Thursday 22nd March, 2012

Radiotherapy Looms - British Airways to the Rescue

After a relatively long period without any medical treatment other than the occasional paracetemol and laxatives, the reality that I am being treated for cancer came back in a big way.

It started on Monday 19th March with an appointment with an oncologist in Southampton. This appointment made me realise how well the unit in Basingstoke is organised. The oncology unit in Southampton uses the technique of giving a lot of people an appointment at the same time and seeing them over a relatively long period.

My appointment was at 11:00am. When we arrived, the waiting room was full to overflowing. We actually saw the oncologist just under 2 hours later.

When I actually saw the oncologist, a Dr. Bates, the appointment was pretty thorough. He confirmed the history of my treatment, examined me and finally confirmed the decision to give me "prophylactic radiotherapy" to attack any residual lymphoma cells in my pelvis.

Today, I returned to Southampton to prepare for and plan the treatment.

I had yet another CT scan to enable them to confirm that the tattoo marks that they made on 24th August 2011 were still correct for aiming the radiation and to measure me up for some kind of device to keep me still during the treatment.

I also got the detailed plan for treatment sessions, 15 sessions over a three week period starting on 12th April.

Good news: The treatment would be complete in time for our planned Alaska cruise in May.

Bad news: Treatment was scheduled for every day during The Open Group meeting in Cannes.

I was told in no uncertain terms, that going to Cannes for a week was out of the question. A week break in the treatment would affect the outcome and delaying treatment was also undesirsable.

However, they did agree that taking 1 day of treatment out would not cause a problem. So, the revised treatment plan shows treatment early in the morning on Tuesday 24th April (in time to get an early afternoon flight to Gatwick), no treatment on Wednesday 25th April and late afternoon treatment on Thursday 26th.

The next challenge was changing travel arrangements. There was no cover in my travel insurance for anything related to my lymphoma. I cannot think of spinning the radiotherapy treatment as unrelated.

I was expecting to have to buy new flights tickets. Financially that would not have been a disaster, because more than half of the original ticket prices was tax and that would be refunded, but I had taken advantage of a cheap upgrade option to business class and it didn't look as if that would be available for midweek flights.

But, I decided I would contact British Airways and explain the situation. To my surprise and delight, Dave, the agent from BA that I contacted was very understanding and explained that he did have some discretion in this kind of situation and he was able to change the dates and times of our unchangeable and non-refundable tickets without charge and was even able to confirm the upgrade.

Sue was undecided about trying to go to Cannes for just 2 nights and we decided that if the medical staff were in any way resistant we would not go. Given the ease of making the changes to treatment schedule and flights, we took that as good indication that we should go.

As a postscript, I received a copy of a letter from the oncologist to my GP.

For the first time, I got written confirmation of how bad my original diagnosis was, because there was reference to palliative car.

However, I also got written confirmation of my miraculous recovery.

"Excellent response to six cycle of R-CHOP chemotherapy, with no residual avidity (cell growth) in the liver or bowel"

"On examination he looks extremely well with a performance status of 0". I found two different scaled for this on Wikipedia. On one, 0 means dead; on the other (which I much prefer), 0 means free of symptoms.

"I have explained that there is a chance that he has already been cured of his disease with the chemotherapy, but even with radiotherapy, it is possible that the disease will return".