Three weeks ago, a well-meaning consultant gently asked my partner whether he was sure he wanted to continue with second line chemotherapy. Had he considered ‘going down the palliative care route’? It was, on paper, a reasonable question to ask. My partner had inoperable lung cancer, and despite a rare and surprising response to initial chemotherapy, it had returned with an alarming speed and aggression. He recently started second line chemotherapy, but after just one cycle, he was admitted for five days with a serious chest infection. The doctor we saw that day (not our lead consultant) explained that the risks of further chemotherapy might outweigh any benefits, as Docetaxel is very toxic yet only works in about 8-9% of cases.
We were shocked and upset to be having this discussion. We went round in circles, trying to untangle the cause and effects of cancer, chemotherapy and the chest infection, politely fighting against the undertow of the conversation. My partner is only 57, we have two young boys and so in the end he said that whilst he understood the risks, he also understood that no chemotherapy meant the cancer would definitely progress, whilst further treatment meant that it might not. For him it was a simple decision. He chose hope.
Just three weeks later, we sat with our lead consultant whilst he showed us the results of my partner’s CT scan. Once again, against all odds, the chemotherapy has had a significant and visible impact on my partner’s cancer. We stared at the (mostly) dark and clear spaces in the lungs where just four weeks earlier it had been a fog of white, unable to believe how lucky we were – again. I wrote before about how my partner had proved to be a ‘super responder’ to chemotherapy. https://johoganwrites.wordpress.com/2017/01/22/the-quantification-of-hope
Tonight we are shaky with relief and joy, unable to process the impossible statistics and the near-miss consequences of not going ahead with this second line chemotherapy whilst carefully sipping the hope that this gives us. There are so many emotions. When our consultant showed us the scan, he leaned back in his chair and said, ‘to put it in perspective, you are the best news I will get to give all day.’ So our happiness is tempered by the knowledge that most of the people we sat beside in the waiting room will not have had our good fortune.
When we left the hospital three weeks ago, stunned and tearful, we bumped into an old friend I used to work with who was also suffering with late stage cancer. Despite being very sick herself, she and her lovely partner took the time to give us words of hope and encouragement and later sent us a video telling her story. When a doctor tried to tell her ‘how long she had left’, Jackie – a life-long campaigner for equality and the BME voice – held up her hand and silenced him. ‘It is not your prerogative,’ she said. It is a cliché and perhaps a burden to call someone ‘an inspiration’ but @jackielynton truly is and I urge you to follow and support this woman on her journey of hope.
I do not blame the doctors for sharing their frank opinions. Goodness only knows how they cope with seeing people like us day after day, how they sift facts from hunches and decide what to say and not say. My partner was given a choice and he chose hope. That choice will cost the NHS at least £39,000 and once again it will give us the priceless gift of more time. And for that we are profoundly, eternally thankful.