Have you ever had a PET scan for cancer? Not the kind where a big dog sticks his nose in your crotch and any where else within snout range.
A Positron Emission Tomography (PET). It’s a nuclear medicine exam…the stuff that turns the Incredible in the the Hulk. Gamma rays. Positron emitting radionuclide tracer. In plain English radioactive stuff pumped into a vein.
Prior to the PET scan patients are instructed: No caffeine 12-18 hours before scan. No exercising for 24 hours. No gum chewing for 24 hours (I am not kidding). Oh and no food for 4 or 12 hours (can’t remember – I didn’t eat breakfast).
After checking in and finally being called to the gamma gallery, a trained technician carefully injects a “biologically active molecule” chosen for PET. The radioactive injection is fluorodeoxyglucose (FDG) into a vein. Oh, before the injection, they check your glucose level too.
This morning the tech selected a vein in my hand. Yesterday I had labs drawn for my oncologist appointment on Tuesday. The blood drawer used a needle so large it could be used to sew upholstery fabric. It left a nasty bruise. The gamma ray girl thought it better to find an unbruised spot.
She was very personable. When she discovered what my technical position is: measuring eyes of patients with cataracts to determine the power of their implanted lens, she quickly interjected that cataracts are a hazard in her field. This made me just a little uncomfortable thinking that the radioactive gamma rays may escape the lead cylinder of the stuff now going into my vein. No sign of the Hulk – I looked.
Ok, now that I’m injected, next stop is a small room with a recliner covered with a sheet. Patients can either take a nap or read (first time that choice was presented) if it’s a “nice” book. My current read is a mystery romance. I chose the nap. Light goes out.
For an hour and a half patients are covered up with those toasty heated, comfortable cotton blankets. She put three on me. The room is fairly cool. I slept like a worn out women, stressed out(not enough to disturb slumber) about my third gamma ray experience.
The reason for this radioactive routine has everything to do with cancer (in my case). It is difficult not to reflect on that experience. The anniversary of the episode coincides with my sister Mary’s birthday. August, a year ago. I called her from a hospital bed to wish her happy birthday…for what would be the last time.
When fire rescue wheeled me into the emergency room, my state of health was similar to Mary’s last hospital admittance. Mine was vodka free. My blood pressure was extremely low, as was Mary’s. I has sepsis, as did Mary. A kidney infection, so did Mary. Acutely anemic and dehydrated. Mary was malnourished and dehydrated. I had fallen in the bathroom; either I passed out or just too weak to grab one of the water faucets – I saw multiples. Mary had lost muscle tone; her legs were unable to support her weight.
After twelve days in the hospital I was discharged and recovered. Mary was not to leave her hospital bed alive.
Additional tests concluded that the source of my sepsis was the kidney infection. Mary’s was later determined to have originated from her gallbladder. Both Mary and I received IV antibiotics and fluids. Mary had a blood transfusion, I received bags of iron supplements.
The investigative tests continued to rule out the source of my bleeding. Ultrasound exams of kidneys and abdominal cavity and organs. Probes went down my throat from one end; all the way through my intestines from the other end. Mary’s kidneys, liver and gallbladder were all beginning to fail.
The look on the physician’s face told me before she spoke. There was a tumor too large for her to remove with the laproscope. She was contacting a surgeon. It was late in the afternoon, most likely surgery would be the day after next. She was fairly certain it was cancer, but would need to confirm after its removal.
The probe down my throat discovered a fungal infection! How does that happen? Add another IV concoction for that!
I’m not certain why I remained so composed. Perhaps I was confident that the cancer would not kill me. There was no point in asking, “Why me?” However, the phrase, “It is what it is,” became a philosophy and a new way of life. Whatever I could do about “it” was being done. I prayed.
Worry would not change anything. “Don’t worry. Be happy.” Suddenly, there were medical professionals parading in and out of my hospital room. Infectious Disease because of the fungus in my throat. Renal specialist. GI surgeon. House physician. Nurses. How is a body to get any rest?
Ruth flew in from Kentucky, arriving the day of my surgery.To be my support and nurse maid which also gave my son a break. She gave me a Wayne Dyer meditation CD and personal player which became my new lullaby and provided encouragement.
Post op brought in the physical therapist to evaluate my strength and show me how to get out of bed without too much pain from the surgical site. A respiratory therapist brought a little meter. I had to breathe into that and try to get the ball to reach the top. A smaller version of the hammer thing at carnivals to measure strength.
Each morning Ruth brought me chai tea latte from Starbucks in the hospital food court. Within a few days, she figured out a less expensive way to duplicate it at home. It was just as good. She also got me up and walking the hallways.
The surgeon and the doctor’s partner who performed the colonoscopy each visited and reassured me that the cancer was completely removed and it had not left the colon; but did invade the muscle in the wall of the colon. Stage II probably but needed to wait for confirmation from pathology. Good news was that, if I could choose a cancer (who would), it was the best cancer to have. It was caught early. It is very treatable
The results finally arrived from the specialty lab to determine the oncotype which would provide better treatment decision for the oncologist. I had a choice, do nothing more or reduce the chance of recurrence significantly with chemo. He suggested eight cycles of oral Xeloda.
Three week cycles. Two weeks of chemo morning and night and a week off. The first week went well. My optimism was short lived. The second week of the second cycle brought side effects. No hair loss. No vomiting. No rushing to the toilet.
Hand and foot syndrome…severe. Painful blistering on my feet and toes…lost two toe nails and had to have one removed by podiatrist. Major discoloration of palms of hands and soles of feet. Peeling. Swelling. Gross. Sensitive to heat. Numbness in finger tips and toes. Lost my finger prints – may be permanent. Too bad I don’t have criminal tendencies!
Next month it will be a year. Mary died July 13, 2015. I am almost healed – still slightly numb finger tips and toes. It no longer feels as if I’m walking on hot burning sand. I can grab toast from the toaster without feeling like I just stuck my fingers into a flame. Most of my dexterity has returned.
The PET scans are because of compromised kidney function – no contrast for MRI scans. Oncology visits every three months. Kidneys recovered some function, nephrologist visits every six months. Hepatologist visit next week will establish that schedule.
The tumor in my cecum had grown enough to press on my kidney, backing up urine excretion and caused the sepsis. Along with the tumor my appendix was removed. No longer need to take daily iron supplements. Cancer didn’t kill me. Mary died from too much vodka for too many years.
There is a writers contest that I saw on line. I plan to submit an entry but need to decide if I enter a piece yet to be written or a chapter from the book in progress…suggestions welcome.