If I was crumpled on the desert sand dying of dehydration and a stranger appeared offering water I’d weep with relief and pleasure. Starving on an adrift ship or freezing to death on an Antarctic ice flow - the offer of food or warmth would see hope and joy replace emotions of distraught resignation.
So, it is with positive attitude that I travelled to the Beatson for high doses of targeted radiation to the tumours growing in my brain. Anger would be the right emotion if there was treatment available that I could not afford. Fear, if there was no treatment that could be offered. But I’ve thought long about living with terminal cancer and how I should behave during this last lap of life. Brave faced but quivering inside for the sake of pride and for those close to me? Tearful and terrified because life is going to end and I don’t want it to? I decide on neither of those.
Treatments are improving and survival rates are rocketing for many cancers. Terminal removes the U-turn possibility but with new treatments it can still mean months or even years of life that just a few years ago wouldn’t be possible. And that’s where I am. I’ve already had 18 months beyond a terminal lung cancer diagnosis. Now it has attacked my brain.
Within hours of the scan result, doctors were calculating the best treatment available to halt the tumour growth and keep me alive longer. If I lived in an extremely poor country with no advanced medical infrastructure there wouldn’t even be a diagnosis … my cancer would have accelerated and I’d have been dead a while ago already.
If I lived in the USA I’d need to be rich enough to have a gold-plated health insurance policy.
The cost of chemotherapy every three weeks for a year and eye-wateringly expensive immunotherapy would have topped £200,000 already and then add the cost of complex pneumonectomy surgery and a catalogue of emergency interventions, hospital stays, tests and drugs.
My Dad died before he got a penny of his hard-earned State pension. I was always felt he was cheated. I was determined I’d get mine but the odds aren’t great …I’m 63 now and the pension age for me is 66. But I’ve not been cheated. It’s not about money anymore – it probably never was. No-one is counting the cost of treating me except me it seems. The NHS is just doing what it does. Unquestioningly doing the very best it can for me.
I’m still here and might be for a while yet because I am a citizen of this Great Britain where the NHS is free at the point of care for everyone – rich or poor, old or young … terminal or curable.
Ally McLaws is a journalist and former Director of Communications with NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde.
His newspaper column "Living with cancer in a pandemic" is published weekly in The Herald on Sunday. Back copies of his columns can be read on his website (under the charity section at www.mclawsconsultancy.com
Follow Ally on Twitter @allymclaws
You can also read Ally's recent Beatson blog focus on his relationship with his wife Laura here.
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