Alert readers of this blog might have noticed the phrase “PET scan” slipped into my last post. A casual mention of a not-so-casual subject. For a normal person, even a routine test is stressful–like a mammogram or a colonoscopy. For a cancer survivor, the sophisticated scans exponentially ramp up the anxiety level. Most people view them as a necessary evil–but my strategy was always denial. I didn’t get scans at all.
Besides denial, I also used procrastination. (Warning: do not try this at home.) Not only did I skip cancer scans, but I also delayed the heart scan my doctor suggested to find out if I had suffered any damage from chemotherapy. I finally got the heart scan—10 years later. My heart was fine, but the scan revealed a small nodule in my lung. Which is why and when I finally had my first PET scan.
The lung nodule was dismissed as a problem, but this new scan revealed a new concern: enlarged lymph nodes. Always a worry for a cancer patient, that is why my doctor ordered a followup PET scan 6 months later, which is the one I mentioned yesterday.
6 months later would have put the second PET scan just before July 4. Need I say more? (If you need more, see “Independence Day“) There is no way I would have a PET scan anywhere near July 4–so I scheduled it for today. Only now do I realize the full implications of my superstitious nature. Because if I get bad news this week, then I am going to pollute yet another date in July—my new and pure anniversary, July 25. (Now see “Happy Anniversary“) Life can really be complicated.
But it’s too late to switch and the PET scan is happening. Today. I am debating whether to even blog about it. Do I want to go down that road? Even with myself? Letting negative thoughts out into the universe? Not to mention letting them out into the blogosphere and exposing the extent of the stuff that can go on inside my brain? But what’s the point of a blog if I don’t write about this? I decide to go for the full monty.
Before I even leave the house, there are issues. I’m told to wear comfortable clothes. But those clothes need to be completely neutral— with no bad history or negative associations. I’m told to plan on spending two hours. I spend almost that long deciding on the perfect reading material–to draw me in and distract but not be too depressing. (And I wonder why V thinks I’m high maintenance.)
In the Moment
The PET scan involves an injection of radioactive material. I won’t even start on that subject. Then you wait about a half hour for the radioactive stuff to permeate throughout your body. I get out my stack of reading. Sorry, I’m told, no reading. I’m not allowed to move around. Not even my eyes. So I’m left alone in a room with only my own thoughts for company. Great.
Can you imagine trying to take control of your brain in this situation? What if I think negative thoughts? Could that negative energy make the results worse? Should I expect the worst case scenario? Would that help me accept anything less than the worst? Or is it a better strategy to think positive? And risk being devastated and blindsided if it is bad news? Should I try to ignore the fact that I’m in the middle of a PET scan? Should I try to think about something else? Count sheep? Recite the Periodic Table of Elements even though in my most lucid moments I might only be able to name 5 elements? Should I picture the faces of my children? And think about how lucky I am that I was already given more time than I expected? But if I feel grateful, will fate think I’ve had enough good fortune and switch it up again?
Somewhere around now I am helped out of the chair, and onto the PET scan itself. I have to lie perfectly still. The technician tells me it will take about 25 minutes and leaves the room. I shut my eyes and rewind the tape that just played in my brain. After about 15 minutes the technician enters and apologizes. Something was wrong with the computer and they have to start over again.
Another rewind. My mind floats off. This time my thoughts aren’t focused on cancer. Or on me. Lying inside the PET scan tunnel, I actually manage to relax a little. I think I bored myself. Or maybe after everything I never signed up for, I realize how useless it is to worry. To guess what will happen. Or how I will react. And whatever happens, the one thing I know is that I will deal with it.
The test is over. I tell V they had to repeat the test– and suddenly I remember my original mammogram when they had to repeat the test and it turned out to be cancer. Is this a bad sign? Does it mean….oh forget it. I haven’t eaten any carbs or sugar in 24 hours. Let’s have lunch.