Never did I imagine that the last week of my pregnancy would throw me such a curveball. The simplest of actions (putting on a necklace) on my last working day (28th July) before maternity leave, resulted in a Hodgkins Lymphoma diagnosis. Initially I put the swelling in my neck down to an enlarged thyroid brought about by pregnancy, (being the experienced doctor that I am), but was soon told that same week after a scan and biopsy (3rd August) that it was suspected Lymphoma, a type of blood cancer.
If I can say anything that’s helpful to anyone reading this, it would be to challenge medical professionals and push to get answers. After coming out of the doctors on 31st July with a ‘2 week urgent referral for head and neck cancer’ appointment for 10th August, I called Andrew at work. I couldn’t really speak – I was completely shocked with the prospect of this lump in my neck (which I didn’t really take seriously until my Mum and Andrew told me to get it checked out) could possibly result in a cancer diagnosis. Andrew came home and was annoyed at having to wait 10 days for a consultation appointment, especially as my due date was only 5 days away. The next few hours was spent on the phone to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital and my GP surgery trying to bring the appointment forward. I’m not really a pushy person, and was cringing listening to Andrew push to get seen earlier. We also had a bit of a standoff because he was telling me to go back down to the surgery and demand to be seen by the doctor again, and I had to tell him to back off. In hindsight, Andrew was doing exactly the right thing, and it totally paid off. We managed to bypass the system and get an ultrasound scan for 3rd August! This meant it was 2 days before my due date so we got the ball rolling on my diagnosis within 4 days. That is pretty amazing!
Aside from trying to get prepared for the arrival of our baby, the next few days was spent in complete fear/apprehension of what the scan and biopsy might show. It’s impossible to push it to the back of your mind when you’re already trying to prepare yourself for the worst. That is not me being negative, its more self preservation. If I went into the scan thinking it was NOTHING, and then told it was SOMETHING, I’d feel a lot worse.
When we went for my scan, the consultant (a rather attractive Army Consultant) did a biopsy there and then. Whilst it was a bit scary when he asked for consent to ‘assault’ me, the fact we wouldn’t be waiting for another appointment was positive. So both scan and biopsy were done and dusted within 4 days of me seeing my GP. I’ve got to give a shoutout to the NHS – whatever issues there are within the system, we’re bloody lucky to have it! Going back to the biopsy, it was obvious that the consultant wasn’t happy with what he was seeing, and whilst he didn’t say what he thought it was, he spent a lot of time reassuring us that the hospital is one of the best in the country and we’d be well looked after… odd to say that if there wasn’t something serious going on! After leaving and getting back to the car, I had a voicemail from my GP surgery asking us to go in that afternoon.
Andrew and I sat in the doctors room in shock – What is lymphoma? What can we do about it? What does it mean? Being honest, I wasn’t too impressed with the delivery of this horrific news… The doctor didn’t offer much information or explanation of how and what we do next, other than to wait for the Ear, Nose and Throat appointment the following week to confirm the suspected diagnosis. The head tilt and patronising ‘I’m sorry’ didn’t offer consolation, reassurance or even show any understanding. It didn’t help that she had pink hair and a kind of hippy air about her. Are they trained in giving people bad news? Do they find it as awkward as the person they are giving the news to? I think my doctor must have missed that training course! I suppose it didn’t help hearing this 2 days before my due date so I may be being slightly harsh on the doctor, but still, the customer service was somewhat lacking.
Over the course of the next week I did a lot of research on Lymphoma. Not knowing which type of lymphoma it was meant I basically read everything, but couldn’t quite get my head round prognosis, treatment etc because I didn’t know what I was dealing with. Having to wait a whole week to hear the results of the biopsy and also waiting to go into labour meant only one thing – do things to take my mind of it. I had my eyebrows tinted and eyelash extensions, caught up with friends and spent time with Andrew. Fortunately Andrew had arranged to have 4 weeks off after the baby was born, and decided to start it that week. He wasn’t in the frame of mind to be at work, and we just wanted to spend time together to try and get our heads round what was going on.
That same week I had a visit from the midwife. I was now overdue by 4 days (8th August) and she was concerned that my bump wasn’t measuring what it should so I was sent for a growth scan – as if didn’t have enough going on! We went along the next day and was told that the baby had stopped growing and with the suspected diagnosis of lymphoma, the consultant was keen to get the baby out asap. This was not ideal and I did not want to be induced, but who am I to argue with an experienced consultant – again, I need to remind myself I’m no medical expert. So, the following day (10th August), Andrew and I went along to the ENT appointment at QE Hospital where I was formally diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma, left there to have lunch in Harborne at The Green Man, then went and checked into the induction suite at Birmingham Women’s Hospital for 2pm. All in all, a very strange day.