June 17th 2010 I saw Mr. J. P. Duffy, Consultant in Thoracic Surgery at Nottingham University Hospital.
It was a long trip there from Lincolnshire (near the coast) and thoughts were constantly buzzing around my head, what would he say, could I have surgery, when, what would it be like, what are my chances of survival? all the usual things that a cancer sufferer thinks.
The appointment was for 3pm, but we didn't see him until 4:45, he was very busy. At last we were shown into a room, and sat on a couple of chairs and in he came. It must be hard for him, he does this all the time and the survival rate for this cancer is not very good, so he has to be business-like, professional and to the point. After a quick examination, some questions and a brief chat he laid out the options on three sheets of yellow paper. My wife and I watched as he explained with diagrams. "These are the options, do nothing, fit a stent, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, surgery" He then circled surgery and explained that this is the best approach". There followed a list of the risks, again drawn on the yellow sheet. "5-10/100, 5 to 10 out of a hundred don't make it through the operation, 5-10/100, again 5 to 10 develop a leak, then there is bleeding, infection, pain in the wound and the possibility of a hoarse voice". I was doing ok with this but then he wrote 'Cure' and under this put 1 in 3. I looked at this and thought "well that's not so good". I then looked at my dear wife who had turned white and was almost falling off the chair. We looked at each other, cried a little and knew we had a fight on our hands. Again the reality hit me; this thing could easily kill me. I am an optimist and it would be easy for me to say I immediately felt sorry for the other 2, as I would survive, but it's not like that, it hits you hard, you are forced to face your mortality and all that means. Here was the reality of cancer, the personal road you had to travel and where that was leading. I am sure Mr Duffy was talking some more but I think my wife and I had stopped listening after the 1 in 3 bit. There were diagrams of the oesophagus, the stomach and dotted lines showing cuts here and here and the sites of possible leaks, but we were not there anymore. We were lying in our shattered dreams. Thinking of the children and wondering how the hell we were going to tell them, and our family and friends would come later, but for now we both felt our life as we knew it had ended.
Another yellow sheet was filled in with 1) chemotherapy, 2) repeat CT scan, 3) Oesophagogastrectomy + Laparoscopy 4) something I couldn't read but with a bit about the neck and a question mark.
Mr Duffy explained it all well and pulled no punches, and I think we did well too, for two people in a state of shock. Forms were completed, 'Patient Agreement to investigation or treatment' and then we found ourselves outside again, sitting in the car. The journey home was a blur, with ups and downs between despair and 'we can fight this'
We sat under the apple tree at the bottom of the garden and held hands, we cried, we hugged each other. At least now we knew what we faced, together.
One down one to go, The Clinical Oncologist tomorrow, can't wait.......