So, today was results day for the tests I had last week. I went to the dental hospital this afternoon here in Bristol (there’s a specialist head and neck unit there) to be told what the results were, and what the next steps were. An hour and a bit later I emerged knowing I have a form of thyroid cancer called papillary cancer. This is the most common type of thyroid cancer, and I can’t even go and get something rare and unusual, tsk.
Having ‘The Conversation’ about cancer is nothing like you see in films or TV. There’s no X-Rays or impossibly glamorous doctors with brilliant white teeth and blow dried hair telling you news, though sadly there’s no chance of me becoming a superhero with some experimental treatment.
My treatment is more down to earth and at the same time, complex.
Here’s the deal. The cancer is centred round my thyroid and has caused a mass to grow on the left side of my neck and is possibly growing around the jugular on the left side of my neck. Because they think it’s at an early stage (until my thyroid and the mass is removed from my body and dissected by pathologists they can’t say for sure) the hope is that an operation followed by some radioactive iodine being injected into my body will kill off the cancer. Sadly the radioactivity isn’t going to give me superpowers either. Stan Lee is such a liar…
The timetable is this. In 7-10 days I’ll go into the Bristol Royal Infirmary (BRI)for a pre-op appointment. Because of my recent stroke they need to firstly make sure it’s safe to operate on me. Assuming this is the case, in the next 7-10 days after that I’ll go into the BRI for the surgery and this is a wee warning that if you’re squeamish to maybe skip the next bits………..
Assuming the weak of constitution are gone I’ll continue.
What the surgeons will do is essentially dissect my neck. They’ll open up my left side and my front exposing most of my neck so they can access it fully. Then they’ll remove my thyroid and as for the mass they’ll take that out, and hopefully it’s not growing round my jugular on my left side. If it is then they’ll remove that side of my neck’s jugular vein. I’ll still have one on the right side but it’ll mean more massive lifestyle changes to go on top of the ones post-stroke.
They’ll also remove some lymph nodes and that hopefully is that. They’ll then reassemble my neck and I’ll spend a day or two after the operation being drained and making sure that I don’t suffer a calcium problem as potentially this may cause a problem with the distribution of calcium in my blood. This will also leave he hoarse as the thyroid is here:
As any layperson can see, this may affect my speech and indeed, I’ve been told it will almost certainly change my voice afterwards. My ability to adjust tone and pitch may be lost completely and if that weren’t bad enough, they’ll have to cut through nerves on the left of my neck which will affect me so I’ll be left with a numbness in my left shoulder and the lower left side of my face. There’s a very, very, very, very slight chance I’ll need a tracheotomy, but I’m more likely not to but this is a possibility the doctor made me aware of as they tell you all the things that may happen just so you’re informed. It’s done in the best way possible but there’s no bullshit and I like that.
This operation isn’t a short one as you can imagine. If all goes right it’ll take around four hours and obviously I’ll be knocked out for all of that as this isn’t the sort of surgery you stay awake for.
Then the rest of my stay in hospital will be to make sure I’m healing and to ensure the neck is drained of fluid. After another week’s recuperation if all goes fine I’ll be back on my feet, all husky and scarred.
The squeamish can now rejoin this blog…..
I’ve also had and will have support from MacMillan who I’ve supported for some time, and I’d recommend if you’re looking for a charity to support then these people do an amazing job. After the doctor had finished explaining things to me, I had around 20-30 minutes with the nurse who explained what they can do and translated some of the medical terms into layperson for me. I also have a DVD to watch and no, it’s not called, So You’ve Got Cancer! or anything trite like that.
During the chat I mentioned about moving back to Glasgow to care for my dad and that’s something the doctor isn’t willing to sanction until I’ve had my surgery and recuperated enough. If all goes to plan that’s the end of May, start of June. Now I’ve mentioned radiotherapy but he’d be happy for me to have that in Glasgow and to continue my treatment there where I’m sure I’ll get the same high level of care I’m getting in Bristol.
Today means there’s no more uncertainty or false hope I’m magically all clear. The cold hard facts have been laid in front of me and I’ll not pretend it’s not a tad terrifying but had I never had a stroke the mass could have been sitting in my neck getting bigger, malignant and worse for a decade before it was found there was nothing they could do. Discovering it now gives me a fighting chance and I’ve every faith in the NHS to sort this out for me.
One other thing. Today was the all-out junior doctor strike in England. We’ve had Jeremy Hunt and various Tory mouthpieces warn about how people with life threatening conditions won’t be seen today and that’s bollocks as this blog is testimony to. I had the same level of care today that I’ve had on days when there’s not been a strike on and I fully support the doctors in their stand here. If they fall then in five or ten years people like me aren’t going to get this level of care and treatment from the NHS and that means people like me will die younger than they should.
As for now it’s a waiting game for the phone call to go to the BRI for the pre-op. I don’t expect it this side of the bank holiday but I’d imagine it to be the end of next week, start of next and in for my operation around the middle of May. Husky voice and kewl scars by the end of May.
And it snowed in April today in Bristol….