Scan Days: Is it Better to Hope for the Best or Prepare for the Worst?
Last updated: April 2022
For the last week, I have gone through a myriad of emotions. My last scan wasn't good. I mean, it could have been a lot worse. However, my bone mets had spread. My hips were now in danger of breaking, and another lesion had shown up on my spine.
Cancer had been growing like moss around my bones for far too long. So much so that my doctor had taken me off hormone therapy and put me on an oral chemotherapy Xeloda. So there was a reason to have hope.
However, every time I go in for one of these, I am torn between the desire to hope for the best possible outcome and the reality that I do not feel any better. I tell myself that the pains have gotten worse "because they are healing." Wishful thinking, probably.
Waking up for a scan day
On the morning of my tests, my alarm buzzer obliterated my slumber and I was reminded that I had a long day. Usually, I try to wear to bed what I wear to my exam, so all I have to do is brush my teeth and wash my face in the morning.
My dog watched me with a knowing look that I will once again be gone all day and come home full of holes and smelling strange. But he had begun to understand. My boyfriend made me a thermos of coffee for after my test, and I jumped in the car to try to make it on time.
They always do these things so early, and I am not allowed coffee until after the CT, so I bumbled my way to the radiology department.
Being the youngest MBC patient in the room
I have gotten used to being the youngest in the waiting room, having others look at me, wondering what I was doing there. Their sad stares stretched between “you don't belong here” and “you poor thing.” I tried to focus on my phone even though it was too early for me to read.
My scans that day consisted of two tests, a body scan, and a CT scan. I was waiting to get the radioactive shot for the body scan, which would need three hours to spread through my bones, then I would come back for that test. In between, I would get my CT, and that was why I was fasting.
The technician set his frosted silver lockbox marked radioactive down ever so gently. I giggled because it looked like a prop from the Simpsons.
Always taking extra precautions not to touch anything, the nurse put on a bunny suit then pulled out a vial and injected it straight into my IV. Funny how the more debilitated I get, the more intense the poisons they are willing to inject into my blood.
They say if you survive cancer, the treatments will take years off your life. But hey, if I can make it to that point, I will worry about it then.
Next, my uber driver, I mean my boyfriend rushed me over to get my CT. I got there early hoping they could squeeze me in. Unfortunately, they were already running late, giving me extra time.
The worst thing in the world for a cancer patient is an unexpected time to allow the mind to wander.
Today it wandered out the doors of that clinic and into the car my Uber driver/boyfriend was sitting in, and time to think about all he did for me. He couldn't be having fun sitting out in the car all day waiting. But he wanted to come. A warm feeling enveloped me, and I realized he didn't have to jump on this train. He came along on the cancer ride because he loved me, which meant a lot.
Finally, they called me back. My IV was still in from radiology, so all I had to do was hop on up and get hooked up. Soon the warm contrast hit my bladder, and I clenched, wondering how obvious the clinch was on the CT, and if the technicians had gotten used to it by now.
As soon as it was over, I made a b-line to the car where the warm thermos of coffee was waiting for me. As soon as it hits my lips, I felt the cloud I have been walking through all day finally lifted, and my brain and eyes came into focus.
I could think about this clearly now. Oh no, I could think about this clearly now. Sometimes the fog can be a blessing when it's cancer because it gives you the gift of not thinking about your life for a while. But at some point, we all need to come back to cancer town, and this cup of delicious coffee had just brought me there.
It's ok. I needed to be ready for the body scan.
The body scan is often quite telling. You lay on a table, and the machine scans you very slowly. It is looking for parts of your bone that absorbed the radioactive material mentioned earlier, those spots are usually cancer, but they can be other bone problems as well.
At my hospital, there is a screen pointed in the direction of the patient, but it is just far enough away that you can't make out what is going on. My cancer is in the bones so this scan is the most important.
A faint image of my skeleton appeared on the screen, and then blue dots began to populate my spine, hips, sternum, and all the usual places. That was the cancer. By now, there were so many blue dots that I couldn’t tell what had changed from the last scan and what hadn't. I knew that there were more and more dots each time. I tell myself to remember to breathe.
Being realistic or pragmatic
And with that, the day was over at least the scan part. All I could do now was wait for the results. Getting them used to mean waiting until my next doctor's appointment. Now they are beamed directly to my phone, for me to make sense of, sometimes even before my doctor has seen them.
The results weren't good this time, as usual. I am not the best at reading these things, but I knew that increased radio uptake was not good, and it was in multiple places.
Was I right to be cautious, or would a strong sense of hope help fight off the cancer? Be realistic or pragmatic? I’m still trying to figure that out.
Editor's Note: We are extremely saddened to say that on September 6, 2023, Vicki Thompson passed away. Vicki's advocacy efforts and writing continue to reach many. She will be deeply missed.
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