The longest two weeks of my life
It begins like that dream we’ve all had at some point or another: all is well and then, out of the blue, you are ushered into a doctor’s room and you are told, with a face that isn’t grave enough for the occasion, that it’s not good news: you probably have cancer.
But that was just the start of the weirdest, longest two weeks of my life.
I was in Thailand enjoying a sunny winter as I always do. Life was good, ticking along in a haze of work, beach days, group dinners, Thai massages and Muay Thai sessions. In hindsight, I had been feeling quite tired, more than usual, and I had mentioned a few times I hadn’t “gotten into my groove”, but at the time I put it down to having worked too hard and, you’ll laugh at this, at being lovesick (not lovesick in the sense of post-breakup, but literally being sick for the lack of romantic love in my life). I had no worries at all.
Thailand has always had a great reputation in Asia for top notch medical facilities and care, and since I needed to have an echocardiogram anyway, I thought why not combine it with a full body annual health check? I’d never had one of those, usually too expensive for the likes of me. So off I went to Phuket, taking the opportunity to enjoy some city life at the same time.
The first morning I went to the big hospital, and I was impressed at the whole thing. They even gave me a discount as there was a procedure not recommended yet for my age. So I had my blood taken, x-rays, a bone density scan, a full abdomen scan, a gynaecological check-up and so on and so forth. At the end of the day, I sat down with the doctor on duty who went through the results with me. There were two things to note: a cyst in my ovaries (which later turned out to be small and not significant) and a cyst in my liver. This last one was more worrying, so they suggested I see a specialist straight away, to which I agreed. An appointment was made for the next day.
Off I went, to the cinema (by the way, Black Panther was ace). I was not overly worried. I had had Hepatitis A about 2-3 years prior and thought it may be something related to that. I slept like a rock.
The next day, the Friday, started out badly. First the ATM machine did not give me the money I withdrew (I managed to get it back later) and then I went to extend my Thai visa but I got turned back because I was wearing vest sleeves (apparently this is not allowed in Phuket…!) and I almost lost it. I was feeling very vulnerable, tired. I decided to leave the visa extension for another time, little did I know it was kind of a message from the universe.
Finally, I went for my consultation. I had various friends who’d asked whether I wanted company, and I naively brushed these offers aside. Anyway, the doctor asked lots of questions and then sent me for a CT scan with contrast dye. I’d had one of these before so I was not overly worried. It took a while but eventually I was ushered back into his room. It was just him and a nurse. I sat down and all he said was “It’s not good news”. He then showed me the CT scan, there was something clearly visible there in my liver, and he explained that due to its ill-defined borders the indication was it was a malignant tumour. CANCER. (But note that he did not say the C-word, and actually no one ever uttered this word in my presence throughout). I struggled to comprehend. I started nodding, as I could not think of anything else, then the tears came. And the two of them were not prepared for this, so they rushed around getting some tissues for me. The doctor concluded by saying I needed to get an MRI and that his advice was I return to my country immediately.
I will not go into detail about what happened afterwards. Somehow I managed to return to my hotel and, once I was inside, I let myself be taken over by a primal emotion, a mix of shock, fear and just utter bafflement. Surprisingly quickly (at least I think) I started repeating a mantra: “I will master my emotions. I will master my emotions” through gulps and sobs. Slowly I got myself back together. I called my siblings who, to their eternal credit, were super supportive and helpful without cracking under pressure. I was hesitant, but they convinced me to fly back to Italy to see a specialist. That was Friday 23rd March.
By Tuesday 27th, I was in Rome and booked in to see a liver specialist. The specialist confirmed the initial diagnosis and put it down, likely, to the use of hormonal oral contraceptives (thanks for punishing us well behaved, responsible people, universe!), and said it needed removing, whether it was benign or malignant. After surgery, no other treatments would be necessary and, in his words “this is compatible with life”. The process for hospital admission was started and he sent me for an MRI scan, just to have complete imaging and confirm the diagnosis.
I will not mention the many phone calls, messages and conversations I had with endless people in the meantime. I truly and utterly felt the love, but many times I also felt overwhelmed at kind of needing to process other people’s anxieties (and my family is Anxiety central), so I put some distance and didn’t go out, didn’t see people. I also needed to arrange time off with my clients, without actually knowing when or how long I would be out of action. My clients I must say were amazing, very supportive and helpful from the get go. I really felt valued and appreciated.
On Wednesday 4th April I had the now famous MRI. It is done in two stages, in the first one they inject a dye, and then you come back an hour later to see how your liver has dealt with the dye. At the end of the first stage, the radiologist called me into his office and started asking me lots of questions, which made me suspicious. Then he said “I don’t think this is an oncological matter”. My ears pricked at this, but I tried to still my heart. Hope like this can be painful. He sent me off for the hour.
When I came back for the second stage, he pulled me aside into another room and gave me an impromptu scan. And he showed me what he was seeing. Not the irregular but unmistakeable mass we could see from the CT scan, rather something very different. If I had to describe it, I would liken it to a string of sausages. But I also have extremely poor drawing skills, so here is a drawing I made to show my brother in law what I saw (I know, it’s pathetic!).
The radiologist called a handful of his colleagues to come and take a look, and so it became a little bit of a circus. They were discussing and talking, I did not understand most of it, then they told me “OK, you can go. Thank you for letting us have some fun”! The radiologist concluded by saying that it looked more like a parasite. After this he sent me off and told me to go see the doctor on Friday (two days later).
I then spent Thursday trying not to get my hopes up and going through the battery of tests needed before an operation. Blood tests, x-rays, ECG etc etc. And at every station, the person in front of me was holding a piece of paper that said, black on white, DIAGNOSIS: HEPATOCELLULAR CARCINOMA. There it was, I could no longer deny this is what we were talking about. But what the radiologist had said the day before kept popping up in my head. I really tried my best to keep my hopes to a minimum, but I am such an optimist!
So finally, today came, Friday 6th April. Mum and I got up at the crack of dawn and went to the hospital. We ended up waiting 3.5 hours (I will not linger on the status of many of the healthcare facilities in Italy, or I’ll get angry, or on the bureaucratic shit one has to go through with, especially if sick/unwell, it is absolutely rubbish), and finally the doctor saw me. He was smiling, and this already told me what I hoped: it is NOT CANCER. I noted that he finally, for the first time, actually used the C-word in front of me. But yes, IT IS NOT CANCER (I still need to type it and scream it to believe it). He and the radiologists had to have a meeting about me as no one had seen anything like this before. They suspect it is a parasite – and they’ve all already decided I must have picked it up in one of my many travels – so next week I will be seeing a different specialist to identify exactly what it is and what to do about it.
So I went from cancer to parasite in two weeks. Not bad, huh?
Once again, for the third time in my life, I baffle medical experts. I guess I need to get used to this.
I still don’t know what this means, what it is exactly, what I need to do, but the outlook now is completely different to two weeks ago, and I could not be happier.
I’m in shock, and it might take me a while to get out of that. All I can say is, yes, my life does sometimes seem like a movie, yes, I am a lucky bastard, and no, I will not stop travelling to weird destinations, so please don’t ask 🙂
Big PS: it is at times such as these that I am reminded yet again (as if I needed to be!) that I am loved and cherished, and that I have a great family and super amzing, awesome friends. Thanks to everyone who sent me their thoughts, who entertained me, and also those who stayed back giving me my time and privacy. I really appreciate this!
PPS: now I need a holiday hahahahaha