Becoming a patient has been a salutary, levelling experience

It is the early hours of Sunday morning and for the third day in succession I am feeling queasy. Three days ago I started adjuvant chemotherapy for breast cancer. This story starts a few weeks ago when a friend rang to say a mutual acquaintance had died and her memorial service was next week. I wondered why Ann had not phoned when she relapsed after our long conversations about her adjuvant treatment seven years earlier.

That same evening we were celebrating some good news as a family. The next phase of our lives seemed to be going to plan. In fact I had been feeling nervous - it all seemed to be going too well. That night in the bath I noticed a lump.

Do I have Ann to thank for that? Who knows? Being on the inside track meant I had a diagnosis 48 hours later. We fumbled our way through telling the children, still reeling ourselves.

Phoebe, aged 13, was shocked, confused and unsure how to react. Isobel, three years older, jumped to a fatal conclusion and could not hear my assurances. I will never forget her reaction. I spent the next 48 hours filled with dread about telling my parents - my brother was a huge support and they too coped with an equanimity I had not anticipated.

One week later I had surgery, and five days after that I had a phone call one evening to tell me my lymph nodes were clear. My tumour has been like the proverbial curate's egg - the good parts were its size and lack of nodes or vascular invasion, the bad were its grade, lack of hormone receptor expression and the age at which it had reared its ugly head.

After two decades treating cancer it has been hard to restrain myself from looking at the internet and trying to forget my own patients with similar stories who are no longer with us.

I hope you will not find this mawkish and self-indulgent. My concentration is so poor - initially wondering about my chances, now better thanks to the treatment - that I could not write about clinical management in any event.

Becoming a patient has been a salutary, levelling experience which has given me a different slant on how it feels to wait outside a clinic room or sit in a hospital bed, feeling vulnerable and fragile.

For the first time I feel mortal. I have acquired a heightened acuity for those around me. I see people struggling in the street or looking debilitated. Perhaps I noticed them before, but now there seem to be many more and I have to refrain from taking their hands and letting them know that I have a better understanding.

As a health professional I have found it very difficult to find a comfortable modus operandi. One of my patients - seven years out from a large, node-positive tumour - gave me the best advice. 'Just look on it as a project like any other,' she said. 'That way you'll get through it.'

I can remember my admiration for Dennis Potter when interviewed in his last months. He described watching the spring in his beloved Forest of Dean and used the phrase 'the blossomest blossom'. My situation is very different from Potter's - these aren't my last months and I'm determined to grow old and be a nuisance to my children ' but I do understand the appreciation he must have felt, and for that I have reason to be cheerful.