“Mom, what does it feel like to be radioactive, is it cool!?!?” – Julian age 10
My oncologist was able to get baseline body scans authorized by my insurance company (yes, the insurance companies often deny these as they are very costly…), to check my whole body for ‘hot-spots’. Not to be confused with the new happening restaurant in town, a hot-spot on my scans would not be a good thing. Naturally I was apprehensive for these tests, and headed into the nuclear medicine department at Cedars-Sinai, I couldn’t help but notice the skull and crossbones on each piece of machinery, and the nursing staff wearing what looked like astronaut suits.
Here’s what to expect
This involved a limited diet and exercise for two days prior to the scan, and upon arrival at the hospital, I was injected with radio-active material that slowly infiltrated my body. I then sat in a ‘calm’ room (BTW, there is nothing calm about this place) and drank a thick iodine shake to help with contrast in the scan.
After an hour, I was taken to a room (full of scary looking apparatus) and the staff disappeared (cause who’d want to be close to a buzzing radioactive body), as I was inserted into a tubular machine for the next 90 minutes. You definitely have to find your happy place if you are claustrophobic in the slightest, and basically just pray for it to end. It doesn’t hurt, is not physically unpleasant, it’s just the mental mind-games. This is a common thread with cancer actually. I never felt ill or sick from the actual disease (in fact I didn’t even know it was there), but once you’re told you have this shit growing in your body, you really go to dark places. A routine headache or back ache etc. all raise extra questions and concerns. After the scan, you are supposed to stay away from small children and pregnant women as your body is radio-active for 10 hours after the injection. It’s a pretty weird feeling… your body does feel slightly buzzed, but contrary to what Julian thought, I did not have the super powers of Spiderman to walk up walls. However, that would be super cool…. imagine that!
Two days after the PET/CT scan was my bone scan. Same drill, except this time I had to wait three hours between having the radio-active material injected into my body and the actual scan. I came prepared with my laptop, snacks, chargers, and camped out in the ‘patient relaxation center’. Ha…. who names these places!?!? This scan took an hour, and was less claustrophobic as I lay on a special table, and watched the machine slowly rotate and move literally 2 inches from my body. It was a little weird when scanning my head, as the machine is literally 2 inches from your body at all times, I had trouble breathing, and you have to lie painfully still. I just closed my eyes and fought to take my mind to a happy place.
By far the worst part of the scans was being in the nuclear medicine facility. It’s filled with worried people… some clearly very sick, some look seemingly healthy, but every single patient and patient caregiver had that unmistakable smell of apprehension and fear that clings to the walls of these places. F-cancer!
The AMAZING news is all of the scans came back clear and free of hot-spots. Technically, I was cancer free! We were not expecting any surprises, but to be honest, after 4 months of bad news being delivered by doctors, you sort of brace yourself for the worst just in case.
Reflecting on my team which included my breast surgeon, reconstructive surgeon, nurses, recovery room doctors, anesthesiologist, breathing specialists, phlebotomists, radiology specialist, imaging specialist, cancer facilitator, medical oncologist, mammogram technician, biopsy doctor, ultrasound technician, oncology nurse, oncology scheduler, surgical oncologist, physical therapist, lymphoma therapist, nuclear specialists, clinical trial research doctors, first/second/third/fourth/fifth opinions with various specialists, receptionists, and the many people I met along this journey, I feel truly truly grateful and humbled. There’s nothing like an unexpected dose of cancer to bring you to your knees, and these amazing people took care of me every step of the way. To think they do this every day and touch so many lives is truly amazing.
Hot Hubby, you were so freaking amazing. But that’s no surprise. You are just the kindest person ever, which is why I married, you. Your unfaltering and unconditional love, support, kindness and care for me, is one of the biggest life lessons ever you have modeled for our boys. We are all so lucky to have you.