Scanxiety. You will not find this word in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, but it is in every cancer patient's vocabulary. Or if they don't know the word, they for sure know the feeling. It is the anxiety you get around the time you are about to be scanned. It is nerves, holy cow, to the tenth degree. You make an appointment and as the day approaches things get ugly inside.
Sometimes it takes looking at the expiration date on a gallon of milk for the reality of a date to set in. Like seeing 12/25 is the surest way of knowing Christmas is so close. This milk will still be good at Christmas? No way. This week I have been plagued by mini panic attacks as the date 7/8/2011 stamped on my milk shouts out every time I open the fridge.
The 6th (Wed.) is when I will actually have the scans done, but I should know the results on the 8th. It has crept up so fast. I was just getting far enough away from the diagnosis I could almost forget about the whole thing for a day or two here and there. I could pretend it never happened. And then start believing it. But as the day gets closer, so am I to the reality of it all. And the weight. And the wait. Sigh.
I have had a lot of questions about scans, which I hope to answer here. So what do I mean by scans? They will be doing a full body PET (Positron emission tomography) which uses a radioactive tracer injected into the vein to see if there are any tumors. The scan is expensive ($5,000, thank goodness for insurance!) and nerve-racking, but very accurate. Because cancer cells have a higher metabolism than regular cells, they light up for the scan. They shine through for the camera. And it's the ugliest thing I've ever seen.
Here is what the Dr. pulled up when we were trying to feel the tumor they found in the thigh. At this point it was .8 cm. I think they told me any tumor over a millimeter would be detectable.
The tumor "lights up" with gamma rays? for a PET scan
Why scan the whole body? The location of metastasis in a stage IIIc patient is evenly split between the brain, liver, lungs, bones, and distant skin or lymph nodes. There are other places it could go too. And so they check everywhere. If they see something suspicious, they will biopsy it to determine it is melanoma, and not another kind of cancer. If you have cancer in the lung, it is really important you know what kind of cancer it is so you treat it right. It's not lung cancer just because that's it's location. It's not brain cancer if they find it in the brain, it is melanoma that has metastasized to the brain.
If they don't see any cancer, I don't have cancer right? Why would they think it could come back if they can't see anything? I wish it was this simple, but the tests can only detect tumors, not roaming cancer cells within the body. That is why they do it frequently, to see if any cells are sticking together and hopefully catch that early. They don't use the word remission for melanoma. The term is NED, which stands for no evidence of disease. If there is disease we can't see it. We are big fans of NED.
Why so stressful? You aren't allowed to exercise the day before (and what other stress relief is there, really, for a girl who doesn't drink?). All the apprehension culminates in a fitful nights sleep full of bad dreams. Then the day itself is pretty intense. You are put in a room where they inject radioactive material (my brother the physics professor was kind enough to point out the amount is more than what they were exposed to in Japan, so who knows what the tests are going to do to me), give you a warm blanket, dim the lights, and tell you not to talk (no on is allowed in the room anyway) or read, or do anything for an hour so the tracer can get to where it's supposed to go. And this is when the mind goes crazy. If you could distract yourself before, there is no way to do it now. When that hour of torture is over, don't worry. Just 45 minutes of literally not moving a muscle as you lay in a machine that clicks and ticks up and down your body and occasionally commands you to "take a deep breath and hold it."
And then we have to remember the time it takes to get the results. How fast the heart pumps and the body jumps every time the phone rings. And when the caller ID shows it's the hospital, how the breathing stops, the fingers cross, and you pray it's a nurse's voice and not a Dr.'s as you pick up and squeak 'Hello?'
Things really could go sour next week. My gut feeling? They won't. These tumors were so slow growing, I can't imagine I would have something only three months later. I think my body has been fighting this thing for 4 years, surely it is putting up a good front somehow still.
Even though I'm convinced, if you find yourself on your knees sometime next week, and happen to remember me as someone who could use a special prayer, I would love that. I know I'm not strong enough to go through this every 3 months on my own.