘Do you realise you can see someone who can help you with this, someone who is a specialist in this area, someone who has dealt with tens of cancer patients like you ?’

‘Yeah but I don’t think so. That clinical psychology stuff isn’t for me’.

‘Why ? Why not ? Why would be be any harm ? Who knows – it might help. If not, then fair enough’.

And so, after months of putting on a brave face and an acting display worthy of an Oscar, I finally capitulated ‘Oh OK then – I’ll see someone’.

‘Great – that’s good. I honestly think you will benefit. Now let me see when I can get you an appointment’.

The nurse left my room as I dabbed my eyes and turned the football on on the TV.

‘Thursday August 9 – in Sutton. Is that OK ?’

‘But, but that’s five whole weeks away’.

‘Yes – I know but they are incredibly busy and you are a new referral’.

‘OK – that will be fine. Thanks’.

I made a note in my diary – ‘Thursday August 9 – remember to be clinically fed up’.