Peace of Mind or Progression: The Scanning Process
Last updated: June 2023
When scheduling a scan I get that date set in my mind and I hold on to it for dear life, literally. Once the pen hits the paper of my planner, the wait is on. The ink bleeds into the paper as quickly as my thoughts race through my mind.
That scan is what stands between me and the truth. What is the truth? Are the aches I’ve been feeling cancer or are they tension? Tension seems like a completely rational possibility but, tell that to my brain. It could always be cancer because now I can’t truly escape it because I am now in treatment indefinitely.
Greenlight authorization for MBC scans
Of course, it wouldn’t be right if we didn’t add additional stress to this situation. It is a constant battle to call the insurance company for the dreaded prior authorization. The irritating jingle of hold music is burned into my memory. Oh, how I wish they would let you at least choose the hold music. I repeat these phone calls until I finally get the green checkmark of approval online.
I can finally rest a little easier knowing the scan will be covered by insurance and I don’t have to reschedule. It’s too bad I am busy worrying about insurance and proving the scan is a medical necessity instead of self-care during this time.
I have planned out my comfiest clothes and dreamed about what I will eat when it is all over. I have to get there, physically and mentally, get there. We drive to the hospital, my hands are sweating. I feel lightheaded but that’s more than likely just how hungry I am. I always try and schedule early if available so there is less time without food (pro tip!).
I drink the nasty drinks and get my quick IV pump of radioactive fluid so I’m ready to glow in the dark if necessary. I confirm several times that I am not pregnant. I kindly note not applicable on my paperwork as I always do but I am questioned over and over on this issue only to have to repeat my sorrow of removing my ovaries the year prior.
Feeling like a lab rat
I lay down on the table that will pull me into the tube of truth, it’s ice cold. On the days I am given warm blankets, I feel much more human and less like a lab rat. I grip the sheets to keep my arms from sliding and hold my breath when asked.
I think to myself 1 million thoughts but most important- did the meds do their job? When the test is done I always look at the faces in the room to see if I can read them. I think they know what I am doing and always remind me my oncologist will have my results. Now, it’s time to eat, something warm is a must.
Stable, NEAD, or progression?
Getting results can be the most nauseating yet liberating process. I know I need the truth either way, good or bad. I could check the patient portal or I could wait to talk to my oncologist. My decision is usually dependent on how soon I see the doctor after my scans.
My preference is to speak directly with the oncologist so I am not misinterpreting the results. Other times the wait to see the doctor is too long and there will be frantic life-changing scrolling to the final impression of the report. The waiting game is the worst form of mental torture, staying busy is key.
The truth is these results can have several different outcomes, everyone's oncologist might call it something different: no evidence of active disease, stable or progression. I always keep in mind that everyone is so different and each person responds to all treatments differently no matter the result. Scan days give us the knowledge to keep going or let us know to adjust the course of treatment.
It is the moment of truth to let you find out how in tune you are with your body. Was it phantom pain, a side effect of cancer? We will continue living in 4-month bursts of time for peace of mind or progression. It still amazes me how much rides on one appointment.
Advanced breast cancer is an isolating and lonely disease.