Today I want to share with you an encounter I had with a patient who I met whilst waiting to see my consultant yesterday.. I dedicate this post to her.. I have changed her name for the purpose of confidentiality (I’m sure she wouldn’t have minded me using her real name.. But as I didnt obtain her consent I feel uncomfortable doing so).
Yesterday the haematology clinic was running late.. My appointment was at 2pm but when I arrived the doctors were still seeing their morning patients.. and they hadn’t had their lunch.. a scenario I’m too familiar with myself having been in similar situations when seeing patients in clinics ..
So there I was sat alone (I have decided to attend my hospital appointments alone.. less stress for my family and I would rather deal with things alone).. sat opposite me was an elderly lady and her husband.. They kept making eye contact and smiling at me.. I’m not really good in these situations, I tried to keep myself busy by playing on my phone.. then the elderly lady finally broke that awkward silence and asked me what time my appointment was.. and from that point we never stopped chatting..
She asked me why I was waiting and so I told her that I was a patient and shared my story. She then shared her story with me. This post isn’t about me.. It’s about Shirley, a wonderful lady who touched me in many ways..
Shirley also has Hodgkins Lymphoma.. She has had it 14 times.. Yes FOURTEEN times!!! Her lymphoma has now spread to her brain.. She has had chemotherapy several times as well as radiotherapy.. She is currently on chemotherapy again (cycle 2)..
This woman I can not begin to describe her.. She is so special.. She did not seem bothered about her situation, something she has taken on the chin and just deals with.. Shirley was more bothered about my situation!! Crazy right?? I mean I’m not as bothered.. She was so upset and kept telling me how unfair it was that someone as young as me would fall ill, and why can’t cancer be for those who are elderly and have lived their lives.. She kept repeating how sad she was hearing my story. I told her that I am a doctor, that I understand my condition and think i am coping pretty well.. But NO.. Her and her husband were really touched by my story.. I was completely baffled.. Here i was sat chatting to a lady who has had lymphoma 14 times and she was upset over my story?
I spent a long time chatting to Shirley, she shared her wealth of knowledge and experience with me.. She has been a patient in my hospital since it was first built in 1970! She told me how she had her appendix removed when the hospital was first built, she described the hospital being ‘as nice as a hotel’ back then, even the food was great which made her not want to leave.. She has seen medicine change over the years.. Before there was no chemotherapy and people with cancer never lived for long.. She also shared how doctors have changed over the years.. Doctors now are nicer and more approachable! (God bless my university ‘Barts’ for all the communication skills teaching we recieved..). Shirley told me how in the old days there was just an oncologist who saw patients with all forms of cancer, unlike now where we have so many subspecialists.. She told me her first oncologist was awful.. not knowledge wise but personality wise.. He never said hello and was dismissive, in contrast to her current doctors whose praises she would not stop singing..
Anyway enough of a history lesson.. What was interesting to hear from Shirley was that she has never felt ill with her lymphoma! She has never experienced the sore mouth which i get and her hair never completely fell out.. unlike my hair which is falling out in chunks now. We also talked about wigs and she told me how she used to be a hairdresser which was useful because when her hair did thin she was able to style it in a way that never showed.
One thing she kept repeating was how ‘lucky’ she was to still be alive.. she also shared what bothers her the most is people teling her to be positive.. Her exact words were “I sometimes want to tell these people would they be positive if they had cancer”.. I was surprised to hear her say that, because to me she seemed so positive.. a total inspiration.. obviously she didn’t share that belief with me..
So finally I was called by my consultant.. I said a quick goodbye to Shirley and her husband.. she wished me all the best and told me she would be thinking about me. She also said she really wished we had our chemotherapy scheduled on the same days so she could see me again.. Isn’t she a total sweetheart?? I wish I could have adopted her.. Can you adopt elderly people?? I loved shirley!!
So i went in and saw one of the haematology consultants.. Basically i was told i will be having a repeat PET scan sometime during the first week of August.. That PET scan will determine whether my body is responding to chemotherapy.. Until then i have to sit tight and hope for the best.. There is a 15% chance that my lymphoma will not get better with the chemotherapy i am on and therefore they would then need to try something else.. But there is a 85% chance it will work.. I hope I am in the 85% category.. Whilst my consultant was talking about these figures and what i may need to face next I was thinking about Shirleys situation.. Poor lady.. Chemotherapy had not worked on her.. I’m not sure how I would deal with the news of chemo not working on me.. There is only so long you can hold a brave face for.
My consultant spent some time advising me to keep my brain busy, she has suggested i study, sit exams or do a diploma to distract myself.. Something i will be thinking about seriously in the coming days.
So i left the consultation room with this cloud of worry hovering above my head.. Am i going to get better on this chemo..
As i left the consultation room i bumped into Shirley again.. She had just come out of the room next to me.. As soon as she saw me she held onto my arm and told me to wait.. She called out to the consultant she had just seen who happened to have coincidentally come out of the room to collect some papers.. She told the consultant “this is her” pointing at me.. I was so confused thinking ‘what have i done’.. The consultant then asked me to follow her into her room.. At this point i was thinking ‘i swear i didnt make a fuss about an hours wait’.. Again i said a quick goodbye to Shirley who placed both her hands on my arms and told me she wished me all the best and hoped we would meet again..
So in i went, following this consultant i had never met before into her room.. She introduced herself and explained that she is the lead lymphoma specialist in the hospital and how she works in one of the big central london teaching hospitals too.. She APOLOGISED that she hadn’t seen me before and wasn’t aware i was a patient.. I felt so shy!! She explained how Shirley.. Yes my friend Shirley had told her all about me, she said Shirley thinks i am ‘wonderful’ and couldnt stop talking about me!! How awkward?? I felt hugely humbled and embarrassed.. So awkward! She went on to look through my records and told me she would always be here for me, i should never feel embarassed and that I could ask for help at any time.. How nice?? This consultant certainly deserves an award for being the kindest hameatologist ever! I thanked her a lot and hurriedly left her room to catch Shirley before she left the hospital..
Luckily i managed to see Shirley, i thanked her for the kindness and concern she had shown towards me.. I gave her a big hug and told her how touched i was.. Shirleys last words to me were “if i never get better it doesnt matter.. I just want you to get better”..
What more can i add.. What a incredible lady…
I hope we cross paths again.. I wish i took her number so i could stay in touch..
I have seen so much kindness from strangers.. I want to get better.. I want to be able to tell Shirley i am better and i want Shirley to get better…
The fight in me has grown so much bigger now.. I am going to beat my cancer!