Just what the doctor ordered

Before all of this reared it’s head, my sister, nephew & niece had planned to visit over the Summer. The flights had been booked with good old Ryanair so no refunds would be considered. They were due to arrive the night I would be discharged and we had discussed the option of them cancelling – would I be well enough to have visitors? In the end my sister decided to hire a car. That way, if I was bed bound, they could entertain themselves.

I cleaned the house before the hospital trip, made the beds ready for their arrival and stocked up the wine cupboard but I can’t deny I was concerned this wasn’t the best of times for them to visit. Did I really want my niece and nephew to see me at my very worst? They are adults but still, any cool aunties out there will understand. I am the child-free aunty, the one who drags them to steampunk weekends in Whitby, the one who only drinks alcoholic drinks on Christmas day – I have a rep to keep!!

They were arriving very late that night and I had already gone to bed, feeling a bit sorry for myself to be honest. I couldn’t shower due to the dressings, and my partner was already giving off a stressed vibe so I daren’t suggest he wash my hair for me.

However, here’s the thing – from the moment I got my nephew’s text to say they were 5 minutes away, I felt myself lift out of that sorry state. I shuffled out to the kitchen to greet them. It was so good to see them.

We had discussed that I might not be able to go many places with them but in actual fact the car my sister had hired was really easy for me to get in & out of and, with a strategically placed pillow, we tootled all over beautiful South West Kerry. I wasn’t able to stand for long so cooking a meal was out of the question but this was the height of the tourist season when everything is open for business and we had some beautiful meals out & about. I think you have guessed by now that I do like a little drinkie and thankfully my family are non-judgemental on the whole mixing pain killers and alcohol! A fine mix of paracetamol, nurofen and Malbec is a winner for me (this is, of course, my own view and not to be taken as a medical recommendation!).

Anyone who has ever been in hospital will know that bizarre feeling when you have been desperate to come home but once you are home you feel a tiny bit lost. You are back to making the decisions on what’s for tea and has the credit card bill been paid. My family visiting me on those first days was an absolute life saver. They didn’t expect anything from me, everything was a bonus. It was the most relaxed and enjoyable visit ever. Again, lovely times coming out of potentially bad times.

When I collected the goody bag of prescription drugs from the pharmacy there was a load of sachets to deal with constipation. I know from previous operations that this can be a real problem and you can end up in a lot of pain. My personal cure for this is fig roll biscuits. They do the trick and are a lot more delicious than the sachets. If things get really bad, juiced up pears are very effective. Just don’t plan to go anywhere for the next hour. Thankfully, this time this wasn’t a problem – red wine can also keep you ‘regular’. For those of you that know me, you are probably shocked I am even mentioning poop matters – I don’t even like a fart joke – but I thought it might be useful to someone in the future. Poop won’t be featuring again.

I was still unable to shower but we managed to work out a way for me to bend into the shower to wash my hair. Everything else had to be a sink and flannel wash.

The weekend brought a change of guard as my family had to head home and my sister in law arrived to take over. We had a lovely meal that night which I am delighted to say my nephew had to pay for (well halves) due to losing a game the night before – we play for serious odds in our house. And then the fateful words from my sister in law ‘should you be drinking with your meds?’ You know in westerns where the saloon goes silent? It was that moment. I knew right then that my cocktail of wine and pain killers was at an end, at least for the next fortnight.

Homeward Bound

The following morning I was WINNING AT LIFE when the Italian care assistant, who told me he liked my posh accent, muttered that he had a spare boiled egg if I wanted it. I am a big believer in seizing an opportunity – it was delicious.

By the time the team came round, I was out of bed with a clean night shirt and my leg up on a stool, maybe even a little bit of mascara – things were looking up already.

Prof Redmond explained he was happy for me to go home that day but we just had to wait for the results of the MRI on my ankle. He was certain there would be nothing to worry about but he wanted to have it out of the way before I left. He thanked me for letting him operate on me! I was so shocked. How can such a genius be such a humble and caring man? I think he understood how incredibly grateful I was, I hope I conveyed that to him strongly enough.

Katrina (guardian angel nurse) explained that I would need to see my GP in a week to change the dressings and that I would come back to the dressing clinic in Cork the following week where they would examine the drain and the wound site.

Here is my one and only tiny criticism of CUH and I tell you this only for anyone who might be facing this op to give them a useful heads up. Make sure your drive home is available from first thing that day. I am well aware of the massive time constraints nurses work under and the need for beds to be filled asap.

I rang my partner to say I was definitely being discharged and to make his way to Cork as quickly as he could. It is normally a 2 hour, 20 min journey. From previous experience, I figured it would take that amount of time for the discharge papers to be sorted and a prescription written.

The lovely young doctor who had tried to take my blood on the morning of the op came to tell me that the MRI on my ankle was, indeed, clear and all was well.

A nurse from another ward was having a conversation in the corridor about needing my room asap and dispatched two nurses to strip my bed. I shuffled off to the bathroom to attempt to get dressed. I had bought loose linen trousers as I knew I would have this drain in my thigh but I hadn’t thought about how the drain would attach to my trousers. I have to confess, I stood in the bathroom half dressed and had a little cry. I pulled myself together and called the nurse for some assistance. I got the distinct impression she thought I was a bit simple! The problem was I thought I would pull the drain out if I moved the tube too much when getting dressed. I will explain in a later blog that this was virtually impossible, but right then I didn’t know that. She tucked the drain and the PIKO battery box into the waistband of my trousers – so easy when you know how.

For anyone about to go through this, the best thing you can do is cut a hole in a pocket of your trousers and feed the tube through that. Also a big safety pin, you probably call them a nappy pin, is invaluable. This drain is going to be with you quite a while – find the best way to make it as convenient as possible.

Once I was discharged, dressed, with prescription in hand it felt that I was in the way. I was holding up the room. The nurse asked me to move to the family room and that was that – they were done with me. It’s just such a shock to go from being cossetted in your hospital bed to being back out in the real world with your own bag to lug about.

I waited in the family room for about half an hour but the fact of the matter was I would miss out on my vegetarian pasta! I was discharged and no longer belonged in the ward. I plonked my bag up onto my shoulders and shuffled down three floors to the coffee dock to await my chauffeur. Between you and me I think he went back to sleep, but he is adamant he had the journey from hell so we will go with that. He eventually collected me and we set off home. Katrina (guardian angel nurse) had advised him to bring a pillow for the journey home and this was invaluable. With the pillow across my lap under the safety belt, it absorbed the pain of every bump in the road.

So that was it – I was home. But is this where the hard part really starts?

The Wild Atlantic Way
Sneem, Co Kerry

Dressings & Scrambled Egg

The next morning, as with all wards, the day started early. I was in a bit of pain, but nothing like I had expected. The PIKO Dressing was a marvel. I didn’t realise this until it was removed a week later. Pain killers were available to me at all times, but I was able to manage fine on just paracetamol which I was delighted about.

I’ve just remembered I forgot to tell you about my fancy sporty pants! I guess they weren’t that well received in theatre as they had been removed and popped into a plastic bag with my cat slippers, the ones with pink sparkly ears of course. I was now commando.

Very early on Prof Redmond came to see me on his own, no entourage, just the lovely man himself. He was so kind and explained that the op had gone well. He would be back later with his team to give a full run down but wanted to check on me before he went to his other meetings. The man is a legend.

Once breakfast was done I attempted to make myself look a bit more presentable but frankly how good can any one look in a mickey mouse shirt, no makeup and hair that’s been stuffed under a hair net for several hours?? A liberal spray of perfume was the best I could do.

Prof Redmond returned with his team and explained they were delighted with the op. They had made a 7 inch (that’s 18 cms to the rest of us) incision. They removed 18 lymph nodes but were very pleased that nothing needed to be removed above the inguinal node (I know you were all wondering exactly that). Those nodes would now be sent off to check for melanoma which would decide on the next course of action.

They still had concerns about my ankle. This had been mentioned before and they decided to get an MRI done whilst I was in the hospital just to be on the safe side.

Later that morning, Katrina (guardian angel nurse) arrived. She explained that the wound was in the shape of a lazy S and went from my tummy down onto my left thigh. She told me there was 18 staples in the wound as well as internal stitches. She gave me a spare PIKO Dressing to take home in case my GP wanted to replace it next week, but a normal dressing would be acceptable as well.

Katrina also explained that I would be offered radiotherapy but that this was completely my choice. There are side effects to everything of course, but the biggest one for me at that point was a possibility of lymphoedema in my leg. I really didn’t want that if I could possibly avoid it. Radiotherapy also meant that I would have to be in Cork every day for six weeks. If that had been my only choice, of course I would have taken it. But radiotherapy would have only targeted the area that had just been operated on, it wouldn’t address any other areas in my body.

That afternoon the nurse removed the catheter and I was able to get out of bed. The physio came and showed me some exercises to avoid lymphoedema which I have followed religiously.

The most important part of the day is what’s for lunch/tea in hospital (well it is for me). So for tea that night I had ordered scrambled egg. Those of you that know me will know I am a connoisseur of both poached and scrambled eggs – I know all the best places to go for such delights. Keep this in mind.

A porter came to collect me for the MRI on my ankle. Good news was that the canula was still in my hand so they could just pop the dye in through that, no messing with other veins. They removed the box for the PIKO Drain for safety in the MRI machine. I queried was it ok for me to be in the machine with 18 staples in my wound. The MRI lady nearly had a heart attack! She rang the team and waited for an answer. In the meantime, two other ladies needed MRIs, one from a road traffic accident that morning still looking very shaken up and the other for a back injury so I was asked to wait. No problem, I was in no rush. Eventually the team rang back to say no, no staples in the wound quite safe to do the MRI. Once the other ladies were finished, my MRI was done and a porter took me back to my room. Ladies & gents – I had MISSED my scrambled egg! Tea had been delivered and cleared away again. This was a travesty. I was massively tempted to lie on the floor and have a tantrum, but apparently that’s not acceptable as an adult and I couldn’t have got down to the floor anyway, damnit.

Thankfully, a nurse took pity on me and more hospital toast was administered. The sheet had been left for my choices the next day – I choose vegetarian pasta for lunch – keep that in mind.

That night a friend who lives in Cork visited me. We hadn’t seen each other in a few years but from the moment she arrived it was as if we had seen each other yesterday. We sat in my private room catching up on everything for hours – it was a joy. She stayed well past visiting hours but nobody seemed to mind. How often do we have the very best of times at what could be the very worst of times?

Waking up!

As I told you previously, I am an impressive projectile puker after anaesthetic so, to be honest, my first thought on waking up after any op is please don’t let me be sick. This is not based on nothing. After my hysterectomy I was so sick that part of my wound came open – not ideal you have to agree.

However, this time I woke up back in the same room with the lovely nurses and the heated blankies. The only time I’ve not been sick after an op, I went into hypothermic shock (I know, I am a disaster) but there was none of that this time. I lay with my eyes shut for quite a while before I allowed myself to have a feel of where I had been cut. I must have still been heavily drugged up as I had no pain at all.

Once I opened my eyes, a lovely nurse checked up on me and gave me a small sip of water. I had the distinct impression the anaesthetist had told them he was determined this one wasn’t going to puke and they weren’t to let me ruin his work by letting me have too much water!

I can only describe the feeling I have after an anaesthetic as a terrible sinus infection or what it must be like to be punched in the face really hard – not something I have actually experienced, although I’m sure there’s been times it might have been warranted.

I was wheeled up to a ward where my partner was waiting; there were 5 other beds already taken in the ward by ladies of mixed ages. It was BOILING in the ward but one of the nurses brought a fan to the end of the bed to cool me down.

After a while, Katrina (guardian angel nurse) arrived to explain how the op had gone and what would happen over the next few days. Unfortunately, it was half way through this conversation the old pukey feeling came upon me and I had to say ‘I’m going to be sick’ – Katrina and my partner jumped into action to look for the familiar cardboard bowler hat. Only just in time, bowler hat appeared and I was sick – but it was a tiny, tiny amount and I think it really was my mind that was convinced I was missing a step if I wasn’t sick. Katrina beat a hasty retreat.

My partner mentioned to one of the nurses that I had VHi and was entitled to a semi private room if one was available. This wasn’t some rank pulling exercise, but VHi had told me I was covered for it. Within half an hour two porters arrived and wheeled my bed into a private side room where I remained for the next three days. Having experienced a large ward after my hysterectomy where nobody slept (Scarborough Hospital), I was eternally grateful for this silent room with a window over looking Cork.

The wound itself was covered with a Piko Dressing. This is a clever compression dressing which has a small box attached to it. This is the battery operation which keeps the compression on the dressing. This stops any air getting in and subsequently any infection; basically it’s just damn clever. I also had a Blake Drain in my thigh. This is a tube going from your lymph nodes, draining away the fluid that your nodes would normally be doing. The drain has a small pump attached to it which needs to be emptied out regularly – more on this drain in later blogs. In addition to all of that, I also had a catheter so that I didn’t need to get out of bed for a wee. I sent my partner home. Anyone who has ever been in hospital knows that hospital toast is THE best toast in the whole wide world. Once I had managed to keep that down I drifted into a post-anaesthetic, pain killer induced sleep for the night, only waking up when the nurse came in to empty catheters and drains and take my blood pressure.

Tomorrow I would worry about scars and results, but not tonight….

Operation Get the Damn Lump Out!

As a bit of background, I feel I should tell you that I have availed of the services of the NHS and the Irish Health Service several times. You know you’ve been there too often when they use two hands to bring out your folder. So I am no stranger to the surgeon’s table and I am a complete nightmare after anaesthetic – Spielberg could use my projectile vomiting in an Alien film – am I painting a clear enough picture?

Previously I have always gone to the ward and been taken to theatre on the bed. Cork University Hospital work differently. You arrive to the Admissions Office on the morning of the op, having fasted from the night before. You go through a triage with a girl in a small office – it doesn’t really feel like you’re about to go and get sliced open. After that you hand your overnight bag to your partner and toddle off down the corridor to where the action is going to happen.

So the first room is where you get changed into your sexy surgical gown. You keep your underwear on. Katrina (guardian angel nurse) had warned me to wear rubbish pants but on this one, I ignored her. I wore some new white lacy ones – the ones that look like shorts, as if the surgeon might think I was sporty! A young doctor tried to get some blood out of me. He was super gentle but it just wasn’t happening. He explained this was really routine in case I should need a transfusion at any point. Thankfully as I had only recently had bloods done, they would have been able to use that record so no more unsuccessful blood sucking required.

Professor Redmond’s team then arrived and explained what the operation would involve. I have to confess at this point, I was just nodding along. But they sent my partner away, promising to ring him once the op was finished.

I was then taken into another room where some lovely nurses prepare you and check your health history again. Best part of the whole day – they wrapped me in a heated blankie to make my veins a bit easier to get at. I could have stayed there all day.

The anaesthetist introduced himself and went through some more questions, mostly about previous surgeries and any reactions I have had. Having established I had previously had a hysterectomy, he went back over the question of was I sure I wasn’t pregnant. I gave him the one-eyebrow up stare. It dawned on him what he said and we had a little laugh about it. He assured me he would pump me so full of anti-sickness drugs it would be impossible for me to throw up. I’d like to say I believed him, but I wasn’t convinced.

Then I walked into the theatre. Professor Redmond was there to greet me and explained he felt it was less scary for his patients to walk in to theatre rather than be wheeled in. I think he was probably right, I genuinely didn’t feel that anxious. Once I was up on the surgery table, Prof Redmond told me he would be doing the surgery himself and he would look after me – I knew he would. The anaesthetist appeared by my side and had the needle in my hand quicker than I can drink a martini and that was that – I was gone.

I was in the very capable hands of Prof Redmond and his team. I’m sure they appreciated my sporty white pants…

Pre-Op & Blood Pressure

Having returned to work in an attempt to bring some normality back into our life, it was another week to wait until the pre-op on 6 August. I desperately tried not to think about the upcoming op.

A fabulous friend came over to visit from the UK and we had a lovely few days together. The weather was mostly kind to us and I was able to show County Kerry off – it is breathtakingly beautiful. When I get cleverer at this blogging business I will add some pictures. There may have been quite a bit of Malbec consumed but most important, there was lots of laughs. There was a music festival in the town & Friday night brought a great 80s tribute band along with torrential rain; we didn’t mind, we danced in the rain to the very end of the night – what cancer worries??

She had flown in from Cork airport and I must have been looking tired as she kindly decided to catch the train back to the airport rather than let me drive her. This seemed like a great idea and I decided I would do the same the next day for my pre-op.

Any gents reading this, I apologise for the next huge generalisation, but I had forgotten what hopeless travel companions men are. My friend had enjoyed her journey because she was travelling alone with no man tutting in her ear that things weren’t moving quite fast enough or someone was sitting in the wrong seat.

I won’t bore you with the ins & outs of the day but suffice to say, we haven’t caught the train to Cork since then, although I may well do it ON MY OWN in the future.

So I tell you this as a background to my resulting blood pressure being through the roof when they tested it at the pre-op. I knew I was in trouble when the nurse, who could not have been more lovely, said she would test it again in half an hour – never a good sign. The rest of the pre-op went perfectly well. The ECG on my heart was fine and apart from my answers about my terrible reaction to anaesthetic, everything was straight forward. Blood pressure taken again – gone up even further. Lovely nurse suggested it may just be the stress of being in hospital and the impending operation. I decided not to share my thoughts on male travel companions. She asked me to go back to my GP the next day and have it taken again as it was currently too high for the operation to go ahead. At this stage I would have taken the damn lump out with the kitchen scissors.

The trip to the GP the next day did not prove any more successful and he prescribed a Blood Pressure Tablet – 10mg Lecalpin. He also signed me off work there and then with advice to lie on the sofa for the next three days and do nothing. I have that skill, I am a master at it.

This was the last time I was at work and I was now signed off for the next six weeks to include the operation and recuperation time.

I am not a great drug taker and I was very reluctant to take the Lecalpin, but it did work almost immediately. I felt myself relax and I was shocked at how much better I felt. Maybe these doctors do know a thing or two afterall!

So now it was just the small matter of the operation. To give it it’s technical term for anyone looking for something specific, I would be having an inguinal lymph node dissection.

Dancing in the pouring rain
80s rock!

Disappointments & Emotions

I don’t want this blog to be depressing in any way, but my aim was to reach out to anyone else who might be going through all off this or making some decisions to start it. With that in mind, it would be wrong not to talk about what’s going on in my head every now & then.

In general, I think it’s fair to say I am a very optimistic person. My partner always says that if you ask me what I’m thinking about if I look pensive (not that often) it’s usually kittens and puppies. The family joke is that my sister and I would open the curtains on a rainy day and say ‘Oh look, it’s raining la-li-la’, so you get the general idea.

In 2004 when I had the first melanoma, I never worried about the outcome and I certainly never considered that it might come back. This time is different. I’m not sure if it’s just that I’ve got older (haven’t we all), that I know more information this time, that I’ve become more dramatic, or that I’ve become frightened by the stats the doctors have given me about melanoma recurrence. But at my darkest hour – and it is always in the middle of the night isn’t it? – I have imagined a pain in my ankle must be cancer, or a tickly cough; well that’s definitely lung cancer. I guess we all do it. The important thing is to fight the voices and to never, ever, ever use Dr Google. Easier said than done I admit. I’ve taken to putting my mobile in a drawer now so I don’t have a sneaky peak at what terrible illness I’ve contracted in the last 24 hours.

As I told you previously, I had hoped to attend the wedding of one of my best friend’s daughter – we are talking wedding of the year in a fabulous stately home. I asked Katrina (guardian angel nurse) if there was any chance the operation would be moved forward – there wasn’t. I think I forgot for a while that other people might actually be waiting for surgery as well (the cheek of them). I even asked if the surgery could be put back – the answer was a stern no and the question left hanging in the air of did I really understand the seriousness of the situation I was in and that time was of the essence. Having resigned myself to missing the wedding I had to tell my friend who was desperately disappointed. Of course she knew my health was more important but right at that moment, it really didn’t feel like it – I wanted to be at the wedding damnit.

Having told her and cancelled my leave from work, I really went down hill in my own head. I felt really angry that I was missing out on this event that I had looked forward to so much. I had already missed out on the hen weekend as I was having the biopsy, and let me tell you, I love a hen party. I was angry with myself – why hadn’t I done something about the damn lump in January when I found it? Could I be all done & dusted by now? Why did there have to be a Bank Holiday holding things up? Why did I move back to Ireland? Why did I bother with Factor 50 in the sun? Why did I try to eat healthy? Maybe I should drink less red wine? I crossed the last one out immediately, nobody needs that foolish talk.

To try and verbalise this to people who love you is so difficult. When I cried about not going to the wedding to Paul, my partner, he couldn’t get his head around it. I didn’t cry at the thought of yet another scar on my body or the thought of any pain I might go through, yet here I was having a sob about not getting into my posh frock and fascinator. He tried to help with mumblings about going to see them at Christmas but he just couldn’t grasp the disappointment or the unfairness that I felt right then.

I’ve always been pretty good at giving myself a dressing down. We were very lucky to have lovely parents who gave us oodles of common sense and taught us to be independent. They are sadly no longer with us but that meme that does the rounds on social media about remember who your mother is, straighten up your crown and get back out there rings very true for me.

So that is exactly what I did, back to work until the pre-op……

The top of the cake from the missed wedding

Posh Hospital

As I live in the Republic of Ireland, we are not lucky enough to have the services of the NHS and, whilst there is public health care, everything has a price. For example, a trip to A&E will cost you €80 and the price of the meds you might be prescribed can soon escalate to €50. Back in November 2018 I ended up in A&E in Dublin – yes, I know, been here a year and already tested out plenty of the Irish Hospitals. I had caught gastroenteritis from somewhere and I was in a lot of pain. That little interlude of ill health cost me €80 for A&E, €40 for a cocktail of drugs, €40 for a follow up trip to the GP and no wages for the week. Tricky times!

With this in mind, we took the decision to join VHi which is private medical cover. There are several companies to choose from here but I think VHi would be the most well known. The company I work for allowed me to join their company scheme which was a huge benefit as a company scheme takes ‘existing conditions’ into account. Had I joined just as an individual I would have had to wait five years for any melanoma treatments to be covered. I definitely didn’t have five years – I swear at this stage I could feel the damn lump growing by the hour (not to be too dramatic of course).

As you will have seen on my previous blogs, I needed an MRI, I needed it quickly and I was not prepared to go back to Tralee Hospital after the biopsy incident. The wait list at Cork University Hospital was several weeks which would have hindered my operation date further. I spoke to VHi for some advice – they were fantastic. They advised me that my policy covered me for certain procedures at private hospitals and that the Bon Secours Hospital in Tralee had an MRI service. A referral letter was sent to them and I was given an appointment within two days.

Private health care is a whole new world! So for starters, when I arrived to the reception area of the MRI Suite, only two other people were waiting and they were happily watching Escape to the Country on the tv in the extremely tidy waiting room. The magazines were from this year – no 2010 half torn Prima mags here. The receptionist greeted me with a smile and already knew my name – I felt I’d moved into the Twillight Zone. I’d barely got to the price of the mystery house when a nice young man came to collect me for my MRI – no listening out for your name being shouted up and down the corridor by a harassed nurse.

Since all of this has started, my veins have pretty much gone into hiding. They were never much for sharing blood – I was told not to come back to give blood a few years ago as I was a time-waster; but in the last three months they have taken on some kind of invisibility cloak. Katrina (guardian angel nurse) advised me to tell all medical people that I have fragile veins. I passed on this piece of information to the nice young man and he nodded but didn’t seem to take a huge amount of notice. I prepared myself for the usual seven attempts and a black & blue arm.

Once gowned up, I headed off to the MRI machine. I was only having a scan of my chest and abdomen so the rest of me was wrapped up in a warm blanket – honestly, I was born for private health care. After 45 minutes in the machine, the nice young man helped me out of the machine and said I could get dressed. I questioned him as to why I’d not had the dye put in. He explained that once I had told them I had fragile veins they didn’t want to put me under undue stress so they called a doctor to view the MRI as I was in the machine to ensure they could see what they needed without the dye! I was still in shock when they came back to me with a cup of tea and a CD of my MRI to take to CUH the following week. I tell you ladies & gentlemen, if you can go private and your morals & purse allow you to, do it.

Thankfully, the MRI results were all clear and the go ahead was given for the surgery. When I had started this, I had hoped to be over the surgery by the end of July but with the different scans and bank holidays, the surgery was booked for 12 August. I knew that in the big scheme of things, this had moved quickly, but I had hoped to go to a wedding in the UK on 23 August, this was now impossible.

My disappointment was huge and my blood pressure soared…..

The breath takingly beautiful Castle Cove. Spent the afternoon here trying to understand how life was changing so quickly

The weird world of PET scans

So, having never even heard of a PET scan before I obviously had a search about on the web but, truthfully, it really doesn’t prepare you for the reality of a scan that makes you radioactive.

So here is how it goes. You go to a separate building in the hospital – its tucked away at the back of the hospital. You don’t think to question this when you arrive. Having filled in the questionnaire, a nurse collects you and gives you a tour of the building. This is not for fun or to make you feel comfortable, this is because once the radioactive dye is in your system, you will be finding your way around the building yourself, no more human contact!

Once you have got changed into your gown, the nurse takes you into a small room with just a bed in it. She takes your blood sugar and explains that another nurse will be in with the special dye later. From your room there is a yellow line which you have to follow to the PET Scan machine. At that point the nurse runs off as quickly as possible – she doesn’t actually run, it just feels like it. Another nurse comes in with the dye. I have hopeless veins and normally sticking a needle in them is a bit of a drama – not in the PET scan building. The needle and the dye are in before we’ve been formally introduced.

You then have to lie in the little room, with the lights turned down low (but no music) for the next 45 minutes. A voice then comes over the speaker to ask you to follow the line to the scan room. The machine itself seems bigger and more ominous than the MRI or CT scan machines but I suspect this is because you are in the room alone.

When the scan is over, the detached voice asks you if you would like a cup of tea\chocolate biscuit\banana and sends you back to your room to get dressed. Once dressed, you follow a line to the ‘tea room’. This room has one chair and a small table. I had requested a cup of tea and a banana; they were waiting for me on the table.

Once you are ready to leave, you exit through a back door and that’s when you realise you’ve come out of the hospital with no human contact.

You are radioactive so no contact with pregnant ladies or young children. Huge disappointment to me that when I went to the toilet it didn’t glow green sadly and apparently I didn’t glow in the dark either.

The PET scan showed the cancer where expected but also gave a doubt about another area – my paraaortic lymph node (doesn’t everyone know what that is). This meant that whilst the PET scan was highly skilled, I needed to go back a step and have a standard MRI to check out this new possible problem.

More scans and tests before surgery…………..

Clouds gathering – not just on the beach

The Whirlwind of Appointments

So, my next appointments all moved across to Cork University Hospital. A friend told me that rather than CUH, this should really be CUHA – Cork University Hospital Actually! But then that would be the same friend who has always assured me that Cork is the real capital of Ireland….

Anyway, I met Professor Redmond and his team in the Orchid Centre in CUH. I cannot say enough good things about Prof Redmond and the team. I was so wound up about this meeting – I fully expected an unapproachable consultant telling me I’d be having chemo and not to be so vain – just to be grateful to be alive. To be fair, these are things I have said to myself, but I don’t want anyone else saying it to me.

What I got from Prof Redmond was incredible empathy and understanding. His team had located all of my records from 2004 and were able to see the surgeon’s notes which helped fill in any details I had forgotten. I particularly liked the moment he described me as ‘young & not over weight’ – from that point onwards I knew I loved him!

Prof Redmond explained that I would need a PET scan which is a very sophisticated (and expensive) scan of your whole body to ensure the cancer has not spread anywhere else. He also explained that whilst it was unusual for the melanoma to come back after fifteen years, it was not unheard of and the longest gap he had known was twenty years. He introduced me to his nurse, Katrina, who you will hear more of in every blog. She has been like a guardian angel from here on in.

He took me through what would happen next in terms of surgery. I would have a dissection of my lymph nodes and the lump would be removed. Because it is the same cancer that has moved elsewhere it is classed as Stage 3 Cancer. As it has already sneaked somewhere else, the important thing is to ensure it doesn’t worm it’s way into any other organs and this is where treatment comes in. I think I had been holding my breath for about 4 weeks at this stage and finally let myself breath when he said chemotherapy is not used for melanoma. I couldn’t bring myself to even look at my partner, Paul.

Prof Redmond explained that Immunotherapy would be the treatment after the surgery, rather than chemo. He advised there may be radiotherapy but this would be a decision made after the surgery.

The PET scan would be the next step and then onto surgery….

Our first Summer back in Ireland 2018 – the weather was amazing and still no Cancer worries