When my name is called, I breeze in and am greeted by two smiling faces; a consultant, about my age, and a trainee doctor. I present my arm fully expecting to be told off for wasting valuable NHS time and sent packing with a tube of cream.
‘Ah,’ says the consultant to his trainee, ‘what do you notice about this lesion?’
Lesion, I think, is not a word I like, but hey-ho, this is doctor-to-doctor talk, so I listen to an explanation of stretching the skin and distinctive pearly edges, still waiting to be sent home in the next breath.
‘So,’ the consultant tells me, ‘what you have is a basal cell carcinoma, and I’d like to do something about it straight away.’
In that split-second a small part of brain screams ‘F*CK!’ and another prompts me to tell the consultant that he’s clearly made a mistake as I’ve already decided it’s eczema.
‘Well,’ says the trainee, as the consultant goes off to make preparations ‘nothing like finding out you’ve got cancer, is there?’
‘No,’ I agree. We smile awkwardly at each other then settle in to a cheery conversation about ‘Junior Doctors’ until the consultant returns and explains - very thoroughly – what the options are for me. When we agree on a surgical procedure, I ask if Tom can be with me. There’s no time to spare, so I rush to get Tom from the waiting room (remember, this was supposed to be a 30 sec job so no need for him to get up from his seat to come in with me!). I don’t even have time to give him a proper explanation so blunder in with, ‘Come quickly, it’s cancer.' Not exactly the greatest news to give your loved one, especially when he’s well and truly been through the cancer wringer himself.
In a mini-operating theatre, the next twenty-five minutes or so disappear in a blur of lignocaine, cutting and stitching. Everyone in the room treats me with immense kindness and there’s plenty of amusing conversation to distract me, including a brief comical moment when the consultant and I discover that he attended a boys’public school in the same town and at roughly the same time that I went to a girls’ grammar school. We take a quick glimpse at each other before both silently deciding that we haven’t met in a former life!
And then it’s over. I’ve been told that I’ll have a noticeable scar, but it’s still a bit of shock to look down before the dressing is applied to see a hollow in my arm. In the great scheme of things, it’s nothing, but it suddenly brings home to me the seriousness of what’s happened. Back in the car with Tom, I feel slightly freaked out – largely at the speed of events and because I never saw this coming!
I did no research about basal cell carcinomas before the appointment and don’t intend to now, since I’m very happy with the advice and information the consultant gave me, but there are two lessons I’ve learned which others might find useful:
(1) If you’re fair-skinned, take any suspicious patches of skin seriously!
(2) If your GP gives you cream to try and tells you to come back in two weeks if it hasn’t cleared up, don’t leave it another year!
I’d like to say a huge thank you to the consultant and his team at Glangwili General Hospital for their kindness and care and for acting so promptly therefore sparing me weeks of further worry. And, as always, to Tom for being there.