"It's exactly a year ago," she said.
I know. My blog post was ready and waiting to be released to coincide with that date, last year, when I found myself in this breast clinic trying to pretend that I was not a patient.
"Go and see the surgeon," my chemotherapy consultant had said at my final appointment two months ago. "She will decide on the best follow-up programme for you."
(I had questioned the standard procedure of giving women annual mammograms. What's the point of a mammogram when my cancer was of the occult, mysterious and invisible type?)
I have finally figured out how it all works. You start downstairs in the breast clinic, with all the mammography and ultrasounds and surgeons; then you get sent upstairs for the chemotherapy clinics - and/or to a different hospital altogether for radiotherapy; and then you get handed back to the downstairs crew for follow-up, with the handy mammography etc.
I hadn't quite registered the significance of being given a follow-up appointment for the 26th of March.
So, exactly a year later, I found myself sitting in that same waiting room. This time, I had brought the accessories of a proper patient: a raincoat, a husband, that sort of thing. But I also had some work papers hidden in my bag, because I expected we'd be out of there in half an hour and then I could go into the office, so I might as well make a start doing some reading in the waiting room.
"Are you sure you want to come into work?" my manager had asked the day before. "I think you should just go home after your appointment."
Oh, it's frightening how quickly we forget the lessons learnt. Surely, I just needed to breeze in and out of that consultant's room, and then I'd continue on my forward path, not looking back? I thought that this appointment was just to discuss the pros and cons of having annual scans rather than annual mammograms. My husband came along because we've got into the habit of going together whenever there are choices to be made or results to be discussed. But it was nothing to get concerned or distracted about.
I realised my mistake as soon as I turned right into the breast clinic instead of left into work. Should have brought a book or a mindless magazine. I gazed at my work paper and couldn't understand a word of it.
Because in this place I am, of course, a cancer patient, and it's not something to fit in on the side. How could I think otherwise?
|Worlds apart... Look to the right: the breast clinic. Look to the left: work.|
The consultant was not the same as my own surgeon, who has since left, but she was equally wonderful - without exception, the doctors I've met during this past year have been fantastic.
I had clearly misunderstood the nature of this appointment. It wasn't just to discuss the best way to do my follow-up checks. It was to actually do the follow-up checks there and then.
The morning went thus: wait, consultant, wait, mammogram, wait, ultrasound, wait, consultant again. Sound familiar?
They agreed to do the ultrasound as an added-in extra, because of the occult nature of my cancer last year.
The ultrasound room had the same young healthcare assistant as last year, still smiling, still happy with her job, still hoping to become a nurse ("It's so difficult to get into the training, you have to do lots of tests"). I hope she does get in. She clearly remembered me from last year ("Your hair! So different!"), including our conversations. I was impressed; she will be a good nurse.
The radiographer was the same too. Same words: "I saw your mammogram and it looked fine, it doesn't show anything." Well, I didn't expect it to show anything, given last year's experience. That wasn't especially reassuring.
It was much more difficult this time not to look at the screen with a certain amount of worry. I noted every slight hovering of the probe, every bit of darkness on the screen.
But hallelujah, the ultrasound didn't show anything sinister either. Back to the consultant. All clear. Come back next year.
My next appointment is in April 2016.
It shook me up, this morning of tests.
The unexpected realisation that if there was further bad news, this would be the day I'd find out. Talk about déjà vu. I hadn't even brought Owl; it hadn't occurred to me that he might be needed for scans and such like.
I had told colleagues I'd be available after 10am, but by now it was well past 1pm. My husband had to give up long ago (we hadn't anticipated being here this long and he had a work meeting), and I was exhausted. But to make the repeat performance complete, there was just one more thing I felt I needed to do.
I went across the road to the main building, up the stairs to the office floor, knock knock on my manager's door. She didn't seem sure whether or not to be alarmed at the sight of me.
"Don't worry," I said. "I'm fine. Everything is fine. But you know what? You were right. I can't do any work today. I'm going to get some lunch in the canteen and then I'm going home."
I did go to the canteen, but I couldn't shake off the awful feeling of being a patient rather than an ordinary customer or a member of staff. So I turned round and fled, out of the corridor, out of the hospital building, into the street.
Next year, I won't even think about going to work on appointment day. Doctors, mammograms, ultrasounds: that shall be my cue for cappucino, cake and retail therapy.
Will you remind me?