My first appointment at the Royal Marsden Chelsea was to discuss the results of the biopsy and MRI scan. First impressions: wow! Again, pros and cons of being a specialist cancer hospital (as with RM Sutton). But I’d never seen a hospital with a grand piano in it before. Or such a lavish spiral staircase and stained glass windows. The whole place had a very calm atmosphere.
I was being seen in the Radiology department and, when I got to their reception, my illusions of this very calm atmosphere were somewhat shattered as they were having building works in half of it. This led to an interesting spell of people-watching while waiting and a game I like to call ‘guess what’s wheeled past next: person or building materials’?
The consultant saw us in a small (very small!) room along with my key worker, a Macmillan Clinical Nurse Specialist. There was just about room for the four of us. When I come to think of it, there were actually only three chairs (the consultant sat on the coffee table). And no bed. I think this must have been my first cancer-era appointment where I wouldn’t have to take my pants off. Glorious!
So, in true Jennifer Aniston style, here comes the science. The consultant very sensibly said that the maximum number of bits of information that people can digest in an appointment is five, so he gave us these headlines:
- The biopsy had confirmed the tumour was cancerous and on the larger side, but confined to the cervix so Stage 1B1;
- The MRI suggested that there was no spread to the lymph nodes, though possibly in the immediate local area (though he disagreed with that based on what he had seen);
- I was on the cusp of being able to have a Radical Trachelectomy, a ‘fertility-sparing’ surgical alternative to a hysterectomy; they wouldn’t be able to decide definitely until I was in surgery;
- If the operation had to be aborted (if the tumour was larger or had spread), they would transpose one of my ovaries and then treatment would be chemoradiotherapy;
- In this event we would need to consider freezing eggs/embryos as the radiation would most likely trigger immediate menopause.
The problem with all the information during this whole process is that everything is so hypothetical. I have tried to approach it all by being prepared for/understanding the worst, while hoping for the best. Relentless positivity – only allowing yourself to think about the best case scenario – isn’t a helpful attitude for me at the moment. I don’t mean that it helps to be super negative. But accepting the reality that these things could be on the agenda in a matter of days, and therefore I need to know about them, has been important for me. That way, if the best case does happen then I will just be slightly over-educated; if the worst does, at least I will be prepared.
After the headlines, the consultant left us with the nurse to ask any other questions. She had suggested that we get the ball rolling with the fertility stuff asap, just in case. This time I actually did have some questions! We went over what ‘transpose an ovary’ means; basically that they would move one of them to somewhere in my chest so that there was a better chance it wouldn’t be affected by radiotherapy. Well, I’ve always been in favour of free range eggs. Perhaps they would enjoy a change of scenery.
The real crux of it all though was the freezing question. It’s quite odd sitting and discussing this sort of thing with your boyfriend and a near stranger. As I’m only 28, children haven’t really been on our agenda yet – or should I say hadn’t, because now the whole question was taking centre stage. The reason there were so many hypotheticals was really because of all the efforts they were putting in to preserve my fertility.
The nurse was fantastic. We instantly felt at ease asking her anything, and thanks to her this pretty heavy-duty conversation became surprisingly light-hearted. Eventually, I addressed my main question: could I freeze eggs AND embryos? Embryos have a higher success rate, but this was my concern:
“What if he leaves me for a younger model?” (Joking. Obvs. But a real question.)
“Well,” replied the nurse sunnily, “there’s always marriage. We could do it here for you!”
“Get out!” said my boyfriend immediately, pointing towards the door.
We all laughed. Thankfully, she didn’t leave. She has a brilliant sense of humour. As does my boyfriend.
Caroline Crimson x