The Circle Line

Diagnosis: Part 2

"I really hope I feel good about this chap, he’s going to be operating on my brain..."


I remember the letter coming through from my neurologist with the details of the neurosurgeon who was going to operate on me in the coming weeks. He had said that given my circumstances (healthy 35 yr old man with a terminally ill wife with 2 young children) he was going to make sure he referred me to the best of the best available, a luxury afforded to me by my private medical insurance. 

I must stress that all neurosurgeons are quite amazing specialists in their field, however if you are judging on awards and top of the class medals, the neurosurgeon I had really was the best – and I was grateful.

Initial Consultation

On the journey to the neurosurgeon’s consulting office, I can recall the conversation I was having with my parents who were joining me. “I really hope I feel good about this chap, he’s going to be operating on my brain! What if he drops his pen or some papers or something? Then I won’t feel comfortable about him operating on me…” 

However I had been told by an acquaintance that worked as an anaesthetist that my neurosurgeon, who his colleague had worked with in the same hospital, was a “Rockstar of Neurosurgery”! So my mind was put at rest that I was in safe hands. 

We arrived at the consulting room and headed up to a rather normal hallway in a converted townhouse. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but I don’t think it was that. We sat in the waiting area, feeling that everyone was looking at me with pity, as if i had a label on me saying “This man has a tumour that will kill him soon”. 

Then with some nervous chit-chat from my equally nervous and concerned parents we were called in to see the neurosurgeon.

I got up first with my small and worried entourage of mum and dad following, and I walked into the room to meet Mr Ranjeev Bhangoo MB ChB(Hons), FRCS (Eng), FRCS (SN) Consultant Neurosurgeon. I was confronted by the neatest turban, sat on top of an extremely smart-suited gentleman who in a very calm and collected tone invited my parents and myself to sit down. 

His opening words will stick with me forever: “We know more about space than we do about the brain.” 

He told me he’d had a look at my scans, we’d discuss some of my thoughts, but then in a week I was to come back and see him again, by which time all of the information discussed would have sunk in, and I was to ask all my questions then. 

A very sensible approach. What followed was a run through of what he thought was an interesting case, given I had not had any indicators of being ill prior or after my initial seizure.

Tricks of the Mind

Leading up to this consultation I had convinced myself that the cancer in my brain had spread all over my body, and into my lungs. As a result, I had even been a bit wheezy following discovery of my tumour. I raised this with Mr Bhangoo, to which he confidently said “No need to worry, this is a primary tumour and hasn’t spread anywhere”. 

As if by magic the wheeze on my chest lifted, along with a little bit of my anxiety (a very little bit!). The mind-body connection always amazes me.

The initial consultation ended and we left, discussing our thoughts about Mr Bhangoo, that were all very positive, and we started our list of questions for the next visit.

Of course, my thoughts on Mr Bhangoo, my questions, my fears, all became part of the discussions of my therapy session that evening. I certainly feel that if therapy had not been a big part of my life and coping mechanisms already, it would have made this whole situation harder for me to cope with. 

Driving me mad!

Understandably the DVLA are rather strict about what you can do when you have an unknown growth in your brain. I understand why this is the case, you don’t want people having seizures while in control of a car. However to find out I was no longer allowed to drive was a real blow to me. To find out that I was in the worst bracket of 24 months without a licence was one of the connected consequences that I found most difficult to deal with.

I drive to work, how will I do that?

My children need to be driven to clubs and friends houses, how will I do that?

How will I get to my, much needed, therapy sessions? How will that work?

How will I do the monthly supermarket shop?

I found myself in a spiral of depression. Luckily my previous therapy had given me the tools not only to identify this, but also to help me manage my dark thoughts/feelings, stresses and concerns.

Consultation number 2

As planned we had another appointment with Mr Bhangoo, and I had my long list of questions ready, as had my parents. We’d reviewed them a number of times on the train, and discussed them on the walk from the tube station to his consultancy rooms.

On walking into his office, I met with a very different man than I had before. Still the same person, but he looked tired, and as we spoke his phone was pinging away. In my head I’m thinking “This is rude. I’m his patient and he is not giving me nearly the attention he did last time!” 

Then the more I thought about it, it started to dawn on me: he’s been in surgery, maybe all night, maybe just this morning, but the beeps are the ward updating him on his patients’ progress, and soon that will be me. I’d want him checking on me when I’m recovering. OK, he can be distracted by his phone as much as he likes!

He answered our questions, and told me what the plan was: We will admit you to hospital the day before surgery, and aim to have you as the first patient on that day. We will make a small incision on your scalp and then open up your cranium, we will remove as much of the tumour as possible then scan you afterwards to see how successful it has been. Any part of the tumour left will then be taken care of through radiotherapy and chemotherapy, and we discussed his suggestion of my Oncology consultant too. 

Of course through all this, I would still be having my regular therapy…

What next?

Consultations over, the next time I would see Mr Bhangoo, he would be operating on my brain. It was a sobering thought, and I needed to process that…

Part 2 of a 4 part series to raise awareness for Brain Tumour Awareness Month, written by Neil Ladgen

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