Yesterday I went to St George’s for my monthly pentamadine (to protect my lungs, mostly from pneumonia, I think), after it was brought back in to replace the potentially allergy-inducing septrin I had been taking as tablets. It was a remarkably swift and efficient operation, thanks to doctor Matthew’s excellent pre-planning in writing up a prescription earlier in the day for magnesium tablets so they were ready as soon as I’d completed the business end of proceedings. Hurrah for that! I’ve pre-ordered a couple of medicines that are running out for tomorrow in the hope of a similarly smooth experience…
Talking of smooth experiences, my head is still pretty shiny and strokable, although a few fine blonde hairs that never fell out seem to have continued to grow – and are now starting to be joined by tiny new companions you can feel more easily than you can see. Even my upper lip and chin are showing fairly prodigious growth, albeit of almost invisible, fine, light hairs; I’ve never been able to grow much of a beard, but with this effort I’m a long way from emulating my Viking friends.
Settling into the taxi to return home after my appointment, unusually I wasn’t in a particularly chatty mood, and I started to wonder what – if anything – the taxi driver was thinking about the quiet, bald passenger lost in thought whom he had just picked up from the hospital. Partly my interest was probably due to my terrible affliction of caring too much about what other people think, but I was more curious than anything else as to whether the driver was automatically putting together 2+2 to come to the conclusion that I may well have been having some sort of cancer treatment.
The silence was obviously a bit too much for him, though, so he switched on the radio, unleashing the words of a parent regaling the experience of his son’s hair falling out as a result of cancer treatment. I almost burst out laughing as I imagined the driver’s possible horror at having sought to avoid the silence of a cancer patient contemplating his existence and future, only to land his radio tuner on that very topic being discussed in intimate and emotional detail… He didn’t react, though, so I doubt he had even contemplated for a moment what my story was when he picked me up.
Cancer was, in fact, all over the airwaves following Cancer Research’s announcement that 50% of cancer patients diagnosed today will be expected to survive at least 10 years. It’s a remarkable statistic, particularly considering that as recently as 1971, the same percentage would have expected to survive one year. There is still, of course, a huge variation between the different types of cancer, but any and all progress can only be applauded, and it is good to see that Cancer Research’s new strategy aims to increase the focus on those with lower survival rates. On a personal note, I feel lucky to have already been on the receiving end of treatment based on research undertaken during the years since I was first diagnosed.
In parallel with the medical research, the culture of cancer within our society is said to have changed hugely since the days when the subject was a major taboo. I’m fortunate enough to have never felt ostracised by or unable to talk about my own illness and treatment, although I realise it still isn’t quite the case for everybody, and some barriers do remain. Maybe it’s just because I’m an attention-seeker who enjoys the excuse to talk about myself… The improvements in survival rates and the widespread nature of cancer, however, have happily led to it being considered a far more normal part of life that doesn’t necessarily have to turn lives upside down.
I do wonder what people think when they see me walking on Streatham Common with my bald head visible underneath my cap – I don’t think I look as though I’ve shaved it for reasons of fashion. But even if they do come to the conclusion that I’ve probably lost my hair to cancer treatment, I hope that their next thoughts are along the lines of: “So what? Good luck to him; hope the treatment worked and he’s continuing to enjoy life.”
After all, there can be a vast amount more to a cancer patient’s life than sitting around waiting to get better…