Monday, October 13, 2014

The Perils of PET Scans

I was diagnosed with breast cancer on September 10.  Since then, not a damn thing has happened. 

On the face of it, it might seem as though tons of things have happened.  There have been tests, and more tests, and still more tests.  I've had blood tests, sonograms, mammograms, biopsies, MRIs, CT scans, bone scans.  Each test has indicated "something" that has required more tests, because they want to be sure that I don't have cancer any place else.  First there was "something" on my lung, then some "things" near my collar bone, etc.  Never mind that every single time they tell me that they "found" something on any of these tests, I completely lose it, thinking that it is more cancer. 

My oncologist finally ordered a PET scan.  PET scans are supposed to be the go-to test for cancer, but my doctor didn't order one for me at first, because my "insurance won't pay for it".  Yes, that is exactly what he said.  But because of whatever showing up on my lung/other body part, then that justified a PET scan. 

I dutifully followed the special diet they give you the night before--no carbs, only proteins, and no caffeine. Not having coffee was extremely difficult, but I managed.  The technician asked me if I were pregnant for the 447th time before informing me that I would essentially be radioactive for the rest of the day, so I needed to stay away from young children and keep my distance from adults as well. 

"You're kidding, right?" I tried to be patient, to be calm.

He was not kidding, and he went into a discussion of half-life in reference to radiation. I interrupted him before my eyes glazed over.

"I work at an elementary school," Don't these people read the files?  "I have a six year old child."

This seemed to throw him, the idea that I might a)work in a place full of children, and b)have a small child.  His supervisor, a no nonsense type, had to come in and explain to me that no, I could not have any contact with small children, and adults were an iffy prospect as well. That's kind of an important thing to mention, that "stay away from people until you're no longer radioactive" thing.  Probably should be at the top of the list, before the special diet.

The two set me up with an IV, and brought in a lead lined container filled with the radioactive glucose concoction they were going to run through my veins.  The glucose would travel all over my body, but since cancer loves glucose, that's where it would stop.  I then had to sit quietly in a chair, not moving, so the glucose would not be used by my muscles.  Again, something that they could have told me the day before, so I could bring a book.  I was not allowed to use my phone, either.  Instead, I suffered through ancient magazine articles about looking wonderful while running, since I was too wound up to nap. 

After the hour, the technician had me use a "special" bathroom for radioactive people, and then took me into the PET scan room.  I entered the room, stopped, and stared at a machine that looked horrifyingly similar to an MRI. I said as much to the tech, who said, no, this was not an MRI.  It's closer to a CT machine, he said.  It did not look like a CT machine to me, but I allowed that perhaps if two CT machines were put together, it might look like this machine.  It might also look like an MRI machine.

"You know that I am extremely claustrophobic, right?"  I have specifically stated that fact EVERY single time I've been to this radiology clinic.  Since nobody at this place ever reads the files, the technician did not know that, and of course, he had no idea what to do about it.  He lamely repeated that the machine was not an MRI, while I stood there hyperventilating, completely overcome with thoughts of coffins, being buried alive and other confinements.

But the test had to be done.  I knew that.  I was already radioactive; did I have a choice? 

I went back to where I'd left my things, dug into my purse, and found the bottle of Xanax that I'd demanded from the doctor who told me that I had cancer. I took one of those pills, gritted my teeth, and was as still as I could be during the test, considering that I wanted to run very fast away from the machine.  And also punch the technician in the face for being so damn cheerful.  And I admit to some disappointment that all this radiation has not resulted in a single superpower. 

My husband and son had to stay at least fifteen feet away from me for the rest of the day, but I dealt with it, secure in the knowledge that after this test, they could schedule the surgery at last.  Something would happen, things would get done. 

"We found something on your ovary," the nurse practitioner told me the next day.  "It's probably nothing, but...we'll need to do an MRI of your pelvis."

So today, the day I was expecting to have surgery, I will be having another MRI. Meanwhile, the cancer appears to have spread to one of my lymph nodes. 

At this rate, I'm going to need a lot more Xanax. 


  1. With all you have going on, having to repeat to each new person you see is exhausting and infuriating. And not being given the full facts before a scan equally so. Despite all your trials, this comes across as positive - hang in there and hope the Xanax do their job.

  2. Oh, Tina. Crossing my fingers for you. Please, rant away. *hugs*
    *also, kicks a chair* xx


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