I’m left wait­ing for the tubes af­ter my big tech­ni­cal fault

The Jewish Chronicle - - Features -

TRAPPED ON the North­ern Line be­tween Tot­ten­ham Court Road and Goodge Street, the pas­sen­gers pricked up their ears as the driver’s weary voice broke through the void. “Please mind the gap be­tween the high cost of your ticket and the ap­pallingly low stan­dard of ser­vice you are get­ting.” Or rather, that’s what I heard him say in my half-awake, wholly in­dig­nant state. What I think he ac­tu­ally said was that sig­nal fail­ure up ahead would have my co-pas­sen­gers and me shar­ing the tun­nel with Lon­don’s rats, the smell of the un­washed masses and a ver­bally abu­sive drunk for the next 10 min­utes of our lives.

Tech­ni­cal faults in my own body meant that mu­tated cells had be­gun to gather to­gether in my neck some months back. This was not a planned clo­sure, and as such I felt claus­tro­pho­bi­cally trapped by the im­pend­ing re­stric­tions on my day-to-day life. But the PET/CT scan I un­der­took pro­vided some com­fort, when fi­nally it was de­ter­mined that the can­cer had not spread past my neck. The di­ag­no­sis of stage 2a of Hodgkin’s dis­ease felt like a sin­gle sta­tion clo­sure to me. I’d cer­tainly be in­con­ve­nienced, but I would reach my des­ti­na­tion of full health sooner than I feared.

Like my ex­hausted Lon­don Un­der­ground anal­ogy, my en­ergy lev­els have been se­verely de­pleted in the past cou­ple of months. “That’s likely the ef­fect of the can­cer,” Mi­caela my nurse told me, as my eye­lids closed. “The chemo­ther­apy will rec­tify all of the symp­toms of the can­cer, but you may not feel the dif­fer­ence since the drugs have their own side-ef­fects.”

A list of worst-case sce­nar­ios was duly read to me, which I was then asked to sign my name against. I laughed and told Mi­caela that as long as one of the side-ef­fects wasn’t death, I was happy to go ahead. Looking som­bre for a mo­ment, she said: “Don’t laugh, we have to be re­al­is­tic. There is a re­mote pos­si­bil­ity that if you de­velop a fever dur­ing treat­ment that we can­not con­trol, you could die.”

Talk­ing of laugh­ing mat­ters, I’m rather tick­lish and this didn’t make my bone-mar­row test easy for the doc­tor who had to search my hip for the cor­rect in­ci­sion point. The ex­am­i­na­tion was to con­firm that the can­cer had not spread to my bone mar­row. The doc­tor couldn’t tell me that it wouldn’t hurt, be­cause it did. A lot. Lo­cal anaes­thetic was ad­min­is­tered to the back of my pelvis be­fore a nee­dle re­sem­bling a long nail was ea­gerly thrust, with all the en­thu­si­asm of a javelin-thrower with his eye on Olympic gold, into the bone. Then a sliver of bone was wrenched out. Per­haps I should have pref­aced this by ask­ing the squea­mish to “look away now”. In any event, ex­ple­tives flowed freely, fol­lowed by apolo­gies for any of­fence caused.

The pe­cu­liar thing about pain is that you only ex­pe­ri­ence it the mo­ment it hap­pens. Emo­tions can be re­lived in mem­ory as pow­er­fully as when they first ap­peared, but the minute that phys­i­cal pain has sub­sided, it is hard to imag­ine the same sen­sa­tion. So al­though I was shaken by the ex­pe­ri­ence, it was more to do with the im­ages that flashed through my mind as I con­sid­ered what had just taken place. But the sliver of bone-sam­ple now sit­ting in a plas­tic beaker had been a trea­sure worth dig­ging up.

Mi­caela asked me to come back in to the hospi­tal again on the fol­low­ing Tues­day for one fi­nal blood test. Chemo­ther­apy weak­ens the im­mune sys­tem, so it’s im­por­tant that the pa­tient be as healthy as pos­si­ble be­fore be­ing given the drugs. “I’m con­cerned about that cold of yours. If the blood tests come back show­ing you are run down, we may have to de­lay the start of your treat­ment.” My pa­tience could only stretch so far. The thought of fur­ther de­lays was as grat­i­fy­ing as pa­tiently wait­ing on the Un­der­ground plat­form for 15 min­utes dur­ing rush hour, only to find the next train too packed to board. Thank­fully, the blood tests came back nor­mal, and, even more im­por­tantly, the can­cer had not spread to my bone mar­row.

The next day I was to start chemo­ther­apy. It was like be­ing strapped in to a roller­coaster. I was filled with dread as well as a long­ing for the un­fa­mil­iar ride to start.

The best thing is that so many peo­ple have cho­sen to come along with me for the ride. I’ve been in­un­dated with well wishes and mes­sages of sup­port, and in the five weeks be­fore Yom Kip­pur, £10,000 was raised for Chai Can­cer Care through my web­site. Gideon Sch­nei­der, who is writ­ing about liv­ing with Hodgkin’s lym­phoma in the JC and on our web­site, is rais­ing money for Chai Can­cer Care. See www. just­giv­ing.com/gideon­schnei­der

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