So me and the good lady were lying in bed the other night and she was saying that she had been wondering what was important about the date – April 26 – and she couldn’t quite remember.
She had crossed off the possibilities in her mind – It wasn’t either of the kids’ birthdays, not our own birthdays (we forget sometimes these days), nor a wedding anniversary, nothing like that.
She said it had bugged her for hours. Then she had remembered.
It was three years ago to the day that she had her brush with death.
It’s fair to say that April 26 2008, (although I couldn’t have told you that was the date), is a day I won’t forget.
It was a Saturday. Our lad was just weeks old, a babe in arms, and his mum, usually in rude health, had been very unwell after his birth. Hellish wan and listless and then increasing stomach pains.
They couldn’t pin it down, and all explanations were offered from post-birth complications with her undercarriage to moaning-new-middle-class-mum-itis.
In the end they pinned her excruciating stomach pain to a burst appendix.
Dangerous but hardly the end of the world.
So they wheeched her in for a ten minute operation under local anasthetic, and they left me holding the baby. We’d be out in time to enjoy the rest of the weekend.
Ten minutes turned into an hour, an hour into two, until the whole morning was gone. As I paced the room in the maternity ward with the lad there was no sign of anyone.
Then a surgeon who I had not seen before entered the ward in his greens. As I watched from my room, he made his way towards the nurses’s station and, standing with his back to me, started talking to the heid bummer nurse. She nodded gravely at whatever he had told her, looked over his shoulder at me. Her shoulders visibly sagged.
Then she walked towards our room.
She said we should go to The Quiet Room and that she would take the baby.
My stomach turned. As we walked towards The Quiet Room I asked her if my wife was dead. I think she laughed merrily, but whatever she said it put me at my ease. It couldn’t be that bad.
The surgeon sat me down -his name was Chris Cartlidge – which I remember I found mildly amusing in the passing.
He told me that they’d opened up my wife expecting to find a burst appendix and had found instead a large colon cancer. (I say ‘cancer’, he said ‘growth’ which he was ’95 per cent sure’ was cancer but, since they hadn’t checked it out in the lab, they could not be positive).
He explained it was a growth which had become so big it had perforated her colon and given her the septicemia which would have killed her within hours.
It was this septicemia caused by the perforated bowel which had fooled them into thinking it was appendicitis.
And that was that. The end of one chapter of our lives and the beginning of a new one.
Quite how, through all the scans of pregnancy and childbirth, a cancer the size of a grapefruit had gone un-noticed, was a question which only sprang to my mind later, but which I quickly discarded. To go down that road, the road of recrimination, would have done nobody any good.
Chris and his colleagues explained that they’d been pretty pragmatic – they had opened her up, been confronted with it, had discussed what to do, and had decided to press on and deal with the situation there and then – so they cut out the cancer, tied her back together, and stitched her up.
And so a few hours later, as she came round on a trolley in the post-surgery ward, I explained to her what they’d told me. It wasn’t appendicitis, it was cancer, but it was out. Gone.
The next few days were the worst, waiting to hear back from scan results whether there was any more, anywhere else. There wasn’t. And to date there hasn’t been.
They said to take the chemotherapy as a ‘belt and braces’ just in case there was a dod of cancer they’d missed, and she agreed, even though as a nurse she knew both the short-term and possible long-term implications. Of course she sailed through it with a fortitude which makes me love her even more.
So here we are, three years later. Cancer touched our lives, but we were lucky. So lucky that we can’t even remember the date when it sprang so suddenly to our attention.
I have had a lifetime’s stamp payment back from the NHS in the form of the care they gave our family that day and the months afterwards and I would like to publicly thank everyone involved in her care.
As I said, we were lucky, she may have a yard less inside her belly, but with every passing clear scan her chances of outliving both you and me grow.
But if you find the time, do spare a bob for the people at Macmillan Cancer Care. You can read more about the great work they do offering practical support here and if you feel flush and want to give a bob, you can do so easily at my Just Giving Page.