Wimbledon has always been special to our family. I used to queue up as a teenager on its opening day to get an outside court ticket and have a gawp. Then in 2012, I was lucky enough to be a Gamesmaker there and had a brief experience of seeing how it all operated behind the scenes. Every year my parents, my sister and I enter the public ballot for tickets. We are usually lucky and normally one of us gets something. This year my sister hit the jackpot. She got a pair of Centre Court tickets, to the left of the umpire on the first Friday of the first week. Then my appointment with Mr Salivary Gland came through. When was it? Yep. The very same day as the Wimbledon tickets. Talk about Sod’s Law.
A decision had to be made. So, after a lot of faffing, my Dad and sister would come up to Manchester. My mum would go to Wimbledon with her tennis pal Joan, as a bit of distraction therapy. Premier Inns were booked, and alarm clocks set for an early start through the Peak District. The allotted day arrived, and we convened in the pub next to the Premier Inn in West Didsbury to discuss our plan of action.
The Christie is set in a nice suburb of Manchester. It’s quite hidden away as we discovered while walking amongst the bins, trying to find the main entrance. When we finally did, we walked down the longest corridor ever to Department No 1. There we were sent upstairs to a white, bright reception area with comfy chairs. Soon we were called through by a cheery nurse called Sandra. Sandra was great and said it was a good thing I had a support crew with me. She took my temperature and blood pressure with a musical blood pressure machine. She also took my weight and height. She left, and the wait began.
First to come in was Mr Salivary Glands registrar who was also a GP. He took the most detailed history of my cancer that I have ever given. It’s such a long story that I’ve grown used to editing it. Between the four of us, we gave him a comprehensive tale of woe. He disappeared to report it all to Mr Salivary Gland.
More waiting. And waiting. My Dad and my husband had just started debating what rugby position the GP/registrar might pay in, when in swept Mr Salivary Gland. He was young and very dapper. He spoke quickly and concisely. Even though he was talking about very technical issues, he worded it in such a way that we could all follow what was going on.
There were going to perform two tests on my tumour. In the first one they would send a sample of the tumour to Texas to test for certain genetic markers. If that came up trumps, there was a targeted drug I could take. However, the success rate of this was less than 10%. This was the Golden Ticket test.
The second test would take place in Manchester. As this was looking for more markers, the success rate of this was higher. The drug was a little less targeted but could do the job. Also, there was a chance that I could have the treatment in Nottingham rather than Manchester.
If neither test proved fruitful, there was a generic immunotherapy drug that I could have in Manchester. This was the suck and see option. However, Mr Salivary Gland seemed to think that the Manchester test option might be the one that would come up trumps.
The problem with genetic tests is that they take time. Both tests would take six weeks for the results to come through. We told him about the problems I was having eating and with my right eye, with the lid closing. He listened carefully and, on the hoof, came up with a solution.
As well as testing HER2 positive, my tumour was also receptive to androgens that are used in the treatment of prostate cancer. He would write to Nottingham and ask them to switch my treatment asap to androgens rather than Herceptin. He didn’t seem to think that this would be an issue and if it was, chemo was another option. I sighed. He smiled. He said he would strongly urge them to use the androgens and not chemo. I smiled.
I was an awful lot to take in but weirdly we all did. It was only when I was relaying this conversation to my husband’s mate, Dan, that I realised how much as a family, we had all learnt about cancer treatments.
Appointments were made. I would come back in three months’ time by when, we would know the results of the tests and how the androgen therapy was working. All I had to do now was make an appointment with my oncologist for a week on Tuesday to sort out the switch in treatment, that should be simple enough shouldn’t it?