1 August 2012 – The Relapse (Cancer and Me 17)

31st July 2015 0 By Andy Burrows

Just over two years after the ‘all clear’, just over one year since returning to work, came a chapter I hoped I wouldn’t have to write.

Even after I had been given the news of ‘complete remission’ I was concerned about some residual discomfort in my gut. After several investigations and conversations with doctors, which I won’t bore you with, I eventually stopped worrying and stopped taking the acid inhibitor pills I had been taking. The discomfort remained in the background, but it didn’t bother me. At first we’d been worrying about a relapse, but it didn’t really get worse and investigations found nothing of concern. So I resolved to simply accept it as a mild lingering scar of the events of 2009/10.

I saw my haematology consultant for a routine check up in June 2012, and she said I was looking so well that they would only see me every 6 months from then on.

But a couple of months later my abdominal discomfort returned a bit stronger than before. It also felt fairly similar to the discomfort I had had in December 2009. At first I was convinced it was just constipation. The first bout cleared up, just about, and I thought I’d been right. But then it came back again just before we were due to go on holiday to Egypt. And when it didn’t clear up quickly I thought I’d better see the doctor. That is to say, Heidi thought I’d better see the doctor. I thought it would be embarrassing, because they’d just tell me to stop worrying and being so silly.

As it turned out, the GP didn’t take that attitude at all. With no appointments available, the duty doctor phoned me and asked about the symptoms. I explained to him that it felt very similar to December 2009. I also told him that we were due to fly to Sharm El Sheik for two weeks the following day, so I just wanted to make sure I was ok before going all that way. He told me to come and see him and he’d have a look. It was a more sympathetic response than I’d been expecting. I’m used to GPs, especially this particular one, being fairly dismissive. And this was the same guy that I’d seen on that snowy day – 22nd December 2009 (perhaps that was the reason)!!

I’d just got arrived in the office, so I had to drive all the way back from Southampton to Basingstoke to see him. He sent me up to the hospital (fortunately only 5 minutes walk from our house) to get blood tests, but warned that if they did show anything abnormal then he would advise against travelling abroad. I had half a mind to go back to the office as well, but it felt like too much hassle by that stage, and I didn’t know when the results would be ready.

So we paced around the house trying to be busy waiting for the call with the results. We couldn’t decide whether to pack or not, so we got the suitcases out and wrote lists.

By 4:30pm I hadn’t heard anything, so I phoned the surgery, and was told that the results were not back and the pathology lab only worked until 4pm. Heidi didn’t believe them, so she phoned the hospital and spoke to someone in the lab, who said that the results had been reported! I phoned the surgery again, who again said that they couldn’t see the results on the system, but said they’d speak with the doctor and get him to call.

And then the call came, about 5pm – “the results have come back abnormal. Please could you come up to the surgery?” My heart sank.

I went to see the doctor. He said the CRP (inflammatory markers) and amylase results were very abnormal – consistent with pancreatitis. He had already spoken with one of my haematology consultants and arranged for an appointment for me to see him at the hospital the following day at 9am. He said he had to advise me not to travel to Egypt, and he asked about travel insurance. He said he would do whatever necessary to help make sure that we got the travel insurance claim paid.

Breaking the news to Heidi and the kids was awful. There was no time to think. Ideally I would have gone to see the haematologist, had the other tests and waited for the results before telling anyone. But I had to cancel the holiday. I had to stop everyone from packing. The kids were devastated. There were mixed emotions and tears. Part of it was the sheer let down that we could not go on the fantastic holiday that we’d been looking forward to for months. And then there was guilt for feeling disappointed about that when they felt they should have been more bothered about my possible illness. Then there was fear that the cancer may have returned and the fear that I was going to have to go and stay in hospital for 2 months again.

And it was too late to stop my mum and dad from coming down from Preston to house sit. They were planning to stay in a hotel that night and then come over to stay in our house for 2 weeks while we were away. So when they turned up I had to tell them that we weren’t going as well.

I was so fed up with the fact that I’d caused such upset and wrecked our holiday plans. You’ll know if you’ve read this far that I don’t like to worry about the things that might happen. I prefer to wait until news is confirmed before thinking through the implications. So to have to take such drastic action and cause such anxiety, based on something that may or may not be happening, was not natural for me. And it led to an almost unreal feeling throughout the following few weeks.

The haematologist could only say that I definitely had mild pancreatitis, but couldn’t tell what was causing it. He did look concerned, though – perhaps even a bit disappointed at the prospect that I may be having a relapse. And I was booked in for an urgent CT scan, but the soonest they could do that was the following week.

So I had the CT scan and had to wait a week for the results.