Thanks NHS! I couldn’t have survived cancer without you
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Thanks NHS: but we never get to say it
When I was first diagnosed with cancer, the tests, the scans, the consultations, they were seemingly endless. Desperate to try to find a way to make sense of it all, I asked a doctor friend of mine to give me an idea of what everything would cost, if I had to pay.
I should explain.
I live and work in the UK. I’ve only ever lived and worked in the UK and, apart from a holiday stint of bronchitis in Bulgaria and a nervous ultrasound in Portugal, all my healthcare has been delivered by the UK National Health Service. This means that every month, taxes come out of my wages (20% of what I earn over about £12,000) for things like education, roads, rail, housing and, yes, healthcare. And I never really think about it past that. Only, if I didn’t work, I would have exactly the same access to healthcare.
The costs of my treatment rolled in (up to £800 just for the drugs during one chemotherapy session (I had 18 sessions), £100 for my anti-sickness medication each session, £800 for my MRIs (I think I had two amid some other scans), and I soon lost track of all my treatment. I lost track of just how many consultations I’d had, just which doctors had seen me at which emergency appointments, the sheer number of tests, -grams, -graphs and traces.
I can’t imagine what it must be like to not be able to lose track because you need to know if you can afford this treatment. Or worse, to be handed a bill during it. A bill that would truly put a value on saving your life.
The NHS has its detractors, yes. And is it perfect? No. The NHS turned 70 in 2018, and we know that it needs more money than is currently promised, just to keep up, never mind improve.
Nonetheless, I’m part of a generation who can only ever remember having it, and I just wanted to say, for the record, I am so, so grateful for it.
Thanks to the NHS
I once wrote a love letter to my nurses, but in the last year, it’s my surgeons who have rebuilt me. My surgeons who have hugged me in deserted waiting rooms after hours. My surgeons who have wryly told me to “not come back too soon” as they walk me out for the 4th time in a month.
As I leave, I always say “thank you,” but it’s packaged up in “thanks, bye” when it should be Thank You. Thank you for all you have done, and all you will do. But you don’t say that. It’s just too awkward (and there’s usually a waiting room crammed full of bored people waiting their turn who don’t want to hear my emotional outpourings because their appointment is 45 minutes late).
So, in place of that conversation, that I promise myself, I will one day have… For the surgeons, receptionists, nurses, assistants and the myriad people who keep my surgical and oncology teams running…
You took me apart. And then rebuilt me. And rebuilt me. And then, when it all went wrong again, you rebuilt me for a third and a fourth time.
I thought about buying you all chocolates, but you probably get enough of those. I thought about getting Mr. H a bow tie, but I’m sure he has enough of those. There’s really not a lot I could do or buy that could demonstrate what I feel, so I just mutter “Thank You” and leave, when I should be writing it on walls and sending cheques. I am so grateful. But I also know I am lucky.
I am incredibly unlucky to have needed your help in the first place. Statistically, I’m practically anomalous to have needed it five times. But I am immeasurably lucky to have had you all to rely on when I have truly needed your help.
I have had the worst days of my life in your care. I have heard the worst words I can remember. But, when I come to you, I don’t feel sad, and I don’t feel scared. I feel really, really safe.
I hope you will never ever, ever know what it’s like to be in a similar waiting room, theatre or clinic. But, if one day you are, my wish would be for you to receive the sort of care that I have had.
To be comforted when you need it, but given solutions when that’s better. To be allowed to talk but told to stop when that’s better. To be held together, but allowed to fall apart when that’s better.
I could go on, but it’s only going to make us all uncomfortable.
It’s hard to explain the gratitude I feel. Just this week I called the team behind my clinical trial to let them know I would be seeing my GP for a lingering chest infection. 10 minutes later I had an appointment with the specialist team to see if I needed a prescription for antibiotics. 15 minutes later I was in the clinic. Of course, I had to wait a little while to be seen, and I’m lucky that I live and work near to my hospital, but this sort of care is not something you can buy. It is grown and nurtured and loved and bestowed upon me by people who love their job: inherent carers.
I have been rebuilt and reborn in the wards, clinics, and theatres of the NHS. And I love it like family. Like any family member, I can bitch and moan about them when their imperfections frustrate me, but you better not come for them.
I’ve got their back like they’ve had my front.
Lauren Tedaldi, PhD
Lauren Tedaldi writes about her life as a young(ish) mother, with cancer, a job, and increasingly unruly hair.