Cancer & Me 30 Years On (Chapter 9 – Hong Kong and Back to Reality)

It was 1989 and Paul had taken early retirement from his full-time teaching post at Liverpool, but had the opportunity to work there part-time for two days a week. I was still living with my parents, spending as much time as possible with Paul at the weekends.

After the aborted cone biopsy in May at my local hospital (they were also meant to remove a cyst but ‘didn’t have time’) I had started experiencing a heavy ache in my lower abdomen and I reported this to Dr James at one of my regular check-ups at Christies. Over the phone he discussed my case with the professor of gynaecology at St Mary’s Hospital, Manchester, but he didn’t want to take my case because of medical ethics – and especially as he knew the consultant who had attempted to do the earlier cone biopsy, so it was just left that I continued with the regular smears at my local hospital.

That year brought the demise of the new business my ex-husband had started and so one weekend our elder son who had been working for him, made 19 job applications. As is so often the case hardly anyone replied, but one application was successful – and that took him off to the Far East and he bought me an airline ticket to go and visit him early the following year. My younger son graduated and started work that involved short contracts in the Nigerian swamps and later the Libyan Desert.

I was finding life hectic and even more so with taking time off to go and visit my son. My friend Carol at college had discovered a lump in her breast and fell apart, refusing to tell most other friends and relying mainly on me for support. It was very stressful and after she had her mastectomy she wanted me to look after her, spending some nights and weekends with her and occasionally looking after her young daughter. There was so much to do and I felt I was going under. Fortunately my younger son was between contracts and helped me as much as he could and so did Paul.

1990 and off to Hong Kong I went – and Dorothea came too! It was a 12-hour flight and my son met us at the airport. He announced he was playing rugby that afternoon and we were to go and watch him! It was winter and we sat on the cold concrete steps trying to keep our eyes open. It seemed like a very long game! That evening there was a fancy dress party and ‘would we like to go?’ Dot and I are both party animals, but we resisted the temptation in favour of what we hoped would be two nice warm beds. Alas there is no central heating in Hong Kong so the room was far from warm and I had to irrigate in a freezing cold bathroom!

One of the Ladder Streets, Hong Kong

One of the Ladder Streets, Hong Kong

What an extraordinary time we had – walking around Hong Kong and taking buses, trams, trains and ferries, visiting all the tourist spots. We climbed up every flight of steps (or so it seemed – and they are everywhere), saw most of the temples, visited friends near the mainland border, went to Macau (even travelled in a rickshaw at one point) – and Dorothea shopped at every market! I was exhausted! That ache in my abdomen had been getting worse and whilst on holiday I became stress incontinent. Alarm bells were ringing but I said little.

A means of transport we didn't try!

A means of transport we didn’t try!  

Bamboo scaffolding

Bamboo scaffolding

The Ruins of St Paul's, Macau

The Ruins of St Paul’s, Macau

Paper funeral furniture

Paper funeral furniture

the border post near Fanling

the border post near Fanling

In April I had a check-up and smear as usual at my local hospital and reported the latest developments to the doctor. He said he would discuss the situation with my consultant and he may want to see me himself. It might be that the uterus was pressing on the bladder and I might need a hysterectomy, in which case I would be placed on the waiting list and it could be six months before admission.

Just a few days later during another check-up at Christies, I told Mr Schofield the story and he was not happy that I might have to wait so long if a hysterectomy proved necessary (he actually said he wished he had done that procedure at the same time as the AP resection). He phoned the professor of gynaecology at St Mary’s (the same person Dr James had spoken to) and arranged for me to see him the following day.

The prof was probably in his 60s, extraordinarily attractive and very likeable! He studied the notes from Christies and asked me about my symptoms. He paused for awhile and then said, ‘after all you have been through, my dear, is it not possible this is all in the mind?’ For a moment I was speechless, but after taking a deep breath and gathering myself together I said it might seem a possibility, but I most definitely was not imagining it! He examined me and did a cervical smear. He thought the incontinence was perhaps due to bladder problems and not the uterus, so he arranged for me to attend the Uro-dynamic Clinic the next day.

I had a cystoscopy and yet another undignified procedure that turned out to be – my bladder filled with water and then I was told to cough and jump up and down to see what happened. Yes, I was suffering from stress incontinence! The report would go to the professor and he would act accordingly.

I was admitted to St Mary’s at the end of June for my bladder repair and to have the cyst removed. Irrigation is always a problem in communal loos, but in St Mary’s it was awful. They only had a few toilets situated internally along one side of the ward, with little ventilation and the doors opening right onto the ward. Not only a problem for me, but also for the other patients who might have to wait an hour and a half for me to vacate a loo – and then not the most pleasant atmosphere to enter! Suddenly I was moved to a private room around the corner – with en-suite facilities. I never thought there would be advantages to having a colostomy!


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