I came out of Baker Street station, and did the usual walk. Zipped passed the Pret a Manger and tourist shops; walked by Madame Tussauds, and crossed over to Nottingham Place.
It had been three months since I was last at the Princess Grace; and it was a weirdly strange but familiar feeling to walk through the sliding doors and to the front desk.
Hi, I’ve got an appointment at the Breast Institute.
The receptionist smiled, released the door, and pointed me in the direction. I walked up the flight of stairs, got to the top, pressed the button for some hand sanitiser, took a deep breath and opened the door.
Back at the Breastitute
“I’ll see you in three months time.” What? I’m not seeing you next week?
“No, as I’m handing you over to Suzy now.” Three months? But it’s only January.
Over the course of the first three months from diagnosis, heading to the Princess Grace hospital had become so routine. I had become familiar with the team; the reception staff had become accustomed to my last-minute phone calls explaining I was running late; the nursing team had been there to let me cry during the first few weeks, and laugh with me when I was goofing around. In a weird way, the Breastitute had become my haven of support. I didn’t feel like I was in a clinic, as I was always met with warmth.
When Katy had told me that she wouldn’t need to see me until March, it felt like my security blanket was being taken away from me. Even though I was already having chemo, I was still adjusting to the different environment and team members at the LOC, and coming to the Breastitute was weirdly comforting for me. March felt like a long way to go from January.
Fast forward three months, and there I was walking through the doors, and waiting to sign in. Everything was familiar, but at the same time something felt different. I stood in line, and looked around.
Is it normally this busy? “I’m sure you’ve seen it like this before.”
I’m not sure whether it was because I’d forgotten what clinic was like, but on this occasion, the Breastitute seemed packed. The reception area was fully manned with three staff signing in different patients at a time.
“I have an appointment to see Dr Hogben.”
I looked to my right, and a women stood next to me. Her tone had a sense of stress and aggression combined. I looked at the receptionist, smiled, signed the paper work and took a seat.
I took my hat off, put my headphones on, and looked around while I listened to music. In front of me was a young women dressed in beige whose face just showcased nerves. To the right of her was the woman who had stood next to me when signing in. She too looked nervous.
In the early weeks, I had attended an appointment, and recalled seeing a women with a buzz cut. She was sitting reading from her kindle and looked so relaxed, so calm. And at that time, I was a bag of nerves, waiting to hear back on the results from my bone scan. Now, sitting opposite these two women at the Breastitute, I was the woman with the buzz cut, waiting without any qualms, in a sea of women who looked petrified.
I looked up, saw the familiar face, smiled and stood up to follow Katy into the room.
“Is it just you today?” Yep, just me.
I was flying solo this time around. My appointments in general were so routine now, that I decided I could handle them on my own. And also because I had actually forgotten to ask someone to come with me on this occasion.
*Bravo Caroline, bravo*
I sat down in front of Katy, and quickly glanced around.
“So how are you? How is everything going?” I’m ok, I’m half way through now, but…
My voice started to quiver. I put my hand on my head, and brushed through my barely there hair, and broke down. I listed everything. The flushes, the weight gain, the hair.
I hate the way I look.
Katy came over from her desk, gave me a hug, sat in front of me and let me talk it out. I didn’t know whether this was normal doctor patient behaviour, but I offloaded as much as I could.
“It really varies for each person, but you’re doing good!” I guess.
I continued to explain the frustration of being indoors so much. How I wanted to go back to how I was before. How I wanted chemo to be finished with. How I was fed up of feeling so exhausted all the time. And then, just like that, I was hit with a sudden feeling of relief and release for crying it out. For the first time, in a while, I felt like someone understood where I was coming from. After all, I wasn’t the first person Katy had seen go through this. She dealt with breast cancer patients every day.
On a totally different topic, I’m wearing a onesie to chemo. “What?”
I decided to switch it up to lighten the mood. I showed Katy the photos of my unicorn outfit, and the people who had joined me. Her face said it all. That she thought I was mental.
“Can you send me the photos?” What for?
“I’m presenting to my med students in a couple of weeks, and want to show that going through chemo can be upbeat.” How do I know I can trust you?
“There’s this thing called doctor ethics.” But how do I know I can trust you?
“Come on, let’s take a look at you!”
I laughed, and for a split second, forgot that I was there for a follow-up appointment. Aisling had entered the room to join for the examination. I was with my team again, and the security blanket was back on. I trusted these guys implicitly, and instantly felt at ease with them.
It had been a while since I had my breasts checked, but as with the first appointment, the examination was over in seconds. The scars from the mastectomy were still visible, but everything had healed well. The right breast was checked – which threw me off somewhat – but everything was all clear.
We all returned to our respective seats around Katy’s desk, and the questions began.
When can I have reconstruction of the nipple? When do I need to see you again?
“You’re not the most patient person are you? *smile*
“Come see me in June, when you’re done with chemo.” Ahhh June.
I’ll bring a bottle of champagne. “Deal.”
We shook hands, I laughed, Katy laughed, Aisling laughed, and just like that, my appointment was done.
I left the room with Aisling, and we stood in the middle of the waiting room chatting. For every appointment I had with Katy, I would always have a follow-up chat with Aisling afterwards. Katy was the full force consultant. Aisling was the empathetic calming nurse. The combination of the two worked, and I couldn’t have asked for a better team to have care for me.
“You look really well.” Thanks. I can’t believe I’m half way through. I’m nearly there!
I gave Aisling a hug.
I’ll see you in June for that champagne.
I made my way to the exit, and looked at the women sitting down and gave them a reassuring smile as I headed out. As I walked out of the Breastitute, I wondered whether I had had the same face of worry that the women had at that moment.
The three-month gap between appointments had felt like it would be an eternity, but as I left the hospital at that point, it dawned on me. If the three months had flown by so quickly, then how much more so would I be closer to finishing chemo.
The reality was, I would be done with chemo very soon, and with that, I felt calm knowing I’d be back in June, with a glass of champagne waiting to be consumed.