The end of the beginning

A decent paced 35 miles tonight with a chain-gang around the local reservoir – a humpy seven mile loop that always turns into a bit of a scramble on the last lap.

No seizures, which is a good thing, but I did get dropped on the final ladder of little hills up to the sprint finish. The shame.

My excuse is that I’ve been down with a bug all week. That’ll teach me to go on a camping holiday with a bunch of young children, what with their germs and snot and offering mucus-filled kisses all the time.

Tomorrow I go back to Colchester hospital to repeat what got this whole thing started.

It’s my first MRI scan since the one in April that showed the brain tumour and changed mine and my family’s life overnight.

We won’t get the results for 10 days, so we’ve organised a take-your-mind-off-life trip away with some great friends for the week. We’ll share good wine, good walks and I dare say a few board games thrown in for good measure.

I’m cycling up for the scan, of course, and if I’m not feeling too icky after they’ve filled my blood with medical goo, I’m heading straight off for a 45 miler to the in-laws. It’s an overnight stepping stone for Saturday’s Olympic road race in Surrey, for which I’ve managed to get a ticket for the (so called) hilly section.

(Quick question – how do you get across the Dartford crossing on a bicycle?)

I’m strangely philosophical about tomorrow’s scan. A third of my kind of tumour are misdiagnosed as low grade on MRI alone, so if tomorrow’s scan shows rapid growth since April, I could already be in big trouble. So I may not be so relaxed on results day, but that still feels quite far off.

If you’ve never had an MRI scan, here’s what happened to me in April.

First, I had to fill in a dozen forms telling the radiographers I had no metal inside me. You have to promise you don’t have any piercings, any shards of metal in your eyes (metal? in your eyes?), and that you haven’t recently swallowed any ball bearings.

They then give me some ear plugs to stuff in, lay me down and jam a bunch of foam wedges around my head to keep it still. They place a plastic cover over my head that’s so close to my face it’s like I’ve been squeezed into someone’s lunch box.

There’s this neat little mirror on the top that allows me to look up, but down at the same time. So instead of seeing the workings of the machine, I’m looking at my feet.

Then they all go and hide behind a big screen (cowards), and I get rolled into the big electronic doughnut. It’s all very cosy in there. I’m trying so hard to keep my head still that I forget to have a panic attack about the two inches of space I would be forced to have it in.

Then the clicking begins. Loud whirring, click, hiss, whirr. The radiographer speaks through the doughnut. This next scan will take three minutes. Please lie still. Click, hiss whirr. This next scan will take seven minutes.

That’s the point when I know something is wrong. The seven minute scan takes only three minutes (I count off the seconds because there’s sod all else to do). Then I’m rolled out and put onto another machine.

This time, they give me an injection “because doctor wants to see the bloodflow to your brain”.

Why, thinks Mr Sherlock Holmes staring at his grubby socks, didn’t they put me on this machine the first time?

So, I lie there for a second seven minutes (which this time feels like half an hour), but I’m not counting.

I’m thinking: doctor wants to see the bloodflow to my brain; doctor thinks there’s something wrong; doctor’s going to check me in upstairs, hook me up to a bleep-bleep-bleep machine and feed me three weeks of hospital food.

After the scan, they roll me out, sit me down and the next guy comes in.

He’s having his leg scanned. Poorly leg? Trumps. I just had my brain fried.

I feel there’s definitely something awry.

The atmosphere has changed. The two weeks I was promised until I would get the results has suddenly been edited to a couple of days.

The chirpy ‘what are you doing on the weekend’ smalltalk has turned into formalities that get me out of the MRI department quickly, the conversation stilted as if the radiographer doesn’t want to say anything in case she says too much.

At least that’s what I tell my wife when I get home, who quickly retorts that I’m being oversensitive and they’d hardly have let me drive home if my cortex was about to explode.

Three months down the line and tomorrow I’ll be facing the very same machine again. This time I know what to expect, and I know what the radiographers were being careful not to say last time.

The last 12 weeks have gone by in a flash of difficult phone calls, late night tears and early mornings of Wikipedia and cancer talk boards.

It’s been a time of surprise, delight, disappointment, feeling loved and feeling moved. Often all at the same time.

It’s also been a time of fun, spending lots of time with my wife and children, laughing at the inefficiency of parts of NHS and getting angry at the incompetence of insurance companies.

(They’re not so incompetent when selling you the life insurance policy, are they?)

Tomorrow marks the end of the beginning.

Whatever the results, the next chapter in my journey will start. If the results are bad, a new and urgent twist in the tale will emerge.

If the results are neutral (they’re never going to be good), then I’ll be grateful to have been given more time to create more of the story for myself.

Click, hiss, whirr…

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