So, I’m going through my bookshelves and happen upon a book I contributed to a very, very long time ago.
Like 11 years ago long ago.
It was called The Best Day of My Life and was compiled by Giles Vickers Jones and Humfrey Hunter, who asked loads of celebrities and other people to talk about a significant day of their lives. I was in good company: James Corden, Alan Carr and tons of others spilled their secrets.
Mine was the day I found out I didn’t have a brain tumour.
It’s quite an amusing story (yes really) so thought I’d share it with you.
THE BEST DAY OF MY LIFE
Nothing like being cleared of a life threatening disease to count as one of the best days of your life. Even the ponderous question of how to celebrate such an event was taken care of. An hour after I’d heard the good news, I was due to film a pilot for a TV show. We filmed the show then got mindlessly sloshed at the Electric in Notting Hill, joyous there were still brain cells left to be annihilated by alcohol. Nothing new there then……..but I’m skipping ahead of myself.
This particular dodge with death (and I’ve had a few – nearly fell off a cliff once and had some cancer scares) was quite unexpected. As I suppose most are.
“Sorry I must have misheard you. Can you spell it?” I said to my doctor. She has a glorious French accent and I have the attention span of a two-year-old on the phone, so it does make for confusion. Even ‘I’m afraid you need your left leg removed’ and ‘Your leg is fine’ sound remarkably similar.
“B. R. A. I. N. T. U. M. O. U. R’, said Alix, patiently spelling out each letter. Even then I remember thinking, Damnit, why don’t I sound like that.
‘Oh,” I replied. ‘That’s what I thought you said’.
‘Don’t worry, please, ‘ she said. ‘I’ve got you an appointment with a specialist on Tuesday – it’s late Thursday and everywhere is shut now for Easter or I’d take you today. But if it is a brain tumour, they’ll just remove it and everything will be fine.’
‘What’s the likelihood it is one….of those things?’
‘Well, it’s the most likely cause of the result of the test.’
‘Like how likely’.
‘Um. Ninety percent? But even it is, you will be fine. Honestly.’
‘OK,” I said, rather cheerily actually – that’s how reassuring my doctor is – hung up the phone and went back to typing my column.
Two minutes later I stopped and thought, Holy shit! I’ve just been told I have a 90% chance of having a brain tumour. So I picked up the phone and called my agent who also happens to be one of my best friends.
‘Apparently I’ve got a brain tumour,’ I said calmly.
‘Er, what, why? How?’ said Vicki.
I’d been to the doctor the week before to get some blood tests because I wasn’t feeling quite right. Hormone tests were part of this and one of them revealed that my pituitary gland in my brain wasn’t working. The gland is supposed to secrete a certain hormone which is crucial to all sorts of body functioning but mine wasn’t even squeezing out the odd drop. In 90% of cases, the cause for this is because something is pressing on the gland. That something being a brain tumour. Or to be more precise, a pituitary adenoma.
‘But what are the symptoms if your pituitary gland isn’t working?” Vicki asked, sensibly. ‘Have you had headaches? Blurred vision? Nausea?”.
“No. The symptoms are loss of an appetite for food. And no interest in sex’.
And then we both giggled.
“Bloody hell!, she said. ‘If this is you with a decreased libido and appetite you’re going to turn into an obese nymphomaniac when they fix it.’
I felt a sudden sense of relief.
They’ve mixed up the blood tests, I thought. It’s not me. It couldn’t be. I’m a greedy, randy little bugger.
‘You’ll be fine, really,’ she said. ‘I’ll come with you to the doctor on Tuesday though’.
‘Thanks Vic,” I said. Bless her.
Having decided the test clinic had mixed up blood samples and I definitely didn’t have some thing growing in my brain, I decided to milk what was, after all, a potentially brilliant way to get lots of attention.
‘SUSPECTED BRAIN TUMOUR – POSSIBLY DYING’, I typed as the heading for my email. That should get them sitting up and paying attention.
‘Apparently I have a brain tumour because something is pressing on my pituitary gland and stopping it from functioning, The symptoms are not wanting to eat or have sex. (Yes really). Clearly they’ve mixed up the blood tests but because it’s the Thursday before Easter I can’t find out for sure until Tuesday. Which means four days of wondering whether I’m going to die and what scarves to wear because they’ve bound to shave my head. Anyway, nothing to worry about. Apparently brain tumours are incredibly common. Who would have thought, eh? I didn’t know that, did you?’
I sent it to all my friends and family, then sat back waiting to see what everyone would do. I was quite pleased with myself actually. I mean, most people would be in a lather of panic after hearing something like that. Not me. I just thought it was funny.
Until the next day. Easter Friday was spent fielding off constant, frantic, panicked phone calls. Every time I’d sit down to tuck into my Cadbury’s by-God-they’re-delicious Easter egg, some bastard would ring me. Which was terribly flattering and made me feel extremely loved and protected. But I quite like sucking rather than crunching chocolate and this was seriously interfering with my egg consumption. Besides, no-one was seeing the funny side. In fact, they were all so worried, suddenly I was.
Then I did the absolute worse thing anyone diagnosed with anything serious should ever do: I looked it up on the internet. The first thing I saw was the word ‘blindness’. “…….the tumour can press on the optic nerves causing loss of peripheral vision and, in some cases, blindness.”
Then I read that removing the tumour is difficult because it’s near the optic nerves. Fucketyfuck. One slip up and I’m blind.
That night I woke up in the middle of the night, sweating and terrified because I dreamt they’d done the surgery and told me they couldn’t save my vision. I sat bolt upright in bed, opened my eyes and (of course) it was pitch black and I couldn’t see anything and for one awful, heart-breaking, heart-stopping moment I thought it was real. And, bugger it, I was all alone.
My appointment was for 10am Tuesday and I was there at 9.30am, ever so quietly going slightly round the bend. At precisely 10am, I got taken into the endocrinologist, a no-nonsense Eastern European woman, bristling with efficiency, hands steepled in front of her ample bosom. She wasn’t smiling though, which had to mean she suspected she was going to have to give me bad news. Vicki, thank God, was outside in the waiting room. The specialist nodded sagely when I told her what the doctor had said, read the reports, then proceeded to ask a copious amount of questions. When did my periods start? Did I eat healthily? How long had I smoked for? Blah blah bloody blah and all the time inside I’m screaming, ‘For God’s sake woman, get to the point. Do I have a sodding brain tumour or not!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!’. After half an hour, I said as much. ‘Look, I’m sure it’s terribly important whether I eat broccoli or not but I’m really worried here. Do you think I have a tumour or not’. She pulled herself up, fixed me with a withering, icy gaze and said, ‘That’s what I am trying to find out. Let me do my job’. Another 30 minutes later, she sat back to deliver the news. ‘Lucky for you,’ she said (a bit sniffily I thought, I hadn’t kicked up that much of a fuss!), ‘I have seen a case like yours before. I can see why your doctor thought you had a brain tumour and most doctors would be sending you straight for an MRI.’
Pause. Jesus Christ woman, this isn’t the X-Factor.
‘But I’m sure you don’t have one’.
Turns out, a combination of the type of contraceptive Pill I was on, my particular brain chemistry, a reaction to Zyban (a drug I’d be taking to help give up smoking) and (ewwww) my age, were responsible for the hormone’s lack of secretion. Nothing pressing on it, after all. Most particularly, nothing beginning with B and T.
The whole appointment took over an hour and I emerged to see Vicki looking so ashen-faced, I felt like bustling her through the door to get a check-up herself. We hugged and did a silly little jump up and down thing that teenage girls always do in movies and you think to yourself, ‘Oh puhleeze, no-one does that!’. Then we had champagne and then, I guess, life went on. I went home to write a book I was working on, went out with a friend to celebrate, drank too much, woke up with a hangover and went to the gym. Just as before.
Except for one thing. There’s a saying that’s always struck me as brilliantly perceptive: ‘Good health is a crown that only the sick can see’. Or perhaps also those who thought they might become sick. Because I am now acutely aware of what’s perching on my head.