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The other side of the sheets, part three: Sunday morning

I spent the night in EAU.

At 2am I had an ultrasound; such was my state that I thought nothing unusual in this.

At 9am on Sunday morning the consultant surgeon and his team arrived.

‘Do you think it could be stress?’ I asked.

‘Oh no, it’s much more serious than that; you’ve got cancer,’ he replied, inviting me to call my partner.

‘Well, he tells it like it is,’ remarked the patient opposite; curtains are not soundproof.

I don’t know whether he told all patients in that way - I suspect so, but it suited me. It’s hard even now to say how I felt. I took the news calmly - it certainly explained the symptoms, though I was surprised - I’d had a colonoscopy less than a year before following a rectal bleed with a negative result.

My concerns were mundane and immediate: I wouldn’t be back at work the next day. Being heavily involved locally in the commissioning of the national bowel cancer screening programme, I knew quite a lot about bowel cancer. I’d prepared and delivered presentations to GPs and district nursing teams many times about the incidence and risks. I didn’t need telling about the survival rates for Dukes’ stage IV, which was what I turned out to have.

When Nick arrived the surgeon reappeared. ‘It’s causing an obstruction and if I don’t remove it within the next day or so your bowel will rupture’ he told us, going on to say that the risk of death during surgery was about 1%.

‘And if you don’t operate?’ we asked.

‘100%’ was the reply.

We chose the op. We asked many questions which soon became irrelevant even to us: would I be able to lead another walking holiday in the Alps next summer? We were told quite reasonably that his job was to try and save my life immediately, that I would probably have a stoma - which may be reversible, and that I’d be in hospital for eight to ten days.

I’d had surgery in the past - more than my fair share I sometimes think. Above all I always fear the anaesthetic, the feeling of being totally out of control, totally dependent on others, and the fear of not waking up. My family - apart from Nick all over 100 miles away - insisted by phone that I’d be fine, but I would have liked to talk about the alternative while I had the chance.

Kate Lloyd is a qualified RGN and Health Visitor, currently employed as a Senior Public Health Nurse.

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