Thursday, August 22, 2013


I've been a little off lately, I know. I've had this anniversary and yesterday's scans on my mind, not to mention a possible new preschool for Quinn and managing disability insurance and student loans and the fact that my brother who we just visited in Alaska is leaving for Afghanistan in the spring, so it'll be awhile before I see him again.

And then Tuesday, as I was waiting in the dark, curtained-off alcove for my PET scan... Side note: have I explained how these things work? First, you have to fast for four hours, and my blood sugar always dips into the "Are you sure you're feeling okay, honey?" territory. Last time, the tech asked me if I was diabetic. I'm not. I had chemo on Monday, so I'm already prone to headaches and nausea. Not eating doesn't help. Ask any pregnant lady.

After I check in, the nurses show me to a recliner set into an alcove in the hallway. Once I'm comfortable, they access my port, the large, wart-looking thing right above my left boob. By "access," I mean they stick a needle into it to draw blood and inject me with a radioactive glucose. My fasting-starved cells eat the sugar up, and any cancer cells will eat it up faster than normal cells, thereby giving the radiologists a picture of what's going on inside me, cancer-wise.

It takes about forty-five minutes for the isotope to travel through my bloodstream, which is time I spend reclining in the dark alcove. Theoretically, it could be naptime, but I'm too anxious to nap. Every twenty minutes or so I can hear them opening the curtain for another nearby patient signaling it's time for him or her to get scanned. I want to vomit, but there's nothing in my stomach.

It seemed to be taking an especially long time for the technician to come get me. I was getting anxious. Even more anxious than usual. Finally, she came over. "Down the hall. Go ahead and empty your bladder," she told me.

I went to the bathroom, and then came back to my empty seat and waited. And waited. An electrician carted his cart by. The receptionist shuffled past to go back to her station. Machines whirled behind closed doors. I waited some more.

After what seemed like an eternity, the technician came back to me and explained, "I'm sorry, it's going to be another six minutes or so. I saw something on this woman's scan, and I need to make sure I rescan it to get good images." I felt bile rising in the back of my throat. I was next, and here the technician was telling me there was a tumor in the woman right before me. I'm pretty sure that violated all kinds of HIPAA regulations, but it also broke my heart for her and scared the hell out of me at the same time.

Six minutes must have passed. An aide wheeled the woman with the tumor past me, down the hallway. She had oxygen tubes coming out of her nostrils, helping her breathe. She was completely bald. I started crying.

During my scan, I tried to imagine clean cells. I told myself I'm healthy. I thought of my childhood, of lying on the beach in Hawaii when I was five and loving the feeling of the warmth of the sun. I thought of Quinn.

Toward the end of my twenty minutes on the machine, I could see the technician leave the room out of the corner of my eye. Immediately I started panicking. Was she was off to tell the next person in line that she'd seen something on my scan and would be a few more minutes? Tears were streaming into my ears.

And then, before I knew it, she was back, lowering the table, telling me my scan was over, sending me on my way.

I met with my oncologist yesterday to get my results, and--although my scan wasn't squeaky clean--he was pleased. The drugs are working. And for another couple of months, I no longer feel like I'm going to throw up.

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