Travel broadens the mind

They say that travel broadens the mind,
Til you can’t get your head out of doors

Elvis Costello

Over the last few days I’ve had a battery of tests:

  • Something called a PET scan, which the technician described to me as being like an opinion-poll. It doesn’t give final results, but it’s an indication of the way things are going. Looks like we might be able to win, but it’s going to be close. More campaigning needed, and probably a better economic policy (i.e. I’m not working and can’t pay my bills… but that’s a story for another post, I think).
  • An ultrasound of my kidney, which gave me the first ghostly view of the horror story growing inside me.
  • A CT scan, which gives the surgeons a millimeter-accurate 3D view of the tumour so they can decide the best way to go at it.

For a few days they’d been talking about keyhole surgery: a 2cm incision in the lower belly, then they put a pipe into my abdomen and inflate it like a balloon to give them more room to work. Then they go in with instruments like Satan’s Long Spoon, and scoop out the kidney in bits.

But it looks like that option is off the table, because the CT scan didn’t look good. The surgeon came to see me to tell me all about it. He’s a natty little man aged about 30, with the kind of tan you only get on the very finest ski slopes, and a suit with a pinstripe so vivid it would make a banker’s eyes bleed. I couldn’t see his red braces, but I know they were there. The knot of his tie was as wide as his neck. He had metal taps on the heels of his shoes so everyone would know he was striding proprietarily down the ward.

He put me in mind of a premiership footballer, until he spoke. Then he put me in mind of minor royalty. Which around here, he probably is.

He looked at me as if he thought getting cancer was a sign of weakness, and I should pull myself together. Then he announced that he wasn’t going to do the operation himself, because he’s going to be in Gstaad tacking a particularly tricky black diamond piste. He didn’t say that last part, but his demeanour did.

Instead it’s going to be done by a colleague, but the colleague is “brilliant too”. I must have looked like I’d spotted his gigantic ego rampaging around the room, because he gave a self-depricating little smirk and tried to brush it off. I don’t care how big his ego is, frankly, as long as he’s a wizard with a knife.

First he told me about the tumour. It’s big. Very big. They’re all poets round here. I asked for more detail and assured him I was capable of understanding big words, and wasn’t going to cry.

The tumour has taken over one side of my right kidney, and has swelled up to a very large size. It’s 17cm across (a healthy kidney is only 9-12 cm, so that’s a pretty big tumour). As far as they can see it hasn’t breached the kidney or spread, which is a good sign.

And it seems to be a slow-growing cancer. Fast-growing ones tend to push the skin out and be clearly visible from outside. Slower ones tend to ease other organs out of the way and remain hidden until, like mine, they grow so big they tear open the organ they’re growing inside, and cause a bleed.

Mine seems to have crushed my right lung to about 50% of its normal size. The lung will re-inflate after the surgery, and I’ll probably feel high on oxygen for a few weeks – it’s likely the cancer has taken 5 or even 10 years to get this big, and for much of that time I’ve had oxygen depravation. How odd.

The bad news is that cancers which start in the kidney don’t respond to chemotherapy or radiotherapy. So if the surgery doesn’t work there’s little else they can do.

So they made the decision to give themselves the best chance of a successful surgery, and that means opening me up rather than keyhole. The surgeon traced a little line from the bottom of my sternum down to my hip, which I estimated was around 10 or 12 inches. Big hole.

Surgery is scheduled for 5th April. Good. I’ll be glad to get the malignant little fucker out of me.